Easter -- April 8, 2012
Once upon a time, somewhere in America, there was a second grade classroom, with an incubator full of eggs. You know the story. The children would watch the eggs, turn them every day, keep them warm. Every week the teacher would take the children into the darkened cloakroom and hold the eggs up to a bright light. Inside the egg was the little chicken, growing and getting more defined with each peek. Finally the chickens began to break through the shells, piercing the casing that had kept them safe through their first weeks of life. The cracks grew larger, and finally each chick, wet and weak and bedraggled, squeezed themselves out into the world they had never seen before. The children were amazed. These little creatures had grown out of practically nothing, and certainly didn’t look like much when they first hatched. But soon they were walking around, pecking and scratching, their wet feathers now fluffed out and yellow. The children began to pick out their favorites. One child adopted one of the little chicks, and named him Junior.
Birth, even in the artificial atmosphere of a classroom incubator, is natural, normal. It is part of what we expect out of life. In the past few weeks, spring has slowly but steadily grown around us. The colors of spring are visible in trees and bushes. Rows of daffodils and hyacinths brighten our paths. The warm sun is waking up the roots and bulbs from their winter’s sleep.
The date of Easter is a natural occurrence. It always falls on the on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. And what a full bright moon it was this week. Our bodies are tuned in to these natural cycles, yearning, as the plants do, for the turning of the earth, the turning of spring. It is the season of resurrection all around.
When Mary Magdalene goes to the graveyard garden on the spring Sunday morning, she too, is expecting something completely natural. Death, after all, is just as natural as birth. Grief is natural, mourning is natural. Mary went to grieve for her friend, on the third day after his terrible, untimely, violent and unnatural end. But what she found there, of course, was anything but natural. A stone rolled away, angels, young men, and Jesus himself – but not himself. “Do not cling to me, Mary,” he said to her in her grief and astonishment. This was not natural.
When she ran out of the garden that morning, Mary Magdalene became the first preacher. “The Apostle to the Apostles,” she is called in the tradition. She was a person of high standing in Roman society who had joined Jesus’ band of disciples, and being the first witness to the resurrection gave her special authority. Early Christian art often depicts Mary preaching, her hand extended. One story has her traveling to Rome, where she met the Emperor Tiberias. “After describing how poorly Pilate had administered justice at Jesus' trial, she told Caesar that Jesus had risen from the dead. To help explain his resurrection she picked up an egg from the dinner table. Caesar responded that a human being could no more rise from the dead than the egg in her hand turn red. The egg turned red immediately.”
All Easters are like this red egg: absolutely remarkable, natural and unnatural at the same time. These Easter eggs look just as we expect them to look, but something new and different emerges. When Mary went to that graveyard garden, she expected a dead body to stay dead. But going against nature, Jesus was alive. Jesus’ absolute life could not be contained by the shell of death, just as those chickens could not be contained by their shells when they were ready to hatch.
All of our lives are like these shells – us individuals, our families, our communities, even this parish church. For a while we are contained, constricted, then new life breaks out. When something so new and so bold happens, it just cannot be stopped. Something will happen; we just don’t know what.
Once upon a time in that classroom, eggs were hatched. The children named them and watched them grow. They grew sad when they had to say good-bye to them for the summer. But by the next September, the children came back to school, looking for the chickens, Junior among them. But a remarkable thing had happened over the summer. “Junior” had had to be re-christened “June” when she started laying eggs of her own.
Life is like that: full of setbacks and disappointments and death and destruction. The ground shakes under out feet, tsunamis of grief overwhelm us, precious things are lost and the future seems bleak. But in this remarkable Easter, new life pushes out of the ground, angels stand at the openings of empty tombs and eggs turn red in the palm of your hand. A new creation is emerging, something so new we may not even recognize it yet. Like Mary, we cannot cling to what once was. Like Mary we have to run; we have a story to tell.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!