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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jelly Beans, Tootsie Rolls, and Easter

Matthew 28:1-10 Easter Sunday

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our risen and victorious Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
          A friend of mine, also a pastor, relayed a conversation that she had with two three-year-old friends when she was visiting them just last week. Always the teacher, my friend thought spending some time looking through an illustrated children’s bible would offer the perfect opportunity to talk about Easter. So she began reading the resurrection story to the children. And, as children will, they listened carefully for a little while, and then began asking questions – you know, the way only children, especially three year olds, can do. The conversation went something like this:
"Why is Jesus wearing a dress?” “Do you think the Easter bunny will bring me purple jelly beans?"
My friend patiently answered “I am sure he will bring you jelly beans. But, remember, Easter isn't about the bunny. It's about Jesus.”
"But will they be purple?" her little friend persisted.
“Yes,” my friend responded. “I’m sure there will be some purple ones in there…but the important thing about Easter isn't the bunny or the candy…Easter is about how much Jesus loves you and me and the whole world.”
"Okay, but, HOW MANY purple jelly beans will the Easter Bunny bring?"
My friend tried to redirect them,“Girls, I think there will probably be plenty of purple jellybeans.” She looked at them, “But do you know how much Jesus loves you?”
“But …” they began.
“Will he bring me tootsie rolls, too?”
For three year olds, Easter bunnies, purple jelly beans and tootsie rolls are more than enough to make Easter a day of celebration, with or without Jesus. For adults, the details may be different, but the distractions still exist. Easter flowers, spectacular music and beautiful hymns, fancy dinners, and spiffy new clothes make today a day to celebrate. But, you do know, don’t you, how very much Jesus loves you? That there really is more to this day? 
Whether we are three, or thirty, or, well – older than that, our very being hungers this day to know and experience the Easter story that lies beyond jellybeans, tootsie rolls, pretty plants, lovely music and new Spring clothes. Like the two Marys in our gospel text today, like the other disciples, we have all experienced dark nights of the soul, moments of great disappointment and grief, fear, or confusion and despair, where we, too, want to know, need to know, that there’s more to this day than the little details that all add up to make Easter special. We want to know, need to know and experience the truth of the resurrection. We want to know, need to know, that even after the sweets are consumed, the flowers wilt, the last notes of the beautiful music we hear today fade, there is something more in this Easter for us. Something radically life-changing, something hope-producing, and joyful, bound together by the love of Jesus and the truth of this gospel. 
Sooner or later, my friend’s three year old buddies will experience these dark nights and dark days, and they will need more than bunnies and jellybeans. They will need to know what Easter is all about. Sooner or later, we all have that need, to know that our faith has not been in vain.

·         Perhaps it will be when they are bullied at school or work and feel all alone;
·         Or maybe it will happen when they are betrayed or harshly, unfairly judged by a so-called “friend” or their heart is broken by the one who pledges to be faithful until death;
·         It could happen on a day when they hear the report from the doctor, “it’s not just a cold after all”
·         Or perhaps when they’re feeding their beloved, aging mother, who no longer recognizes them.
·         Perhaps that dark day occurred for you when you came to grips with the addiction that torments you or when I acknowledged the many bridges I have burned and the pain I have caused, and I yearn for the forgiveness I fear never will come.
·         Perhaps it will be the day our best friend dies, or we come face to face with unspeakable evil or loss.
Whatever our story or circumstance, our need for this day is real and it is deep. Despite the reality of death all around us – the death of dreams, the death of relationships, and of course, physical death, it is because of this day that we dare not only to hope but to be joyful. It is because of Easter, and God’s radical resurrection redirection, that we can be confident in our present and our future, and know that both are bound together in Christ’s eternal presence and love.
Today is a day that is not simply about beautiful flowers, though we certainly love them; nor is it about the beautiful music, the trumpet fanfare and shouted alleluias, though we sure do appreciate them. It is not simply a day about bunnies and jellybeans and tootsie rolls. It is about how in the midst of a mighty earthquake, God rolled the stone from the tomb, and revealed the divine mystery – that in Christ, death and the grave are defeated. This day is about God surprising and astounding us in the resurrection of Jesus – the real bodily resurrection of our Savior. And on this Easter day, we acknowledge that while there is great joy and relief in the victory of our Lord, each one of us experiences this mystery of faith differently. Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. These are not empty words, but words that contain in them the fullness of our faith. That God, who raised Christ from the dead is not done with us yet.
Today is a day that contains in it the dawn of a new reality. It is a reality that transcends time, reason and rationale. It shakes us up and it makes us new. It gives us hope and it asks of us our participation in this magnificent story. It begs us to share our faith. It commands us to pay attention.
Some of us see faith in brilliant white light like the shining light that reflected off the angel’s clothing at the tomb; for others faith is more subtle,  given to us at our baptism. Some of us have experienced radical, transformational moments of “born again” reality; for others Christ has been such a real and constant presence throughout our lives, that we can’t think of a moment when things changed and our faith became real. Christ has simply always been there. For some of us, believing is as unsettling as the earthquake that revealed the miraculously empty tomb; for others, it radiates with the reassuring warmth of the sun.
My friends, no matter which of these descriptions fits how faith in Christ has come to you, the truth is that Jesus’ resurrection makes all of us new! And for that reason, we are bid, like the Marys, to go and tell what God has done. The women’s lingering fear is overcome by their joy – they run! They run to tell the disciples this glorious good news of the resurrection! They run to tell the disciples of the empty tomb and the words of the angel. “Do not be afraid; He is not here; he has been raised from the dead.” 
Brothers and Sisters, our Easter surprise is that God, who has made all things new, who has brought life out of death, and hope out of despair, has great things in store for each and every one of us. Just as Christ’s presence in our lives looks different for each of us, so does this new life that comes to us through God’s grace.
New life sometimes looks like reconciliation between family members. Sometimes, new  life might look like me admitting that I’m wrong, or not mentioning that I’m right. New may look like helping our neighbors, even when we’re convinced that they’ve created their own disaster to begin with.
New life looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness, and sometimes new looks like people of faith letting go of past hurts, hang-ups, and conflict in order for a church to receive the resurrected life and mission our God is calling us to. New may look like unshakeable faith in the promise of resurrection, even as we watch loved ones die. Often, new is what we never see coming…the thing we didn’t even know to hope for, that ends up being exactly what we need.
New life happens to each of us, and is the reason we celebrate this day. Beyond the jelly beans and tootsie rolls, Easter is about God, in Jesus, coming near to us, reaching down into our everyday humanity and pulling us out of our graves, making us new, time and time again. The Good News of this day is that we are loved so much by God that God has swept us up into God’s own story of death and life, and life after death. We stand here as Easter people,  even as we shout, Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! And the people of God shout, Amen!

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