Easter Sunday Reflection Good Surprises, Weird Surprises April 21, 2019
Once there was a small boy who asked his mother, “Where did I come from?” His mother wasn’t ready to have “the talk” with her young child… she had pictured this day when he was a teenager and she and her partner could tell him about how their love had created him… but he had earnestly asked, and so she said, “Well, when two people love each other…” and then she braved her way through the sex education talk as best she could. Finally, she asked her boy, “Do you want to know anything else?” And he said, “What I wanted to know was, was I born in this town, or did I come from someplace else?” Somethings are meant to be analyzed and some are not… somethings are meant to be thoroughly explained, and somethings are just to be looked at simply, and given space to be marveled at… like a child’s question, or human love, or the miracle of Easter. This is such a day, to hear the story of God’s redeeming love, and to wonder at it.
This past week has been Easter Music Camp and every day I’ve told part of the story of Jesus’ last week, known as Holy Week, that leads up to His death and resurrection. One day one of the children asked me, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I said, “Jesus was human like we are, and we die, and He died because we do.” It wasn’t a complete answer to a complex theological issue, but it was a simple answer to a simple question and one that allowed space to wonder. Just like the Christmas Music Camp that led up to Christmas Eve, telling and listening to the stories of a holy season has moved them out of my head and into my heart and my imagination. One of the ways I talked with the children this week about Jesus’ death and resurrection, about His disciples’ fear and grief and bewilderment, was to use the expressions “Good Surprises” and “Weird Surprises.”
We could relate to good surprises, so when we heard those words we put a hand up in the air and made this sound (woo, woo, woo!) Good surprises started on Monday when we met the characters from my nativity set… when we remembered that the Easter story started at Christmas when God decided to become one of us, and to share this human life with us. Every day during Holy Week the stories got more difficult and so we began to also use the expression, “Weird Surprises.” When we talked about weird surprises, we put our other hand, palm facing down and made this sound (dun-dun-dun-dun.) And every day as we heard the stories of Jesus we remembered that life is full of both good surprises and weird surprises, and we would bring our hands together in prayer; a physical reminder that when we experience good surprises (woo, woo, woo) or weird surprises (dun-dun-dun-dun) that in all things God is with us, loving us, working for our good and for the good of all creation. We’re held in God’s love.
We come to Easter worship with joy and in anticipation of hearing the Good News that Jesus overcame death and rose to eternal life (which is a good surprise) and we forget that the first Easter would have been sad and difficult for the first disciples. They were exhausted from the fear and grief they’d experienced during Jesus’ last days and His execution. Going to the empty tomb early in the morning to anoint His body for burial would have been a heartrending ritual to perform. And then to find His body gone would have been a weird surprise. God’s story, like our own stories, are full of good surprises and weird surprises. [hands together]
At Easter Camp, on the day that we heard the story of the Walk to Emmaus, when the disciples walked with Jesus but were too lost in grief to see that it was Him, we drew pictures of what we imagined God looks like. And when we heard the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples and breathing His peace into them, we practiced breathing as a way to feel peaceful. On the last day of Easter Camp we heard the story of Jesus giving His friends a mission… to teach the world about God’s love. Every day there was a song to learn. We Methodists are a singing people. We sing what we believe, we sing to remember what we believe, and what we long for. “Listen, can you hear the sound of hearts beating all the world around? Everywhere around the world our hearts beat just the same. Black or white, red or tan, it’s the heart of our world family, beatin’ away, beatin’ away.” And, “My Jesus rose on Easter morning: He came to sing a love song; He came to be my friend. When He returns in all His glory, He’s gonna find me singing, and His song will never end.” And my favorite song, “Jesus came back from the other dimension, showed us the way, brought us alive. Jesus came back to give us direction… Jesus went back into that dimension called life after life, went through that window of dying into eternal life.”
Telling the Easter story with the children has reminded me of the importance to the soul to be open to mystery and awe. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience,” wrote an 19th century French Jesuit priest and philosopher, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” When we hear sacred stories with children – without analyzing the stories too much but hearing them with the hearts and imaginations of children – we recapture some of the mystery and awe of God’s story… and of how our stories intersect with God’s story.
What’s the treasure – the golden ticket – of the Easter story? It’s that God always has the last word, which is life. Life after failure, life after broken dreams, life after betrayal, life after dead ends, life after… death. God always calls us into life, into the fulness of life, which is love and compassion and justice and peace for all creatures.
After I went to the “Why Christian” Conference at Grace Cathedral earlier this month, I said that I realized one of the reasons I’m a follower of Jesus is because I want to know that God has “skin in the game;” that God knows first-hand the joys and sorrows, and the good surprises and weird surprises of this life. It’s not a faraway God we worship on this Easter morning, but a God who’s lived our life and died our death and redeemed it through His love.
Before Easter Camp started last Monday, the adult helpers gathered for a prayer circle. We prayed for creative children to experience God through the art and craft projects. We prayed for the musical children to experience God in the drumming and the singing. We prayed for the children to experience God in the fun and surprising snacks, and through the loving interactions with each of us. And we prayed for all of us to experience God’s love throughout the week.
This is the treasure of the Easter story in an eggshell: that God uses life’s experiences, all of life’s experiences, the good surprises and weird surprises, to reach us, to love us, to heal us, and to use us. If we have eyes to see Him, Jesus walks with us, just as He walked with His friends on the road to Emmaus. Jesus’ death, which to His closest friends and followers was an epic disaster and the end of all their dreams for a new kingdom, God used to show us that there are no barriers and no boundaries to love. Not even death. In raising Christ from the dead, it’s evident that God’s love trumps everything.
The traditional Easter greeting since the early church is this: “Christ is Risen!” and the response is: “He is Risen indeed!” Let’s say that together: “Christ is Risen!” and let’s respond, “He is Risen indeed!” Love, my friends, has had the last word. Thanks be to God! And now I invite you to join me in the Community Prayer of Mindfulness:
Pastor: Loving God, we confess that at times we do not share in the joy of the resurrection but are caught in the worries of the world.
Everyone: We confess that we do not always live in the spirit of new life but remain discontent, grumbling and anxious.
Pastor: Forgive us for not sharing in the Good News.
Everyone: Forgive us when we find it more comfortable to worry and complain than to risk the joy and encouragement of new life in Christ.
Pastor: Call us back to Your ways, O God…
Everyone: to seek hope and reconciliation, restoration and peace.
In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray. Amen.