Let’s Celebrate!

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

(Mark 16.1-8)

Easter Sunday

If we were in church today, we would see the church dressed in white. The altar would have a white frontal, the pulpit and lectern would have white and the celebrant would be wearing a white stole

(and chasuble). The reason is that this is a celebration.

We also wear white at funerals.  

A funeral doesn’t seem like a celebration. You have lost somebody you love. You won’t see them again – at least in this world – and you will have to do without them while ever you live. Nothing to celebrate there, is there?

On Good Friday  we mourn the death of Jesus on that cruel cross. Nothing to celebrate there either. What happened was a despicable, shameful act on the part of the authorities.

The disciples, after his death on that cross were understandably depressed, sad, grieving, mourning – and perhaps most of all – lost. 

What were they going to do now? They had given up everything to follow Jesus – jobs,  family life, secure positions –  and they had changed, too, while they were with Jesus.  It  was going to be hard, perhaps impossible, to go back to their old way of life.

But the bottom had fallen out of everything.

What a mistake they had made following Jesus. Who knew it would end like this?

Then the women came back from the tomb. They had gone to prepare  the body of Jesus, with spices, and expected to find his broken body in the tomb.

They had wondered, as they walked, if there would be anyone around to roll back the big round stone that covered the entrance to the tomb.

When they got there, what a shock!  The stone was already rolled away.

An angelic figure had told them to go and wait in Galilee. They would see Jesus there, he had said.

Now, they told the disciples what they had seen – the tomb was empty.  How the disciples must have confused by this. How could it be possible?

But  they would see Jesus again!

He would talk to  them. He would send them out into the world. He would send His Spirit to be with them. He would not leave them orphans.

More than that, his rising from the dead, they would realise later, means that we too will rise from the dead. That we too will live again, after we die.

That’s why a funeral, as strange as it seems, is a celebration.  As much as it hurts to lose someone, knowing they have gone to a new life, should, if possible, be reason to celebrate. 

The problem is that we live in and of this world too much. We can’t seem to focus on the next world.

How are we going to pay the bills? How are we ever going to afford a new car?   When will we ever get  around to that renovation?

We hope that aunt Millie will survive her illness. We pray that our kids will turn around and be what we want them to be – more like us!  

We don’t spend too much time thinking about the fact that we will live again, and that we will see the ones we lose, again.

This old body, with its aches and pains, its varicose veins, scars, and wrinkles, and arthritis, and missing this and that – this old body will have been left behind in the ground where it belongs, and we will have gone on, clean and fresh and brand new – in the spirit – but definitely us – to new life. 

And when you think about that, doesn’t it change your view of this life, and of this world?

I have known people who as they neared the end of their lives, began to give away things they had once treasured.  

One woman  had collected spoons all her life.  She had spoons from all over the world. She cleaned them and polished them every few weeks, and they were displayed prominently in her house.  However, they were mounted high enough on the wall that her grandkids couldn’t get to them.

You could almost say that her life was defined by her collection. 

She was the Spoon Lady.

Then, soon after her sixtieth birthday, she seemed to lose  interest in her spoons. The cabinet gathered dust. The spoons didn’t shine as they once had.  And  one day when the grandchildren came to visit, she took out a few spoons and allowed her grandchildren to play tea party with them.

I would like to think that at age sixty, she had taken stock of her life, and decided that she had invested too much in her collection.

Imagine how much good she could have done in her life had she devoted the same energy and dedication she had put into her collection of spoons, into something more worthy?

How much more would get done in His name, if we weren’t hung up on the things of this world.

We focus on the wrong things, I think.

Like the people of Baghdad.

In 2003, Saddam Hussein was  overthrown.  People were now free from a regime that executed people on a whim – executed men women and children, for nothing at all.   Hundreds of thousands had been tortured, raped, burnt alive, dipped in acid,  hanged, shot, kept in solitary for months, gassed, under what was surely  the worst regime since Adolf Hitler, and they rallied in great numbers to complain that the electricity has not been restored in the ten days since US forces defeated Saddam Hussein. 

A temporary inconvenience blinded them to the greatest gift they could have been given  –  freedom! 

The disciples may have been thinking  how much they had missed  in the world by following Jesus.  They didn’t yet appreciate the earth shattering events they had witnessed.

It’s hard  to look beyond the everyday, the inconveniences, hard to see beyond our world.  

A boy named Jeremy Forrester was born with a twisted body and a chronic, terminal illness that was slowly killing him all his young life.  Still, his parents had tried to give him as normal a life as possible and had sent him to St. Theresa’s Elementary School. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. 

His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him.  He would squirm in his seat, drool and make grunting noises, yet  at other times,  he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain.  Most of the time, however, Jeremy irritated his teacher.  One day, she called his parents and asked them to come to St. Theresa’s for a consultation.

As the Forresters sat quietly in the empty classroom, Doris said to  them, “Jeremy really belongs in a special school.  It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems.  Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students!”

Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue while her husband spoke.  “Miss Miller,” he said, “there is no school of that kind nearby.  It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school.  We know he really likes it here.”

Doris sat for a long time after they left, staring at the snow outside the window.  She wanted to sympathize with the Forresters.  After all, their only child had a terminal  illness.  But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class.  She had 18 other youngsters to teach and Jeremy was a distraction.  He could never learn to read or write.  Why waste any more time trying?

Suddenly, as she sat there pondering the situation, a wave of guilt washed over her.  “Oh God,” she said aloud, “Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared with that poor family!  Please help me to be more patient with Jeremy.”

From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares.  Then one day he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him.  “I love you, Miss Miller,”  he said, loudly enough for the whole class to hear.  The other children snickered, and Doris’ face turned red.  She stammered, “Wh-Why, that’s very nice, Jeremy.  Now please take your seat.” 

Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about Easter.  Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg.

“Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it  back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life.  Do you understand?”  The children responded enthusiastically – all except for Jeremy.  He just listened intently, his eyes never leaving her face.  Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection?  Did he understand the assignment?  Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

That evening, Doris’ kitchen sink stopped up.  She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it.  After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day.  She completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.

The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk.  After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs.  

In the first egg, Doris found a flower.  “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said.  “When plants peek through the ground we know that spring is here.”   A small girl in the first row waved her arms.  “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,”  she called out. 

The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real.  Doris held it up.  “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly.  Yes, that is new life, too.”  Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.”

Then Doris opened the third egg.  She gasped.  The egg was empty! Surely it must be Jeremy’s,  and, of course, he hadn’t understood her instructions.  If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents.  Not wanting to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.  Suddenly Jeremy spoke up.  “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?”

Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy – your egg is empty!” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty too!”

Time stopped.  When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?”     “Oh yes!” Jeremy exclaimed. “Jesus was killed and put in there.  Then his Father raised him up!”

The recess bell rang.  The children excitedly ran out to the school yard, while Doris cried.  

Three months later Jeremy died.  Those who paid their respects at the funeral home were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.

Jeremy had had the wonderful ability to see beyond this world.  Maybe that was what enabled  him to live – really live – despite his handicap.

He would be terribly missed by his parents, and by those others who had looked beyond the twisted body, and seen the sensitive mind trapped in there.

But he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to cry, would he? He was free, free at last, and alive – really alive.

And new life gained is surely something to celebrate.

That’s why we celebrate the new life we have gained  in Jesus the Christ this Easter Sunday.

And that makes it very appropriate to wear white, the colour of celebration, isn’t it?

Amen.

*I first came across the story of Jeremy some  years ago, on the site of the First Baptist Church of Arthur, Illinois USA. My thanks to them.