Easter Sunday

April 20, 2003
See Also: 

Sermons:
Nance 2006
Sauter 2003

John Cobb on atonement
John Cobb on redemption
John Cobb on Jesus

Reading 1: 
Isaiah 25:6-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Reading 3: 
I Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8
By Tari Lennon

What then shall we say about Easter? If bunnies and baskets are for us who can be against us? What will separate us from the love of chocolate? Diets? Cholesterol? Blood Pressure? No! In all of these things we are more than conquerors through denial that first duped us.

Well, if a little wine is good for the stomach, surely a little levity can’t be bad for the brain.

Easter. What could we possibly have to say about Easter now? Many of us have exegeted, studied, thought about, prayed over and preached on the Easter texts to the point of distraction.  Most of the folk who will be coming to our churches will not be looking for scholarly explications re: the difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Nor will they be expecting reasonable explanations of incredible resuscitations. No, people finding their way into our climes will want some sense of the sense of it all; to know how to reconcile our activities in Iraq with our belief in a universal and relational God—and some will want us to do all of that without being political. Now there’s a challenge.

So, we start with the Lectionary itself. The very fact of multiple and disparate lectionary readings points to a core belief at the center of our faith, viz., that there is coherence and cohesion even in the midst of conflict and chaos That consistency has nothing to do with political agreement, electoral consensus, military superiority, or—and perhaps especially, shared religious identity.  It has to do with the unfailing resourcefulness and responsiveness of God. No matter what, no matter whom, no matter when, our God will neither slumber nor rest from the divine imperative to make all things new.

Isaiah of Jerusalem (1-39), who lived through momentous and devastating times, knew that in profound and uncommon ways.

Assyria had become an extraordinary superpower and between 735 and 701 B.C.E. Isaiah witnessed a futile attempt at an alliances against Assyria (Syro-Emphraimite war), the submission of Samaria (capital of the northern kingdom), the destruction of both Samaria and the northern kingdom, and on-going chaos and destruction in Judah (southern kingdom).

In the midst of the worst of the devastation(s) Isaiah of Jerusalem insisted that alliances were foolhardy and reliance on military might illusory. In his opinion, there really was nothing his people could do to save themselves from the inevitable.

He insisted that only a firm faith in the resourcefulness of God would be able to contend with the powers and principalities and, it would be through that divine contention only that salvation would come.  It is important to note, however, that by firm faith, Isaiah did not mean passively waiting for miraculous intervention—a divine magic wand, if you will,--but rather active participation in translating the resourcefulness of God into the situation at hand. Instead of trying to out maneuver or compete against the Assyrians Isaiah challenged his people to become conduits for divine activity, to relieve the suffering of the oppressed, to empower the disenfranchised, and to proclaim the universality of God—even to the Assyrians.

Isaiah takes an ancient myth and turns it into a metaphor for his people. He creates an image of a Great Banquet, put together to celebrate a great victory, (see also Psalm 118). The Feast of Thanksgiving takes place on the top of a mountain and to it everyone is invited.  The table setting is elaborate and colorful, rich in food and wine. It is a banquet set for a king, but not the king of Assyria but rather the King of heaven. It is a feast not simply for that King but also for all the peoples of the world.

This is a feast that takes place in real time, among real people with a real God, not an ideal banquet that will take place in some timeless heaven among bodiless souls with an invisible god.  And at this feast, when all are together, they will discover that the victory they celebrate is not that of military conquest but of God’s triumph over death—the ultimate victory.

In the imagination of Jesus’ Jewish friends and companions, and in the early struggles of those who were trying to keep his memory alive, Isaiah’s Great Feast became not simply a point of interest but also an experience that brought focus and cohesion to the people.

In Matthew 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24 and Revelation 19 we see the creativity of Jesus’ people proliferating throughout the Roman world, with Isaiah’s banquet transmuted into the Messianic Banquet or Wedding Feast of the Lamb, (and in Paul, the Eucharist).

Poetic license notwithstanding, invitations to that Banquet continue to be extended to all people. It presupposes the community’s continuing commitment to relieve suffering, and it celebrates God’s continuing resourcefulness in overcoming death with life. It is that understanding relative to the workings of God that under girds Mark’s Gospel.

The tantalizing way in which Mark ends his story is a disappointment to those still looking for that divine magic wand. And those who want to edit the story in such a way as to cast the women and the disciples in a better light totally miss Mark’s reason for telling the story in the first place. The challenge inherent in Mark’s ending requires that we be willing to put his story in context of a larger story—the continuing story of God’s unending and relentless resourcefulness and creativity.

To contemplate that story is to see in new ways how cohesive and coherent the adventure of faith is. Further, it confronts the would-be believer with the notion that the empty tomb may have been experienced at a particular moment in time, but the truth of the resurrection is timeless. We may celebrate Easter on a particular day but the Easter event was preceded by countless resurrecting moments and the Easter event will continue to happen wherever and whenever people take it upon themselves to read themselves into Mark’s story and continue Jesus’ work.

In the selection from Acts we see Peter telling the Jesus story to a “pagan,” Cornelius and his household.   Peter draws on an understanding of God that would have been a part of his pre-Jesus tutelage, viz., that God shows no partiality. But that insight from the Deuteronomist is given new significance through Jesus.  God’s impartiality becomes an open-ended invitation to join with God in overcoming the demons of this world.

And once again, the act of eating and drinking together in the light of Jesus’ resurrection pulls the community together for the on-going work of renewing and resourcing the world.

Marcus Borg believes that the Easter event is foundational for Christianity and Christian understanding (Jesus At 2000). For him that means the process through which an itinerant, Galilean, peasant comes to be seen as the face of God continues beyond the moment of the discovery of the empty tomb. It is in the days, weeks, and eons subsequent to the empty tomb that people continue to experience Jesus but in new ways.

Those new ways disclose that resurrection is not about the return of an old life but of entrance into a radically new life—a life that rejects passively waiting for God to do something, and actively enters into partnership with God to transform life itself.

The English artist Andy Goldsworthy* uses nature both to understand and to comment on nature. He makes sculptures from twigs, sand, rocks, grass, leaves, stones, bushes, et.al.

His work is not created to last or to be observed in a museum. His creations are designed to be experienced in their natural setting—nature. He observes that his creations, like life and nature itself, begin dying the moment they are given birth.  But, he insists, in the dying everything can be experienced in a new way. Knowing that the work will die and the experience is momentary we are forced to enter into a relationship with what is happening. Through that relationship we discover that there are rocks and twigs and sands and…we do not know yet and to know them requires entering into a relationship and paying attention…and isn’t that the Jesus story? Isn’t that the Easter event?

*Rivers and Tides is a current movie about the artist.

The Rev. Dr. Tari Lennon is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds degrees in theology, ministry and psychology. She retired from parish ministry after 43 years and now convenes Open Gatherings which draws people together from all faiths and nonfaiths to explore topics of spirituality, relationships, and personal ethics.