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A Coversation about Easter Moments
The Rev. Dr. Robert R. Hansel and
The Rev. Canon Renée Miller

Gospel: John 20:1-18

(This sermon is also available in audio)

Now the green blade riseth
from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth
many days has lain;
love lives again,
that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.
("Hymn 204," from The Hymnal 1982,
Copyright ©1985 by the Church Pension Fund.)

Renée: Here we are, we've come through the long journey of Lent, and we've arrived at the day of Alleluias. The day that is a witness that death does not have the final word, the day that assures us that life is eternal, the day that reminds us that God is bigger than we might ever have imagined. For two thousand years people of faith all over the world have joined to celebrate the meaning of resurrection, new life, reconciliation, peace, joy, meaning.

Bob: Hold it. Hold it. Time out.

Renée: What?

Bob: I know you're not an early riser. You're not a morning person, but I think you might want to look at the daily newspaper.

Renée: Oh really?

Bob: I have to tell you that all that stuff you're talking about is very beautiful, and I'd be the last one to disparage Easter. But I have to tell you, the world is very messed up.

Renée: Really?

Bob: There's not a lot of joy, peace, and reconciliation. I was just reading the other day this quote from that astute philosopher of the human condition, Charles Barkley, who suggested that things are really messed up. All of our logic and reason is totally a-tilt. Look at the world: the most famous rap artist is white, the best golfer is black, and the tallest basketball player in the world is Chinese. We had a war and invited the Germans, and they turned us down. And the French think we're arrogant. What kind of world are we in here? I think we're in danger of sounding like we're sort of whistling Dixie. We're pretending.

Renée: I would agree that there is a lot of chaos and dis-ease in the world. You're right. I don't really read the paper much, so it's good you point these things out to me. I can count on you to do that, I know. But in the midst of the chaos and dis-ease of the world, we can still count on the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we're tempted to either dismiss the prospect completely, or we think that we can only have the Kingdom life once we get out of this life and twirl up to heaven. In fact, we're living eternal life now.

That's really the surprise of Easter. We don't have to wait until we get to heaven to experience it. It is happening all around us. But of course, the problem is that because it is not fulfilled at every moment, we don't see it because of what's going on in the world. There's a chance that we could miss it by simply not being attentive and aware to the possibilities of reconciliation and peace and joy and all that language you're talking about, that you think may not be so accurate. I can understand that people might wonder, "Well, maybe Easter just really didn't work out somehow." But I think, Bob, that we really can see those moments of resurrection around us.

Bob: You make me think back to when Rabbi Kushner was here during Lent. Rabbi Kushner is a great student of Hasidic storie—Jewish stories that are very simple in appearance but hold profound truths. He was telling the story about how this man came to his Rabbi at Hanukkah and said, "I know Hanukkah is a season in which we are supposed to be looking everywhere for the presence of God and to feel that God is everywhere, surrounding us with love and blessings. But Rabbi, I have to tell you, this has not been a great year for us. The family is really in disarray, and my health hasn't been good. Instead of God being everywhere and surrounding us and blessing us, I have the sense that God is so put off by the terrible things that are going on in my life and in the world that God is actually hiding his face. I mean, he doesn't really want to see it. He is just hiding somewhere." So the Rabbi said, "Well now, wait a minute. Let's think about this logically. If you know that God is hiding, then God is really not hidden."

That's a profound kind of truth, the business about God hiding. If we know that God is there all of the time, then God really isn't hiding. It's like when we play the game of peek-a-boo with a little child. We put our hands in front of our face and the child gets all anxious, and then we take our hands away, and he laughs and cheers and so on. We haven't gone anywhere. We're still there, still the same person, and the fact that we were hidden to this child doesn't mean a thing.

Renée: That makes sense to me. The famous theologian Paul Tillich, once said, "that which is ultimately true is seldom obvious." If we dwell in faith, we know that the reality is only temporarily 'masked'--we can't be fooled into thinking that the absence of the reality is the truth.

It reminds me of the time that the Israelites were fighting the Syrians. Elisha, the prophet of God, had risen early and went out and saw that the Syrians had completely surrounded the city. The young man with Elisha was terrified and asked the prophet, "What they were going to do?" Elisha told the young man not to be afraid because there were more of God's hosts than could be numbered. Then Elisha prayed that the young man might have eyes to see, and when the young man looked up he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire. The horses and chariots were there all the time, but were masked until his eyes were opened.

It's like the words on a poster I once saw in the 60's:

I believe in the sun even when
it is not shining.
I believe in love even when
feeling it not.
I believe in God even when he
is silent.
(~A Jewish Prayer)

There are always circumstances in life that appear to be challenging God's presence, God's love, God's power. And yet, behind that mask, in the midst of all the world's suffering and turmoil, God's face is 'peeking out'--and when we catch a glimpse of God peeking out, our hope is strengthened, our trust is deepened, and we are energized and enthused to be a co-creator with God in opening people up to that kingdom life.

Bob: That's what Easter does, I think. It reminds us that there are these little islands in the midst of this vast sea of storm and rage and chaos. We read the paper and we say, "What's happening? How's it all going to turn out?" We don't need to know how it turns out. That's in God's hands. What we need to know is that there are these islands of calm, those moments of peace where real serenity comes to us. However that comes to you--whether that's with your family, or at your work, or in your church--find that place where you can see God peeking out. Those are Easter moments.

Renée: Well, I have an Easter moment I'll share with you. You know, sometimes Easter moments can be big events, and sometimes they can be very small. This one's a small one in some ways. A few years ago when I was on the diocesan staff in Idaho, I was making a visitation on our church in Pocatello, Idaho. I usually stayed at the Quality Inn when I was in Pocatello. On this particular evening, I went in to register and found a long line, and a young woman at the reservation desk who was frazzled. Someone was butting in line to complain about something in their room. The phone was ringing. Other people were exasperated at the length of time it was taking to get checked in. This young woman was trying to be congenial, but she was not having one of her "better nights!"

At a rather crucial moment, yet another couple pushed their way into the line and put a small styrofoam box down on the desk right in front of the young woman. "It's banana cream," they said. It seems that before they had gone to dinner they had asked the young woman for the name of a good restaurant. She told them of one that had the best pies ever made, and she mentioned that her favorite was banana cream. So this couple, without provocation, simply brought goodness into that young woman's life that night. She looked at the styrofoam box, looked up at them with a face that shone with joy, and thanked them. Her night was changed by a miracle piece of banana cream pie! She was given an Easter moment and I saw God peeking through in the action of the couple who brought her that piece of pie.

There are hundreds and thousands of those kind of Easter moments, and they're the signs and tokens of the promises of Easter that even though everything is not perfect yet, life is good. Resurrection is happening all around us if we have "eyes to see and ears to hear," even when bleakness stands very close. Those Easter moments are for us a way to witness God peeking out.

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows,
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring becomes the rose.
from "The Rose" by Amanda McBrooom)

Bob: Amen, Alleluia

Renée: Amen


Gospel: John 20: 1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary"’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. NRSV


Copyright ©2003 Calvary Episcopal Church

This homily was delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, on March April 20, 2003, Easter Sunday.

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