Friday, April 22, 2011

When I Think of Easter...

"When the world shakes its fist and says, Good

Friday! God comes back with dogwood, redbuds, and

jonquils; the crocuses and butterflies of life and says,

Easter! Easter! Easter!
  --Grady Nutt

Every Easter I remember the last scene in the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. The drama opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. The powerful drama of the last days of Jesus’ life took six hours to tell. The audience was given a break for lunch and then returned to their seats for the rest of the story.

I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic and disturbing. When Jesus died the stage went dark. Jesus’ loved ones tenderly took his broken dead body down from the cross. In the last scene of the play the weeping women stood in front of two huge doors that represented the sealed tomb. They knocked on the doors and nothing seemed to happen. Then an angel came and, without saying a word, she unrolled a long white aisle cloth from the door down the steps toward the audience. As the grieving women looked on, the door slowly began to open. Dazzling light slowly filled the stage and the whole theatre. Jesus came through the streaming light. As he walked down the steps from everywhere a multitude of children came running forward, laughing and grabbing his legs. They were followed by a whole cadre of Adults. The chorus sang joyously as the drama ended.

That event was as close to Easter as I can understand. There are no words or events that can possibly do this day justice. Surely not the merchants hawking their Easter finery. Surely not the bunnies, the Easter lilies, the corsages, and those wonderful multi-colored eggs. Surely this day is more than the end of winter and the coming of spring.

Easter is light and hope and new beginnings and love and laughter. Somehow our old nine to five calendars are shaken loose once again. The predictability of our lives is thrown off kilter. Our worries about money or retirement or health or children or just the world, is put on hold at least temporarily.

Many who never darken the door of a church put on their finery and slip into some sanctuary today. Any preacher should be happy to receive even those once a year attendees. Who cares if some wife or child has reluctantly dragged them along? We are all in need of something to touch life’s hard places. It could be a bad lab report or last week’s funeral. It might just be: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. In every congregation are disappointments so large and so heavy that the bearers wonder if they can make it. There are still doors that do not open and tombs that are sealed shut.

This is always the setting of the Easter. The darkness, which is all-too-real, comes tearing through our lives in unlikely moments. These interruptions are never the last word. There is light, so blinding it hurts your eyes. There is wonder so strong that you may have to hold back the tears. There is joy and laughter at the heart of even the most cumbersome of our lives.

What changed those petty, cowardly disciples and turned them inside out? There is no explanation except Easter came with its light and new life and enormous hope. Those first believers wrote the story over and over until we have four gospels accounts. Jesus’ followers founded a church, which for better or worse still keeps on ticking despite church bombings and fires and all-too-human members and preachers.

Those first disciples passed the torch from generation to generation until after all these years, it has come down to us. Could this story only be wishful thinking? Some say so. I choose to remember a large door and blinding light and a figure people thought dead and the laughter of a multitude of children. And during the steamy dog days of summer or the cold, cold days of winter I hope I still recall the miracle of Easter and the promise it always brings.

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