Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bright Red Cellophane and the Easter Promise

Matthew 28:1-10

I must have been about seven years old.

We had gone to visit our Grandpa for Easter that year.

I was standing in the kitchen. Although there were people all around me, the room went silent in my mind as I looked up.  On the top shelf of the small closet which stood open before me, half tucked behind winter scarves and gloves was a roll of red cellophane.  You know the sort --- the kind that is used to wrap Easter baskets.  The sort that only the Easter Bunny should have had.  It was out of place in that spot on the closet shelf and I knew it and in that moment any number of dearly held childhood beliefs came crashing down around me, including but not necessarily limited to the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause.  I was young, it's true, but I made the connections pretty quickly.  If one thing was not true, then it seemed obvious that the rest would not be either.  Oh I know I would have come to this eventually.  How is it possible that a small being with wings would know when to slide a quarter under a six year old's pillow?  How is it possible that a rabbit --- who by the way has no opposable thumbs for such as this --- should be able to deliver countless treat-filled-baskets the whole world over --- or for that matter, have the means for keeping track of when Easter would fall?  How is it possible that reindeer fly and that toys be delivered down chimneys --- even where chimneys have no outlet into living rooms  --- by a kindly large man in a red suit --- and all over the world and all in one night?  At seven, in an accidental moment, I knew it wasn't true.  But I harbored my newly founded unbelief in the silence of my own heart, admitting to no one my heartbreak.  I had younger sisters, after all, who still believed.

Later, when pressed, and still to this day, my now 83-year-old mother will say that yes, she does believe in Santa Clause.  Only not in the conventional sense, I suppose. Rather she believes in the power of that goodness and generosity that lives in all of us and somehow, sometimes, becomes even
more so late in December.  And maybe that's what we get in this life now.  Maybe that is what is for us now.  And maybe that is enough.

(Now allow me to interrupt myself to say that if I preach this on Sunday I will do so with a great deal of care.  It goes without saying that one's childhood beliefs should never be shattered before their time.  And there will be children listening, too, who have not yet spied their own red cellophane on their grandpa's closet shelf!)

Because, you see, I wonder, if we do not find ourselves in the same place when it comes to the angel's message now?  I wonder if I have not stood at too many gravesides, shed too many tears, witnessed too many immovable, impassable stones that close in on the tombs which have become our dwelling places.  Indeed just like that roll of red cellophane which caught my eye and broke my heart so many years ago, all the evidence points to the opposite of what prompts our Easter Alleluias now! 

And then I see something like what I have seen even in these last days.

I see the woman not much younger than I who has been looking for a place to do community service and no one would have her.  Like so many who wind up in my office for this reason, her life has been in a downward spiral for some time now.  I listened gently to her story.  I pulled some other staff in and we brainstormed some ways she could get those hours done.  It's Holy Week and these are busy days, of course, and there is much to be done and another set of willing hands is always welcome.  When she left, her eyes shone with tears and she threw her arms around me and hugged me.  For maybe, just maybe the crushing weight of her broken life would not have the last word.

Or I see another standing at the foot of the stairs at the elevator door on Palm Sunday.  She has been seriously ill and for a number of reasons she has been away from a community of faith for some time.  She had her oxygen tank in tow and she looked up with the biggest smile on her face.  Oh, maybe, just maybe life holds something more than the next doctor's appointment and the mounting pile of bills on the kitchen counter.

Or I see our parish nurse leaning over my desk, speaking to a young mom whose newborn just came home from the hospital, arranging for a meal to be taken to them. Their little one came way too early, you see, and his very life has been precariously fragile, but now he's home. And I know that this young family has been on this journey from darkness to light, from despair to hope and that they have seen the evidence in their arms of the power of life even now. But what struck me then, especially, was the wonder of seeing a congregation care for a family which has not yet 'joined' us in the formal sense.  What stays with me now and fills me with hope is this certain evidence that we are learning that the gifts we have been given are not just for ourselves alone.  Rather, the promise of the Easter Alleluia! is for all the world to hear and to receive!  Oh yes, maybe, just maybe our life together holds something more than just what has been.  Maybe, just maybe, we are awakening to the certain truth that this gift of Easter Life is ours to share with all the world!

Early on Easter Morning I will travel as I always do to a cemetery.  I have done it in snow and cold and rain.  I have done it with a handful and I have done it with a crowd.  And once more this year
with a group of hardy faithful we will speak the Easter Promise the angel passed on to the women outside the tomb early on that first Easter Day.  We will speak the names of those we love who are buried in that place:  parents and children, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends.  And with each precious name we will shout the truth "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!  Alleluia!"  And while we have no expectation that we will feel the earth quaking beneath us or that we would witness the graves opening around us, (can you even imagine!) even so, something still quakes within us as we turn to one another with hearts softened and hope reborn knowing that maybe, just maybe, this death, this despair, this darkness is not all there is.  And while we wait, still, for the day when death will be no more because of the promise of the first Easter.  While we wait, still, for that wondrous day when the stone will be rolled away in our cemeteries and in our lives, we are encouraged as we see that death does not have the last word even now!  Not in ourselves and not in one another! And no amount of misplaced red cellophane on a closet shelf can take that away!

  • How have you seen the promise of and hope of 'maybe, just maybe' breaking into your world of late?
  • How have you experienced shattered hope and trust put back together again?
  • Somehow, I find it almost easier to preach 'Good Friday' than it is to preach Easter Joy.  Evidence of death can seem more pervasive than evidence of life. Do you find this is so?  How is it that we nurture eyes of faith that we might still see God at work in the world?