Pastor's Pen
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April 25, 2017, 10:35 AM

Easter

 

Easter

One Preacher’s Thoughts

 

   From the preacher’s perspective, what isn’t there not to love about Easter morning? People are unusually considerate and say nice things to us and to each other. The hymns are the strongest in the book; everybody knows them and loves to sing them. The choir has a few more voices than usual; the organist and pianist are at the top of their game. The flowers are gorgeous. Everyone is dressed up. A few hats make their annual appearance. People call during the week before Easter to ask if we are going to have an Easter morning service and what time should they arrive. (Reminds me of the person who called a few years back before Christmas and asked if we were having a Christmas Eve service on December 24th.)

   What is there not to love about Easter? Only one thing, and it is that there is no language big enough for today’s topic: the resurrection of Jesus Christ! The truth is that the steepest climb of the year for the preacher is up the steps to the pulpit on Easter morning.  We turn everywhere we can think of for help, for a new angle about a story everybody knows. Michael Lindvall, Presbyterian pastor and author, says that it is good for the preacher to remember that she or he is about to prepare the billionth Easter sermon in history.

   There are four accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) of what happened on the first Easter morning. They tell it differently, with different people responding in different ways.

You might ask, “Why didn’t someone in the early centuries, as the books of the New Testament were being assembled, clean them up a little bit, do a little editing, so that the story of the resurrection – which, after all, is the central, formative Christian story – is coherent, with at least consistency and the same cast of characters?” I know trial lawyers and judges who would say that when all the evidence presented in court is perfectly consistent, in all probability the evidence has been altered, because, in fact, different people, after the fact, describe the same event differently. So, discrepancies in the accounts are not necessarily evidence of tampering with the text, but maybe the exact opposite: they are authentic records of an event experienced by different individuals, who later described it very differently.

   The Gospel of John tells the story in two parts (John 20:1-18). In part one, there is a lot of running back and forth. Mary discovers that the stone has been moved and runs to tell Peter and John. Peter and John run to the tomb, discover that it is empty, and then, presumably, run back home. No one has said anything about a resurrection. Mary clearly believes someone has stolen the body. She’s worried because there was no opportunity to anoint the body and give Jesus a proper burial.

  When things settle down, Mary returns to the garden tomb a second time. Perhaps she wants to be alone with her grief. Two angels ask her why she cries. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Still no mention of resurrection. Mary is still focused on doing what needs to be done. And then there is the experience, for which words simply seem inadequate!

   Jesus is there. She thinks it is the gardener, asks him where the body is. Jesus says her name, “Mary,” and intensely personal moment, and she knows something indescribable, something impossible, unthinkable has happened. He is risen. Jesus is alive.

   Mary is in a new world now. Old certainties about life and death have been shattered. It didn’t take long for people to understand that if Jesus was raised from the dead, the future looks very different. God is doing a new thing, an astonishing thing.

   If Jesus is alive, Easter is not just about something that happened long ago, but is a reality now! If Jesus is alive, God continues to create and redeem and save the world. Mary, Peter and John, you and I live in a new world, full of hope and possibility, and He calls us to start living and hoping and rolling up our sleeves and working for God’s new Easter creation. 

   What happened to Mary in the garden when Jesus spoke her name was deeply personal. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, says Easter is not, finally, about ideas, theories, or even creedal affirmations … it is about our personal relationship with God. She writes, “Like Mary we long to be known by God, to be held in God’s gaze, to be seen by God as the object of God’s love and care.”

   To this one pastor the astonishing news of Easter is that it is exactly how He comes – not only to introduce God’s new creation into history, but to you and me, to call us by name and to invite us to live lives that know that death has been overcome, that because He lives, we shall live also. 04.16.2017

Dr. Rick Baggett is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ardmore (the church with the bells) and can be reached at: rbgoodnews@yahoo.com


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