By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
In a classic Family Circle cartoon strip, the two children have found their Easter baskets and are enjoying them. The little boy asks, "Who colored all these eggs?"
To which his sister replies, "The Easter bunny."
"Who gave us the jelly beans?"
"The Easter bunny."
"And the chocolate rabbit?"
"The Easter bunny."
Obviously, there was nothing beyond the reach of the Easter bunny. Soon, the family headed to Easter worship. Sitting through the sermon, they heard the preacher say, "The women came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled back. Who could have done this?" To which the little boy jumped up in a pew and proclaimed with great zeal, "The Easter Bunny!"
It’s a cute little comic strip; yet, for far too many people, the reality or evidence of Jesus’ living presence is on par with the Easter bunny. For far too many, the resurrection of Jesus is an idle childhood tale that they have left behind, as dated as Easter parades and bonnets and baskets that contain nothing more than candy.
I’m always fascinated when I watch TV shows that focus on Judeo-Christian “history”:
All of our biblical accounts of the resurrection of Christ contain the element of mystery. In Luke's account the women who go to anoint Jesus' body are utterly stupefied by what they find at the tomb. The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone. They are, in the words of the evangelist, perplexed. It is a mystery and mystery becomes bland and unsatisfying, like watered-down Kool-Aid, when we try to explain it away with modern scientific and historic models. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a mystery bigger than our minds will ever be capable of fully comprehending. It is amazing; miraculous and marvelous beyond our wildest dreams: God’s grace poured forth is ways too lavish for us to fully grasp.
When I was four years old, my family moved to a rural community in Ohio – a tiny little town with no stoplights. Our next-door neighbors had a little girl my age named Gail. Now, Gail and I became the best of friends. But it didn't take me long, even at my young and tender age, to figure out that Gail had a propensity for stretching the truth and making up some rather tall tales. One might say she was a master of the art of exaggeration. When she would relate such an obviously exaggerated tale I wasn't afraid to call her on it. I would say, "Gail, you lie!" To which she would reply with her hands firmly and resolutely set on her hips and jaw jutting out, "No I never, Tracey; no, I never."
Now one summer morning I had slept late and it was not my mother, but rather Gail, who bounced into my bedroom to awaken me. "Tracey, Tracey," she called out to me excitedly. "Last night your dad killed a bat in your house." Now, I had never even seen a bat and I found the thought of one in our house to be absolutely ridiculous. Gail began to tell me all about those nasty, dirty creatures who swoop down at you (to suck out my blood, no doubt). My dad, Gail informed me, had had to defend himself against the bat with nothing but a pillow. "He killed it with the orange pillow off the sofa," she announced, with great confidence. "Gail, you lie," I said. "No, I never, Tracey; no, I never. You can come outside on the porch and see it laying there dead." Now, here was an interesting challenge. I was wondering how on earth Gail was going to prove this strange and bazaar tale. After all, she was only five. So, I got out of bed and, still in my PJ's, made my way downstairs, through the kitchen and out the front door and there, to my absolute amazement, lay a dead bat on the steps of the porch. And its nocturnal presence in my very house was confirmed, right then and there, by my father himself.
It seemed such an idle tale: sensational; impossible. I mean; talk about fake news. And the proclamation of this remarkable tale had been told with such zeal and drama. But most importantly, it was true; even the part about the orange pillow!
A bat in my living room brought to its demise by my father with nothing more than an orange pillow from my sofa! It seemed an idle tale to me just as it seemed an idle tale to those disciples when the women arrived on Easter morning to tell them the marvelous news about the resurrection of their Lord. It was more than Peter could bring himself to believe and so he had to go there and check it out for himself.
But perhaps the most important part of the Easter story is a part we didn't read today. Because, you see, there is much more to the story than an empty tomb. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples and followers – behind locked doors, on the open-road, around the dinner table, gathered on the beach at dawn. And it was those stories, most of all, which gave birth to what we now call the Church. Those stories, those personal tales, are why we’re here today. It was all those stories, marvelous and amazing, that led thousands, even millions, down through the centuries to faith. It was those stories of encounters with the risen Christ that caused others to embrace the marvelous mystery of faith for mystery is not an idle tale, my friends; mystery is that which is so wonderful, so miraculous, we could not even accept it were it not for our own experience, our personal encounters.
And it will be our stories of our encounters with Christ that will lead others in the decades and centuries to come to embrace the mystery of faith. The story those women told was so compelling, Peter had to run immediately to the tomb to check it out for himself. Later on that same day of resurrection, other Jesus followers would experience his presence with them on their way to Emmaus. They sat down at the supper table with Jesus and, when he said the prayer of blessing over the bread and wine, suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized that the mysterious stranger on the road was none other than Jesus. It was such a marvelous, miraculous experience that they got up from the table and, even at day's end, hurriedly retraced their steps back to Jerusalem to tell others all about their encounter with the risen Jesus. It was a moment of surprise and joy; an emotion reflected in this morning’s two final works of art.
And so today is a fitting day for us, with joy and excitement, to recall and celebrate how the risen Christ has been experienced in our lives. When have been those moments in our lives when – like those first disciples – we had succumbed to despair and given up all hope. And then, in the blink of an eye, something happened – something marvelous and mysterious – that reminded us we are not alone for we serve a risen Savior who is in the world and in our lives even still today.
Have you recognized those moments; those moments of Jesus’ presence? Have you shared them and celebrated them with others? For that is what is means to be the Church: to recognize, name, proclaim and celebrate that the victory of life over death is more than just an idle tale of Easter Bunny proportions. Now, for sure, to some our stories will seem like idle tales and there will always be doubting Thomases. And yet, even skeptics can be challenged to explore the mystery of faith. As I headed to the porch in my PJ’s to search out evidence to corroborate Gail’s tale, others will explore our lives – our words and actions – and what will they discover?
Theologian Gabriel Marcel explains: "a mystery is very different from a problem. While a problem can – or perhaps cannot – be solved, a mystery is inexhaustible. A problem can be held at arm's length and examined with an impersonal objectivity. But a mystery encompasses us, draws us in and draws us near. A mystery will not allow us to keep a safe distance."[i] Friends: have you been reeled in by the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
People of God, this is the day of our Lord's resurrection: for some an idle tale of Easter Bunny proportions. But for us (I hope), a marvelous mystery drawing us in to a life-long relationship with a risen Savior who is in the world still today. Alleluia; Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
[i] Gabriel Marcel on the broken world, problems, and mysteries.
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