My wife Peggy grew up on a small lake north of Chicago. The brick house had a long, sloping back yard bordered by giant oak trees and a split rail fence. A slightly wobbly, wooden pier jutted out into the lake, making it the perfect launch pad for children to come careening down the backyard, across the pier and into the cool, fresh water with gleeful squeals, and splashes. The small sandy beach, with its gentle lapping waves, and afternoon shade made for ideal imaginative play. And as the children aged, the excitement and laughter flowed from a used motor boat that was more than adequate for all manor of water-skiing adventure.
This was Crystal Lake. This was middle America at its summer best.
The decades of family gatherings at Crystal Lake are now part of the family lore, embedded in memory across generations. Stories are told and retold with any number of embellishments for sure, especially when water skiing is involved.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday for most of Christendom. It is a Sunday of exuberant music and pageantry, with brass choirs, and soprano descants sung to familiar hymns. It is the Grand Finale of Holy Week.
For many, Easter is one of the two Sundays they appear in church. Attendance is universally overflowing, and preachers everywhere are challenged to deliver a Home Run Sermon.
Ask a preacher and they can enumerate any manor of challenges for Easter Sunday sermonizing. Imagine having to craft a message that speaks to those who know the back story, retold throughout Lent, and those who show up for the music. (You know who you are.)
Jumping to the end of the Easter story can lead to confusion and dismay. How do you make sense, never mind celebrate, a prophet’s gruesome, slow, death on a cross, in a trash dump, 2,000 years ago? Is it enough to proclaim that a God/Man rose from the dead? Resurrection from the dead is, after all, a basic tenet of the Christian faith, and in Jesus’s case, it is a spectacular miracle.
Resurrection can be understood as the end of the story… believe it, don’t believe it… it’s up to you. Either way, enjoy the music.
Those of you who were in church yesterday may have noticed, as I did, that there was plenty of talk and singing about death. Death on the Cross. Vanquishing Death. Freedom from Death. Transcending Death. No more fear of Death.
And don’t forget the empty tomb, which is also really sad, until Jesus speaks to Mary. Then we cue the trumpets for a fanfare and a final hymn.
The back story to the crucifixion and resurrection reminds believers of the intimate conversations, the shared meals, the creation of ritual, the reversal of roles (foot washing), and the withdrawal for solitary prayer and contemplation that precedes Jesus’s arrest, trial, and death.
We need the back story to understand the end of the story. We need the entire narrative to make sense of the ending. If we jump to the end of the story, we miss the deeper meaning of the story.
For me and for many Christians, resurrection is not just an historical event. Resurrection exists today in shared meals, rituals, reversal of roles, intimate conversations, worship, and solitary prayer and contemplation. Resurrection is an on-going narrative of God’s presence and love as a Reality in daily life.
Father Richard Rohr says, “The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself seek to love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me!”
Love everyone and everything, even those places and people who have passed. Gratefully, our narratives continue to evolve, and live on.
Cue the trumpets.