Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
March 31, 2013 – Easter Sunrise Service
Easter is a challenge.
I saw a commercial on TV this week where a woman with three very active children running around in the background smiles into the camera with a look of exasperation on her face and says, “Easter is a challenge!”
She was not talking about her struggle to believe in the risen Christ.
The commercial was for JC Penny.
She was talking about the difficulty of finding Easter outfits for her kids.
I can see why Easter is presented as a challenge in this regard –
It’s the one remaining holiday that emphasizes getting dressed up in your Sunday best to attend church or to visit family, and new outfits can be costly when you have growing kids.
Thankfully, JC Penny is there to meet the challenge of Easter.
But for many of us Easter is a challenge.
Because when we hear the stories of our Christian tradition,
we sometimes don’t know what to do with the resurrection.
We get that Easter is about celebrating the miraculous event of Jesus being raised from the dead in defiance of those who wished to silence him once and for all.
We get that Easter is rife with symbolism and metaphors about our own ability to rise from the ashes, to be reborn into a new way of living, and to find hope in the midst of despair.
We get that here in New England, Easter aptly coincides with the season of Spring, where flashes of green pushing up from the earth is a sign that winter has loosened its deathly grip on our world.
We get that Easter can have many layers of meaning, but when we hear the stories of the resurrection retold on Easter morning a good many of us may still find ourselves shaking our heads.
The word that the writer of the gospel of Luke uses is ‘perplexed”
The women came to the tomb, saw the stone rolled away, saw that Jesus’ body was gone, and they were perplexed.
Perplexed is a good word to use here.
It means confused and baffled.
And just like those women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb 2,000 years ago, we too may be confused and baffled by what it all means.
Some of us may struggle with what we BELIEVE about the resurrection – whether we think the story of Jesus rising from the dead is literally true – but I suggest that we set that aside.
The Resurrection is not something we can prove or disprove,
and many of us have grown weary of religion that is preoccupied with BELIEF- especially when it dictates what we should and should not believe to be considered a faithful Christian.
I propose that what we find perplexing about the resurrection is not so much what to BELIEVE about it, but rather what to DO about it.
Whether we believe the resurrection is literally or metaphorically true is irrelevant if we walk away from Easter Sunday without feeling changed by our experience of it.
When you hear the story of that first Easter morning and imagine yourself standing along side the women gazing into the empty tomb… what do you see?
Do you see the promise of the risen Christ who conquered sin and death so that we might be redeemed?
Do you see where Jesus’ broken body was laid and hear a call to enact change in a world where redemptive violence is our default position in a misguided quest for justice and peace?
Do you see the potential for new life and new possibilities that takes root when we let go of what we once held near and dear and allow it to wither and die - our distractions, our addictions, our convictions - whatever keeps us from loving others as fully as God calls us to do?
There’s a lot we can see when we look inside that empty tomb.
But sometimes it takes more than just peering inside to be changed by the Easter resurrection experience.
We have to embrace what we see and act in the world as if what we’ve seen is our new reality.
It’s not enough to just look into the tomb and walk away, we need to walk inside, take a good look around, and then turn around and see what the world looks like from the inside looking out.
Might we imagine what Jesus must have seen when the stone was rolled back on Easter morning?
Did he see a world that was crying out for the new life that he had to offer?
Did he see a world that was aching for a more hopeful response to oppression, injustice, and scarcity?
Did he see a world where we would experience the empty tomb and be moved to become his disciples thus ensuring that his message of God’s unconditional love would take root and continue to grow in his absence?
This is what is so amazing about the tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest – to those who placed him there it was just a barren rock cavern.
And when they rolled the stone into place sealing the entrance they thought they were burying him forever.
But they weren’t burying Jesus that day,
they were planting him.
On Easter morning he pushed through the rock walls and reached out to the rising sun.
He sprang up green and fresh and took root in every heart that dared to open wide enough to receive him.
We are the fruit of the Resurrection.
When we gaze into that tomb and see Jesus alive and working in the world we allow that seed to grow in our heart.
And out of that seed grows love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and grace...
for a world that is in desperate need of them all.
As we leave here today may we remember to carry that seed of resurrection with us.
To nurture it and sustain it.
And to scatter it wherever we go.
The challenge of Easter is to keep Jesus alive in the world.
To step out of the tomb and to feel changed in a radically new way.
Christ has risen, indeed!
Alleluia and Amen.