Summary: Easter is the celebration of an impossible miracle. We forget this at our peril.
As people of faith have been saying for centuries, “The Lord works in funny ways.” I mean, REALLY funny. In my case, God actually set me about the task of watching my DVD of Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL at about one in the morning when I knew good and well I had to get up and go in to the hospital at nine o’clock.
But before we pursue that any further, let’s take a look at the first Easter Sunday, when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and some other women are on their way to anoint the corpse of Jesus. Is that phrase a little jarring to you? The corpse of Jesus? We usually don’t think about his CORPSE, do we? No, we think about his BODY. A body can be living or dead, but a CORPSE is definitely dead as a hammer, and that is what these ladies expect to find.
Then two men in dazzling garments ask what may well be the KEY QUESTION of Easter: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" That question fell to the women who were there to anoint the corpse of Jesus, but I wonder what would have happened if they’d asked the same question to Peter, for example, or Thomas or some of the other former followers of Jesus.
And let’s stop ourselves once again. Does THAT phrase seem a little jarring to you? FORMER followers of Jesus? We think of OURSELVES, here and now, as FOLLOWERS of Jesus. But on a Saturday night 2007 years ago, the disciples of Jesus went to bed thinking of themselves as his FORMER followers.
And as they dozed off, they may have been contemplating how best to exploit the martyrdom of their leader. There’s no denying it: A martyr is a very handy political tool. You can put words into the mouth of a martyr, say he did things he never did, meant things he never meant, and there’s not a thing he can do about it. He’s DEAD.
But on that first Easter, the disciples found themselves in a completely new, bizarre world that made absolutely no sense. Our martyr won’t stay dead! His corpse won’t stay still so that we can anoint it! Our sacrificial lamb is frolicking and gamboling among the tombs!
The whole idea is SO bizarre and over the top that good and faithful church people have spent over two thousand years trying to FIX this crazy business so that it makes sense and looks good on paper. The Gospels give us poetry, but we want flowcharts. They give us paintings, but we need blueprints. They give us an aquarium, and we make fish soup.
The angel asked, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? But I am afraid that, if he were to appear among us, his question to us would be, "Why do you seek the dead among the living?" Why have you made a routine out of a miracle?
What we celebrate on Easter is that we believe the unbelievable. We worship the absurd. We celebrate the impossible. We worship a MARTYR who not only LIVES, but LIVES FOREVER.
And we find out just how unbelievable and impossible and absurd it all is when we run and tell others of the great event we have witnessed. On Easter, in the comic strip Peanuts, Lucy is watching TV and Linus is looking out the window, and he sees Snoopy out there hiding eggs and he says, "The Easter Bunny is in our back yard!. . . . He’s doing a spring dance. . . . Now he’s hiding eggs all over the front lawn. . ." And Lucy says, "Uh huh. . . sure, he is. . ." Linus watches a little longer and he says, "I think I’ll go out and gather up all the eggs." And Lucy says, "Why don’t you just do that. . ." Then Linus comes in with a big armload of Easter eggs and he says, "You miss a lot when you sit and watch TV all day long."
On the day when Jesus rose, EVEN HIS CLOSEST, most devout followers were so wrapped up in what they THOUGHT mattered and what they THOUGHT Jesus meant and what they THOUGHT was real that they could not even see what was going on in their own front yard.
And for centuries, even the people who were most devout in seeking justice and doing good and showing mercy would reject the Good News of the Risen Christ. Even when they accept the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and took those sins with him to the grave, if they are looking for a martyr in his tomb, they would never find Christ. And they will join the chorus of those who despair: It’s simply too good to be true.