Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas! What a beautiful season …(Pastor! It’s not Christmas, it’s Easter!)
Oh, right. Rats. It’s not Christmas? Well, let’s take a vote; who likes Christmas better than Easter? It’s the presents, right? Who cares about a chocolate bunny, we want the big stuff. Too much religion in Easter, anyway. And no jingle bells.
OK. I haven’t lost my mind: I know it’s not Christmas. But sometimes I think it would be easier just to have Christmas twice a year than to have to live up to one Easter. Easter is very challenging, you know. Christmas, for all its brouhaha, is so much easier to wrap our minds around: it’s a birthday, a baby is born, there’s a party. We can understand it: We know what to do with a baby: we feed it and change it and tickle it and talk baby-talk to it. And maybe most important of all, with a baby we know who WE are, because the baby defines us: we are caregiver, food source, love provider. This is supremely satisfying on a spiritual level because with a baby, because we discover ourselves to be waterfalls of unconditional love, and that just feels great. A baby pukes all over us, ruins our sleep, loads up those diapers, and yet all that magnificent parenting love is just there, it pours out of us. It’s hard work, but it’s heart work. It’s easy, joyful, simple, natural … love. Merry Christmas.
Easter is a different animal. There’s nothing natural or easy or normal about Easter. Easter is the most unnatural thing in the world. Easter busts things up. It turns everything upside down; it is the summit of Jesus’ upside-down-turning ministry. He even turns death upside down, for Christ sake, speaking of something we understand. Death is like birth in that way: we know what it is, we know what to expect, we know how it feels to lose someone, we know how death fits in our lives. Death is normal, natural, comes with the territory. Everything dies. Jesus died. His murder was particularly horrible and cruel, but lots of people in our world die horrible deaths every day, Most people who think that he existed at all believe that Jesus must have been a really, really good guy. Among them, he is widely revered as a great teacher and a holy man. But there are millions and billions of people in the world (and not just the Jews and Muslims and Buddhists, but many who call themselves Christian) who think that that’s all there is to it. Jesus was a good man, he lived a great life, but like everybody else before or since … he’s dead. End of story.
Well, we’re here today because it was not end of the story. This resurrection thing changes everything. Suddenly the cycles of birth and death with which we are so comfortable … are blown apart, turned upside down. There is no death. Well, there’s still something that looks like death, but it’s not what we thought it was anymore. I can’t help thinking of her Caribbean caregivers dancing at Lillian Frank’s grave and clapping and singing: “Ain’t no grave gonna hold this body down.” That’s the mind-bending, upside-down turning thing that Jesus did, that God did; as Paul writes, “he opened the kingdom of heaven.”
At this point, I really think I deserve some sympathy for this thing I have to do, this preaching thing. Preaching about the resurrection is a little like talking about dance. There’s a time to dance and a time to talk; the resurrection of Christ, the revelation that death has no power, the sure and certain hope of eternal life with God that is now ours, ours , ours …. That’s something to dance about. I think that’s why African’s make such wonderful Christians: they know when it’s time to dance. “Ain’t no grave gonna hold this body down.”
Dancing as such doesn’t come as easily to some of us as it does to Africans. Lutherans in particular are more known for their seriousness and sobriety than for spontaneity, and it may be that eternal life will work resurrection in us in the way God finds us in the Christmas carol: “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given / so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.”
But whether the angels are kicking up a fuss or we pass over to God in majestic, holy silence, the thing gets done. Our world, our expectations, our fears, our sorrows are turned upside-down and transformed into something new, something fresh, something infinitely surprising.
Christmas was surprising also, but in rather awful ways. It was squalid, uncomfortable, dangerous, perplexing, and nobody had any idea what was really going on.
Easter, however, is a big bang that reveals and energizes a new universe, an expanding universe, where the morning stars sing together, and all the children of God dance for joy.
So there is nothing to fear, nothing to lose. These mortal bodies, in a sense, are only our work clothes. We wear and use them as best we may until the work day is over, and we can wash up and go home for supper. That means we can do our work joyfully and freely, whatever it is, however hard it may be, because we know what’s coming, we know we will be free and washed and fed by the One who defines Himself, who reveals himself toward us, as our caregiver, our food source, the provider of unconditional love. We human beings have shown that, like babies, we are hard work for God, but God has shown us, is showing us today, that the hard work is also His heart work. Even now, unconditional, impartial, universal, irresistible love is pouring out of God’s heart through that empty tomb and into our hungry, restless hearts. That’s a party. Let’s dance. Merry Christmas.
I mean: Alleluia, Christ is Risen.