Easter Joy and Tears
Have you heard about the latest, hottest thing sweeping the nation? It is the Helicopter Easter egg drop. You can see signs around the Seacoast at traffic lights. The practice looks to have started by so-called mega churches in the South and then brought to New England. With thousands of members attending their services, the clergy realized they could never organize a traditional Easter egg hunt -- too labor intensive. So they came up with an idea to hire a helicopter and have 10K, 20K up to 100,000 plastic eggs filled with candy and other surprises dropped from 150 feet up in the air. The more people that would come could lead to more people hearing the message of Easter. Maybe. Today it is not just mega churches dropping eggs by the thousands: whole towns and communities are getting in on the act.
I came across one headline from Mississippi – just from this past week: “Chaos at Easter Egg Drop.” Seems like the organizers of the event under estimated the number of children they expected to show up and the amount of eggs that would be needed to be tossed out of helicopter. Just so you can visualize, the eggs do not drop right on top of the kids, but in a secure field near by. And then the kids are told to start the hunt and they rush in.
The article (Sun Herald March 20, 2016) stated that “excited, bright-eyed children hoped to fill their baskets with plastic eggs containing treats or cards for larger prizes, such as bicycles. There were equally excited parents, including many who ignored repeated instructions to stay off the outfield and let children hunt by themselves.
Many children in the youngest age division, 2 to 4, found no eggs at all. Others walked off the field with overflowing baskets. In the next age division, some parents sneaked in older children to hunt eggs with much smaller children. Some children cried. Many parents left with loud complaints.
"It certainly wasn't our intention to make children cry or to make parents angry," said one organizer. "It was chaos. A disgrace," said one angry parent. She said her children were trampled and didn't get any eggs. "I'll never come back," she said to the reporter. Yet, "There were no reports of injuries, but only injured feelings."
So you see kids: here at Christ Church – where we don’t have a helicopter Easter egg hunt -- we are sparing you from tears and heartache and potential injury this Easter. To the parents and children present today I say: you’re welcome!
We have our own joy this morning. Today after all is The Day in the Christian year when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. When we can say in no uncertain terms that God has conquered death. There is life beyond the grave. In Christ, there is a promise of eternal life that we get glimpses of here and now. Jesus Christ is alive in our world and in us, and that changed and changes everything.
But even with all the joy and hope that Easter brings, like those children who left that Mississippi egg drop crying, we still can’t get away from tears.
From John’s telling:
John 20: 11-13 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
Why even mention crying and tears when this day is centered on new life in Christ?
In my experience, there is a fine line between joy and sorrow -- laughing and tears. How many of you have ever laughed so hard that tears start rolling down your face? Or gathering with family and friends to remember the passing of a loved one, telling stories of their life, mourning their life, the good, cherished times, when someone – almost always – recalls a lighter moment, an odd habit or off expression of the one being remembered, and the room breaks out in laughter. Laughter becomes the balm that heals and the gateway to living into an unknown future.
Heaven knows: our world has a whole lot of things to weep and cry about. Our bishop reminds us in his Easter message that last year, “over 400 of our neighbors in New Hampshire died to drug overdoses.” Too many in a small state. Globally, innocent lives are being lost by acts of terror from the heart of Europe to the most remote village in Africa – where in the out of the way forgotten corners of the globe there are no television crews and few candle light vigils. There is a real fear in our globalized world that many are trying to grapple with and understand. For us this fear of terror and our need to find a way to respond may be the spiritual challenge of our time.
The miracle and joy of Easter has something to say to us about our world today – the rational and irrational fear that terror creates. Jesus triumphed over the demons of darkness and death so that we would not make them our own. His resurrection shows us how not to draw back into ourselves or turn on one other and see the other with constant suspicion. We must be safe, yet we also must not lose our soul or our core beliefs in the process – which is why we pray for our leaders who make these tough decisions on our behalf. For it is in the other, the stranger, the outcast, the wounded, the child, the lost, the prisoner, the refugee and the poor that Jesus told us to look to find him. There are risks and there will be set backs if we follow a Christ who died on a cross before he was raised on the third day. As they say: “it goes with the territory.”
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. Mary Magdalene, mentioned in all four gospels as a witness to the Resurrection, took a moment to cry for someone dear and close that she believed had been lost to her forever.
The empty tomb could have become a memorial. Candles could have been lit and more and more people could have gathered there. But it didn’t. The risen Jesus saw Mary’s tears and sees ours. And he says to her, through the tears: “Do not hold on to me.”
I return often to the Native American proverb that states, “You can’t see the future with tears in your eyes.”
There comes a time and a day when mourning for what seems to have been lost does little good for those who believe in a God of resurrection, new life and unconditional love. The risen Jesus told Mary instead: “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
How then do we go from tears to letting go? From fear to trust? From pain to healing? From feeling trapped to being set free? From conflict to peace? From sadness to joy?
Is there a something we could wear on our wrists to count our progress – sort of like a fitbit for our souls?
The beloved late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey reminds us “the language in the New Testament is not of Jesus rising but of Jesus being raised by God. Jesus did not “achieve” resurrection. (pg. 103 To Believe is to Pray, James E. Griffiss, Editor).
St. Paul wrote to early believers: 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (1 Corinthians 15)
Each morning I get of bed soon after I open my eyes or my old dog Max starts stirring. I rise out of bed on my own. I am not raised out of bed.
We live in an achievement and aspirational culture. Many of us spend our days seeking to achieve something that always seems to change just about the time we acquire it. The goalposts in life tend to move.
Yet when it comes to truly living into the promise of the Resurrection, it is not something we can achieve or acquire by praying more, reading more good books, trying harder, joining a church, going to church, even by living a better life. This is one thing that we can’t make happen on our own.
The promise of God, to conquer death forever, to lift and raise us up, happens to us and for us.
Today we wake up to proclaim and share the central message of our faith: that God brings new life to dead ends.
It is not something we can purchase, or package, or download, crowd source, or bargain for and leverage something else to acquire.
The Resurrection we celebrate today is mystery and Grace: a free gift from God who is hoping against hope that we are foolish and wise enough to believe and live into.