People sometimes assume that preachers enjoy preaching on Easter. Like the Super Bowl or the World Series.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Preaching on Easter is a nightmare.
First of all, anything that could be said about Easter has already been said hundreds of times, thousands of times, tens of thousands of times.
Secondly, what has to be proclaimed on Easter is something so foreign to our human experience that it defies expression. We human beings know that 'dead things stay dead.' Dead is dead. It is an absolute, something we all agree on. Dead as a door nail. Dead and gone. Dead things stay dead....
So, over the years of being expected to say something on Easter, I have resorted, more often than not, to tricks and jokes and sleight of hand.
One Easter, long ago, before I began my sermon, I broke off one of the lilies and ate it. My point was that when people told their neighbor that their priest ate an Easter Lily, their neighbor would say, “I don't believe it!” Which is exactly what the disciples said when Mary Magdalen ran to tell them Jesus had risen from the dead.
When I ate the lily, there were a few audible gasps from the congregation. “Great,” I told myself, “I've got them now!” The truth was they knew (as I obviously didn't) that a lily could be a little toxic so they weren't hanging on my every word...they were waiting to see if I keeled over....
I never ate another Lily, but I did, on Easter, get phone calls from God, Jesus, even the Easter Bunny.
One Easter I'll never forget, I had our verger dress as the Easter Bunny, a full body suit and bring in a basket full of the symbols of Easter. Then I had the children join me on the altar steps—50 or more children—and began to ask them questions about the symbols the 6 foot 4-inch Bunny had brought.
When I got to an Easter Egg, I held it up and said, “can anyone tell me something about this?”
Courtney White, who is now a Medical Doctor, piped up and said, “after a while, they smell like poop.”
Which was true, as days old, boiled eggs go, but hardly the “stuff” of a Resurrection sermon.
But maybe not. Maybe Courtney had some insight into the whole thing about the Body and the Soul, the Physical and the Spiritual.
Who knows? Really, who knows?
So, I have fudged and cheated and used smoke and mirrors for Easter sermons for most of my Easter sermon life.
And when all else failed, there were always bunny ears....
But one Holy Week—a few years ago—my best friend John, who is psychologist for the VA Hospital in West Haven, called me and told me what he's started telling some of his patients.
Here's what John tells them: “You can either 'be happy' or have all the Reasons you can't be happy.”
I found that remarkable and helpful and, most likely, True.
You can either 'be happy' or HAVE all the Reasons you can't 'be happy'.
I'd prefer the word “joyful” in place of “happy”. Happiness is fleeting, Joyful is down to the bone.
So, the way I'd say it: YOU CAN BE JOYFUL OR HAVE ALL THE REASONS YOU CAN'T BE JOYFUL.
Now we're getting close to what Easter is really about.
Jesus died. Died on the cross. Died a horrible death you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
And he was dead. Dead as a door nail. Dead dead. Dead and gone.
And God simply loved Jesus back to life. Loved him that much, that powerfully, that profoundly. God simply went into that tomb and loved Jesus back to life.
And, I believe, God is willing to do that for us—for you and me—as well.
God wants to love us—you and me—back to life.
That's God's intention on this Easter day.
The rest is up to us.
You can either 'be alive', truly alive, having abundant life, right now, and always, OR, you can have all the reasons you can't be truly and abundantly alive.
God loves you 'best of all'. No kidding, honestly, believe me, God loves you more than you imagine, more that you can imagine. God loves you enough to bring you 'back to life', back to something truly alive and abundant, now and always.
That's what the empty tomb means. That is what Mary Magdalene’s message is about.
Because of Easter, it truly is your choice.
You can either “have life” or have all the reasons you can't 'have life'.
The tomb is empty. God loves you 'best of all'.
It's your choice.
Alleluia, he is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
And so are we....And so are we…..