Today I Saw God
One day when I was eight-years-old I was walking through the kitchen and there on the counter was a full size Hershey's chocolate bar, not one of those little miniatures, a full size candy bar. I wanted that candy bar. A lot. So I looked right and left, around the corner and behind me to make sure no one else was looking, and I took it. I went into my room and hid it in this little red and white lunch box that I played with sometimes. That night at dinner my mom asked my brothers and me if any of us had seen that chocolate bar. We all said no. One of us was lying. You'd think that I might eat that chocolate bar, but no, I just opened the lunch box from time to time and looked at it. Big, whole, beautiful and full of chocolaty goodness. Later that week my mom decided that it was time to clean my room and she was going to help me. Before I could do anything she was picking up the red and white lunch box. That's when it happened, my fervent prayer. I shut my eyes and prayed with all my eight-year-old worth; "Please God, please, please, please, make her not open that lunch box." Then as her hand moved towards the clasp, "Please God, please, please, please, make that chocolate bar disappear!" There was silence in the room. I finally opened my eyes to see my mother looking at me with that mother look and holding the chocolate bar in her hand. And I shut my eyes again and said to God; "I'm so disappointed in you."
Fast-forward several years. I was in college and my friend Mary was in a terrible car accident and I prayed and prayed, please God, please, please, please, make her be okay. But she wasn't. And I shut my eyes again and I said to God; "I'm so disappointed in you."
But of course that disappointment was so much deeper. I was older, wiser; I understood that we lived in a broken world and that sometimes bad things happen. I knew in my head that it was not God's fault but my heart was so sad. I had hoped that Mary – bright, loud, cheerful Mary, might live. And now it felt like I was living in a world that was only full of sorrow and sadness, like there was no longer any color or brightness to be seen.
I remember driving to Mary's funeral with a friend. We had to drive from college to her hometown and we ended up being a little bit late to the service. We had to sit upstairs in the balcony. I remember walking up those stairs thinking that this was going to be awful. But as I rounded the corner from the stairs to the place where I could see the front of the church, the singing started. It was the chorus of a song we used to sing at camp; alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. I walked forward to my seat and looked down at all the people, at the flowers and Mary's family and the empty cross. The music swelled from the floor and rose up to the rafters of that church, filling the space with song; louder and louder, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. I could see Mary's mother singing in the front row. She was smiling, her head up and her eyes fixed on that cross. That empty cross that rose above everything else in the sanctuary. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. And in that moment, at that funeral, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated that in spite of death and sorrow and sadness God was present with us and for us. We celebrated because Easter is not just a time for flowers and eggs; we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrated Jesus' triumph over sin and death.
I woke Easter morning with a song in my head: "Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!" It is my favorite Easter song, and I love to sing it. I was eager to get to church to sing it with the choir. I find Easter to be such a happy, joyful day.
So I was taken aback by my response when we began to sing the song in church. I was not prepared for the tears that streamed down my face as I sang, "Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!" They weren't tears of sadness but of shear, utter joy. Recent research says that when you cry because you are happy you are responding to an overwhelming positive emotion. I was definitely swept up in thankfulness for what Christ had done. Without Christ, there is no eternal life, paradise is not open. Wow, what a gift!
As I sang I thought of this Jesus of Nazareth who had died on a cross one Friday afternoon and then arose from the grave three days later. I reflected on the people who told of seeing him, talking to him and touching him. They told of sharing meals with him. These same people would later die because of these stories and what they believed these stories meant.
The Easter story is more than a story of an empty tomb. In fact, each of the Gospels dedicates an entire chapter to resurrection appearances (John dedicates two chapters). It's a story of people realizing who Jesus really was and what he really accomplished with his life, death and resurrection.
This Easter, perhaps because I lost someone very close to me, I cried tears of joy when I sang, "Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!" But truthfully, I should be this happy every day. The opportunity to live eternally in the presence of God was given to me and to all who believe, all those years ago. Easter matters. The resurrection matters. Thanks be to God!
Does it matter if the Resurrection actuallyhappened?
This was the question we considered in my adult Sunday school class at a church I used to belong to. I was a regular at Sunday school, where we considered issues of faith and its practice as a matter of course. Sunday school was organized and led by members of the church and always promised a lively discussion and discourse. But oneEaster Sunday, a bunch of us who came for the sunrise service and stayed to participate in the other morning services had gathered for Sunday school only to realize nothing had been planned. So a class member took charge asking the question of the day: Does it matter if the Resurrectionactuallyhappened?
Our class leader didn't think so. "It's so unreasonable, unrealistic, so hard to believe," she argued. "My faith is in Jesus. If I follow him, that's enough. Whether or not he was actually raised from the dead doesn't matter."
I found my heart oddly soured when nods of assent went around the circle. Wait a minute, that's Easter, this is Easter! I wanted to say. But I didn't because I couldn't. I couldn't justify my response or defend it against this rising tide of head nodders satisfied with the Son of Man who showedus the way. This man healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed storms, silenced his detractors and regularly attracted crowds. Isn't that enough?
Well, no. Because if that was enough, he'd still be here, healing and casting and calming and teaching. But, and I think all authorities agree on this, he is not. There are no longer sightings of Jesus, the good man. He did die. And scripture tells us that when they went looking for him, Jesus wasn't where they put him. Word was, they were looking in the wrong place. He had gone to Galilee and would be receiving people there. Go and see.
Easter, to me, is about the go and see. Could it be possible that a man has died and yet lives again? Not according to any textbook I've ever read. And not, apparently, according to my Sunday school leader. She was taking the safe approach: let's be satisfied with the Jesus we know. If we go looking for him as if he'd come back to life we might not find him, and then where would we be?
The thing is, we need more than the tame Jesus we find believable. Now more than ever, we need Christ who is beyond belief. One who works miracles, walks on water and accepts death on its own terms so we can know there is life for us beyond the death of all that is un-good, un-kind, un-fair and un-godly in us. Christ died so we can know that those things in us are mortal; we can live without them. We are better without them. He came to show us that life.Not just in eternity, but now during this one.
"Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live." – John 14:19
Last week I visited a historic site on the western coast of Florida called Historic Spanish Point. It was filled with the stories of ancient peoples and settlers enduring hardship and trials. The most recent inhabitants considered it sanctuary and rest. The grounds were alive with story and layer upon layer of meaning.
The guide took us to see "Mary's Chapel," a tiny sanctuary that, in it's day, was open to all who might come.
Next to the chapel was a centuries-old graveyard filled with headstones proclaiming the inhabitants, pioneers and patrons who had found a home here. Oddly intertwined among the headstones was a trunk sprouting a few brown and dying ferns. "That's the resurrection fern," our guide told us. "It looks dead, doesn't it? But in a few days, when the rains come, it will spring to life. Nobetter place to have a resurrection tree than in a graveyard, eh?"
Oh my, yes. I'm so grateful there is such a tree in the graveyard of my life.
"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead,how can some of you say that there is no resurrectionof the dead?If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.And if Christ has not been raised,our preaching is useless and so is your faith." – 1 Corinthians 15: 12-14
This post originally appeared on "The Kinesthetic Christian."
One of my favorite Easter traditions as a kid came courtesy of a much beloved aunt and uncle. It wasn't a new outfit or a new pair of patent leather Mary Janes, although those items were fun treats over the years as well. No, it was the one and only chocolate Easter egg from See's Candy. It was rich, fancy and so special it came in its own box. I remember thinking it was one of the prettiest things I'd seen. I'd enjoy small pieces at a time, sharing it with my parents,making it last for as many days as possible. It didn't matter if I received anything else in a basket for Easter. The See's chocolate egg was my favorite.
I think we sometimes seeEaster in the same way that I used to viewthe fancy See's chocolate egglike a special treat, but not much more. Easter arrives in all of its glory; it's fancy, colorful, joyous and full of music. We feel sort of relieved that the austerity of Lent is over. Easteris a day set apart to celebrate Jesus' resurrection and the promise of new life for all of us. That is well worth celebrating! We dress up, we enjoy the celebration…and then before we know it, just like my favorite treat, it's gone. We stop celebrating the true gifts and sacrifices signified by the resurrection and we go back to our daily routines. We often leave behind the spiritual disciplines we held toduring Lent, too. We stop going to that small group we tried out and we stop reading the Bible as regularly. We may even stop attending worship as often, giving in to the relentless social and professionaldemands for our time that inevitably pop up as the weather turns warm. What is the point of Lent and Easter if we walk away from all of the benefits of fellowship and discernment that both experiences have tooffer us?
Easter is so much more than a special treat,friends. Easter represents a newbeginning, not justan ending to a somber time. Go ahead, admire itlike the fancy See's chocolate egg. But don't stop there. Formonths to come, treat yourself to a little bit every week. Savor the gift of the resurrection at the same time that you honorthe sacrifice it represents. Continue to spend time in prayer and worship, listening for the new thing that may be at work inyou. The longer you allow yourself toexperience Easter,you may find thatJesus hasmore gifts waiting for you than you can fit into any Easter basket.
Recently I found myself explaining Easter egg hunts to a friend who wasunfamiliar with this tradition. As I explained it I realized that it sounded rather odd, "Children search for plastic eggs filled with candy because." I had nothing to follow the because. So, I went searching.
I found out that decorating eggs as part of a spring ritual dates back to ancient Greece and Rome and that decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century. One explanation is that eggs were one of the forbidden foods during Lent, so people boiled them. Then they painted them and ate them on Easter. Another explanation says that the egg is a symbol of Jesus' resurrection and when they are cracked open they stand for the empty tomb.
I have vivid memories of hunting hard-boiled eggs in my Nana's backyard. Our family tradition was to celebrate Easter by heading to Baltimore to be with my cousins. My dad and Uncle Clifford would hide the eggs in the backyard, and the four cousins would run frantically around the yard, Easter baskets in hand, searching for colorful hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes it was particularly hard to find an egg so the dads would coach us, "You're getting warmer," "You're hot," or "You're on fire." Afterwards, we sat around the huge dining room table and had "egg fights" also known as "egg picking" or "egg tapping."
This year, my girls were home for Easter. On Friday, we dyed Easter eggs and headed to the Good Friday worship service. On Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection at Floris UMC, then drove to visit my family in Annapolis where we shared a meal and had the requisite egg fights. This Easter, when we cracked open our eggs, I remembered what I had learned about the Easter egg, the symbol of the empty tomb and the power of the resurrection of Christ, and I took a moment to thank God for the gift of Jesus.
What did you do this Easter to celebrate and remember Christ?