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“Early in the morning while it was still dark…”
That’s how the Easter story begins. Who gets up early in the morning while it’s still dark?
- People who go to sunrise services
- People who have to drive a bit to get to their jobs or have jobs that start early
- People who make breakfast for other people
- People with insomnia
- People who have babies or small children
- People who have puppies
That’s me. I have two puppies. Most nights they need to go outside somewhere between three and five a.m. I am not really awake. I’m focused on getting the job done and going back to bed. I am definitely not awake enough to deal with variations from the plan or questions.
Mary was probably more awake than I am when she came to the tomb to put burial spices on Jesus’ body, but she had the additional cloudiness of grief and trauma. She had watched Jesus being crucified. She had watched him die. She had to stand by while he was being treated with contempt and scorn. Then she finds that his body is no longer where Joseph of Arimathea had laid it the night before. She’s not really up for dealing with questions.
Jesus asks, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
On the one hand those might be dumb questions because of course she’s crying about Jesus and she’s looking for Jesus. On the other hand, in the midst of tears, those aren’t always easy questions to answer. We don’t always know why we’re crying or what we’re looking for.
This Lent season has been about seeking God through asking questions. Though Easter marks the end of the Lent season, it doesn’t answer all our questions.
This morning when we gathered at the cemetery I misquoted a scripture. I said, “In Jesus all our questions are answered with yes and amen.”
If only it were that simple.
What the scripture actually says is even better: “In Jesus all the promises of God are yes and amen.” (2 Cor. 1:20)
In many ways that still leaves uswondering. We still have questions. We’re not promised answers. We do not want to be judging each other’s questions. Asking questions is how we grow. What do you wonder about? What are you wondering about today?
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson learned of the tragic death of an 11-year-old girl named Annaliese who had admired his work, so he wrote the girl’s mother a letter. In it, he acknowledges that Annaliese’s tragic death leaves us with lots of questions, but we do know what happens to her physically, and he goes on to describe the physics of cremation in a way we might never have imagined. He says:
“The energy contents of her body… actually enters Earth’s atmosphere. It ultimately escapes to space in the form of infrared energy, radiating in all directions at the speed of light filling the voids of the cosmos with her presence. At the moment I write this, Annaliese’s energy has extended a half-trillion miles into space more than 100-times the distance to Pluto. Though she will live in collective memories for all our lives, in the universe she lives for all eternity.”
That explanation seems to leave God and Jesus out of the equation, and it sounds almost too wild to be true, but in a way it’s like science confirms what we’ve already believed. Before airplanes and space travel, people believed heaven was a place beyond the clouds. Maybe they were right in some ways. And after all, God made the universe. God’s beauty in creation is displayed across the cosmos as well as here on Earth, and leaves us in awe and wonder.
The beauty of creations is one of the many ways we see the message of Easter, which is Jesus lives.
Episcopal priest Heidi Haverkamp tells about when she experienced this: When I was 12, I had a conversion experience on Easter Sunday. I was standing on the hill behind my grandparents’ southern Indiana house in my Easter dress, looking out over their incredible view of the Ohio River, when I suddenly had a sense that everything I was seeing was suffused with the presence of God. All in one moment, I knew God was vividly and clearly a part of everything around me, including me. My life changed.
“We must have gone to Easter services afterward, but I don’t remember it. It was standing on that hill where God became real for me. It wasn’t exactly like Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden, but in some way, that morning I too heard God call my name and say, “I’m alive.”
Not everyone has experiences like that. Sometimes seeing Jesus is simply about keeping your eyes open for signs of life and love in the world around us. Jesus lives in us.
Easter also shows us that God’s power is greater than earthly powers.
The story of Jesus’ last week on Earth is the biggest part of the Gospels. It begins with Palm Sunday when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, almost mocking the oppressive political powers that reigned over Israel at that time. Throughout the week Jesus has run-ins with the leadership of the time. It’s a power struggle between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. Those who hold power are determined to get Jesus out of their way, and they do when he’s put to death on the cross…except they don’t, because God raises Jesus from the dead.
“Good Friday… [shows us] how powerful the forces arrayed against the kingdom of God are. Easter affirms, “Jesus is Lord”—the powers of this world are not.”
Easter shows us that God’s love brings healing from all the awfulness.
Holy Week and especially Good Friday are full of awfulness. Jesus is whipped, mocked, spit on. The soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head. He’s treated like a common criminal…and we shouldn’t even treat criminals like that.
And then he’s nailed to a cross. It’s horrible.
Maybe the biggest problem of the cross is the question, “How can Jesus who is God die? How can the most righteous and perfect human die?” Rev. Danielle Shroyer says that “It is an unsolvable question, because God means for it to be.” She believes God intended the cross to be a destabilizing force. It unnerves us as much as it moves us.” She says, “There’s something about the cross that calls us to open our eyes to the radical notion that all of life is blessing, and we should once and for all put away our report cards, righteousness charts, and faithfulness exams. We have all failed, not only because we have sinned, but because we have thought it wise to keep tabs at all. The cross is God’s righteous invasion of blessing in our constructed world of comeuppance.“
Maybe the hardest part for us to wrap our minds around is that God comes to us without a single if.
- Not if you repent. Not if you learn. Not even if you believe.
Jesus makes the way. Jesus blazed the trail. Jesus shows us how to live outside the boxes we put ourselves in, and to see the beauty and blessing all around us, even in the midst of trouble.
Do you ever watch old western movies? They often involve a town or a ranch that’s being invaded by rustlers or gunslingers. The townspeople or the ranchers do their best to hold things together but the bad guys are too much for them. So the sheriff or a drifter comes along and rescues them, chasing out or killing the bad guys.
Jesus is like the sheriff or the drifter. He comes to rescue us, but then he also rescues the bad guys, which is good because sometimes we are the bad guys. Over and over again we find that Jesus defies our expectations and brings new life where we didn’t think new life was possible.
Our question for today on our devotional is: Where are you experiencing new life?
For me one of the best ways is that I’m finding joy in being here with you today.
 Photo by Vania Asc on Unsplash
 By Phillip Benshmuel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34183286
 Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash
 “Neil deGrasse Tyson gives mother of 11-year-old (Annaliese) her first smile since she was tragically killed in Colorado,” by Child Safety Network Press. EINPresswire.com. Denver, Colorado, April 4, 2022. https://www.einnews.com/pr_news/567498972/neil-degrasse-tyson-gives-mother-of-11-year-old-annaliese-her-first-smile-since-she-was-tragically-killed-in-colorado
 Photo by Kevin Cress on Unsplash
 Heidi Haverkamp, “Sunday’s Coming: April 9, Easter Day (John 20:1-18),” Christian Century, April 2023.
 Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic. The Last Week (Kindle Locations 3200-3206). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash
 Shroyer, Danielle. Original Blessing . Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
 Photo by Sarah Lachise on Unsplash