It’s Easter Season – now what?

We are in that time of year not marked on any calendar and not celebrated in any home – it is the Easter season. We have seven weeks, until the celebration of Pentecost (another holiday not widely observed) in which to ponder what Easter means and the lasting impact Easter has on our lives and our faith.

Celebrating Easter Sunday is a snap. We know just what to do. Sunrise service will happen, rain or shine; this year we took it on the faith that the sun was actually rising as we sang, “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Our Easter service was full and joyfully exuberant. An abundance of flowers surrounded us as we relished music from children, adults, and bells. We declared with enthusiasm that “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

And then everyone went home.  And the Easter season began.

We’re left with the nagging reminder that Easter is not a fairy tale with a tidy ending. Everyone did not, in fact, live happily ever after.  What happened was a lot grimmer. The hero of the story – Jesus – was killed in about as brutal a fashion as anyone could imagine. There was betrayal and loss, disappointment and disillusionment, mourning and fear.

Even the resurrection doesn’t cancel out the brutality of Jesus’ death. The Apostles’ Creed insists on repeating the harsh reality – Jesus was “crucified, dead, and was buried.  Then he descended into hell.”  He was really, really dead. Hope, in that moment, disappeared.

It is not a pretty story. We have to acknowledge Good Friday’s trauma in order to celebrate Easter and the miracle of life after death.  Jesus lives again but now he is different. Now he lives with scars. He is forever changed by the violence that took his life.

Violence continues to impact lives today. Survivors are forever marked by evil; they carry the scars of sudden, disrupting loss.

To combat the terror and violence that seems to fill our world, we may crave for a superhero to rise up and defeat our enemies. I suspect the popularity of the latest Avengers movie – 1.2 billion dollars earned worldwide in three days – reflects a desire to have extraordinary powers to face overwhelming enemies.

Instead, we have Jesus. Our wounded savior has been hurt, oppressed, attacked, wrongly accused, betrayed, mocked, and unjustly treated.

Despite balloons and bunnies, flowers and songs, Easter does not allow us to ignore life’s hardships. Instead, Easter provides hope that suffering and violence do not – cannot – have the final word. Even as we acknowledge the pain that exists in our world, we declare our faith in God who is greater than any evil. Jesus lives. Love will have the final word.

We celebrate the Easter season by declaring the enduring power of love. Love wins.  

Sharing Easter Joy

Easter was wonderful! We shouted “alleluia!” and celebrated that “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!”

 Now what?  How do we make sure that Easter – with all of its hope and joy – is not just a one-day celebration? How do we share the Good News that God offers new life even amidst despair and sadness?

 We are not Bible-thumpers in East Woodstock. No one expects me to pound the pulpit and dictate what they believe or how they live their faith or even that there is only way to find and worship God. Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, is known for welcoming all of God’s people by declaring “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

 So, if we aren’t telling people what they have to believe, how are we sharing the Good News? What I love about my congregation is their creativity. They have discovered many ways to share God’s hope and new life.

Some people knit prayer shawls and offer these gifts as a reminder of God’s encircling love.

 Some folks paint rocks and place them in parks or other public places or give them as gifts (thanks, Laurie!).  The painter rarely sees the reaction of the recipient, but occasionally powerful stories filter back to us about someone who discovered a message rock and rejoiced in its comfort and hope.  

 Some people write letters to the editor to encourage good stewardship of the earth or combat racism.

 There are the “behind the scenes” folks who sort clothes for the upcoming clothing sale, tidy up the sanctuary in preparation for Sunday, or tend our church garden so it presents a welcoming array of colors to everyone who stops by.

 Some people volunteer at the local community kitchen or spend hours helping out at community closet and food pantry. People send cards, deliver meals, and offer rides to the doctor.

It turns out there are endless ways to share God’s love. It does take intention. It isn’t enough to say, “I’ll just be a good person today.” That’s nice, but the world – and the people who live in it – need more than just “nice.”

I read recently that Benjamin Franklin began each day asking, “What good can I do today?” and concluded the day by wondering, “What good did I do today?” What stranger did we greet with kindness, what comfort did we offer to those in despair, how did we treat our neighbor? With our different gifts and varying interests, we can choose to offer hope and spread encouragement.

And the hope of Easter will live on.

Scarred, but living

Surrounded by death, Mary saw life. She shares the Good News, “I have seen the Lord!”

Jesus meets the fearful, tearful disciples and says, “Peace be with you.”

Easter isn’t about ignoring pain or pretending that bad things don’t happen. Easter is about staring death in the face and proclaiming – God is bigger than that.

We try to make Easter something that it isn’t. It isn’t an absence of pain. It isn’t a lack of suffering. It isn’t avoiding fear, doubt, and sadness.  Easter is more important and life-giving than that. Easter is discovering God in the midst of those terrible places.

We do not have a “Pollyanna” faith. We are not bound by a belief that tries to convince us that everything will be all right if we just believe. We are smart people. We know there is suffering across the globe and in our own backyards. Sometimes in our own lives.   Easter does not ask us to ignore that. Easter releases us from the bad theology that states that a strong faith means an absence of misfortune.

The violence and despair of Holy Week left Thomas filled with anguish. After suffering abandonment and disillusionment, he states exactly what it will take for him to believe again, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas wasn’t ready to trust a simple faith with easy answers. His life was more complicated than that – and so is ours.

Why would we believe in a faith that lacks suffering and death? Why would we want to turn off our brains and pretend that life is always easy, fair or carefree?

Easter offers vital glimpses of God meeting humans in the midst of turmoil:

  • The first witnesses saw Jesus in the graveyard.
  • Jesus enters the locked room where the disciples are cowering and crippled by their fear.
  • Jesus walked with terrified disciples fleeing Jerusalem

Jesus is exactly where people need him most. In the middle of their pain – that’s where Jesus enters. Jesus is scarred. He has suffered.  But he lives.  And therefore, so can we.

Think about events that have scarred or altered your life. Easter recognizes the impact of those occurrences. Easter reassures us that with the help of Christ, we can go on from here.

The benediction at our Good Friday service announced, “This is not the end of our story. But now we must wait and watch for what God will do next.”  Easter tells us to be on the lookout for where God will act.  It may be unexpected. God may look different than we imagine. But the promise of Easter is that God will be there. And that gives us the ability to carry on.

Easter season