Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Easter!

"The strife is o'er;
  the battle done;
The victory of life
   is won;
The song of triumph
   has begun:
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
--Latin Hymn, tr. Francis
Pott (1832-1909)

Every Easter the memory comes back. I had a chance to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany several years ago. The play opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. For almost six hours the audience followed the story of Jesus’ last days on earth.

 I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic and disturbing. After Jesus’ body was carefully taken down from the cross the stage went dark.  Suddenly a dim light came on which illuminated a small cluster of weeping women. They stood before huge doors that represented the locked tomb. They knocked on the door. Nothing happened. Frantically they tried to pry the doors open. The doors did not budge. Suddenly an angel came on stage and without saying a word began to unroll a white aisle cloth from the closed door down the steps toward the audience. As the women looked on, the door creaked open and dazzling light slowly filled the stage and finally the whole room. Through that open door Jesus came. He walked down the steps. And from left and right laughing children came running forward, hugging Jesus’ legs. In the background a Choir sang.

I can’t improve on that Easter scene. It was as close to the wonder of the Resurrection as anything I know. Who can put this special day into words? Surely not the merchants hawking their Easter wares. Surely not the bunnies, the Easter lilies, the corsages, or those wonderful multi-colored eggs. Surely this day is more than the coming of spring and the end of winter.

Easter is light, hope, new beginnings, love and laughter. Somehow our old nine to five calendar pages are disturbed once again. The predictability of our days is thrown off kilter. And whether it is worry about money or retirement or health or children or just the troubled world-- most of us find ourselves pausing on Easter morning.

People who never darken the door of a church put on our finery and slip into some sanctuary. This is not the time for any preacher to chide those who only come on Easter morning. It hardly matters if they are dragged along by some wife or child. We all need something to shatter life’s flatness. A bad lab report. That funeral last week. Afghanistan, endless Afghanistan.   A disappointment so heavy that we wonder if we can make it. Like those women in the play we all know something about locked doors and sealed-up tombs.

And Easter comes. Saying that despite the darkness which is very real and the trouble we all carry, there is another word. There is light, so blinding it hurts our eyes. There is wonder so strong that we may find it hard to hold back the tears. There is joy and laughter at the heart of life despite its rawness and its difficulty.

What changed those petty, cowardly disciples and turned them inside out? There is no explanation except that Easter brought with it light, hope and new life for them and for their world. They wrote the story over and over until we have four gospels. They founded a church, which has endured despite its all-too-human members and preachers. That little group of first believers passed the torch until the greatest story ever told could be our story, too. Wishful thinking? Some say so. I choose to remember large open doors and a blinding light and at the center Jesus come back from the dead. But what I remember most after all these years is the laughter of all those children.

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