24 Apr 2011
“Come rejoice our Lord is risen!” (From the Easter liturgy of the resurrection procession)
Rejoice. Is there a better word to describe Easter? But why rejoice? Is it because Jesus defeated death? Of course! But is this the only reason? Can Easter also let us rejoice in the gift of life? Can Easter make a difference now? Can Easter change us? I think it does every day. I think there’s evidence for it all around us. And not only in small ways like the story Marshall Aronstam shared with me a couple weeks ago. Marshall is a retired principal and teacher. Years ago when he graduated from high school, their senior trip was to Washington, D.C., and it was on the week after Easter Sunday. There were a lot of Polish people in Marshall’s Vermont hometown. When his senior class got on the train to travel to the nation’s capital, all of the kids had brown bag lunches packed for them. Since a bunch of them were Polish, since it was the day after Easter, most of those kids had kielbasa sandwiches. Marshall said the train reeked of the stuff. But that’s not the kind of evidence for Easter that I’m talking about.
On Palm Sunday, the Boston Globe ran an article called “Where does good come from?”(http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/04/17/where_does_good_come_from/) The whole article was about the contentious fight among the very intelligent and educated biologists who study evolution. These biologists have a glaring problem, however. They just can’t come to agree-ment upon the reason for good, moral and selfless behaviour. Darwin’s theory of evolution emphasizes the survival of the fittest, that organisms survive that are the best equipped to out-perform other organisms. Survival of the fittest can get pretty ruthless at times – and all of this makes perfect scientific sense. This is why these biologists can’t agree on an explanation for why any living being would sacrifice for the good of another living being. Where’s the survival benefit in being good?
So, now one week later on Easter Sunday, after the scientists have had their chance, we can ask ourselves their question: Where does good come from? It’s a real scientific problem. It’s not a Christian one. I think about Jesus three times forewarning His disciples about His impending crucifixion. After the first time, Peter yells at Jesus for talking that way, after the second time all of the disciples get into an argument about which one of them is the greatest, and after the third time James and John ask for places of privilege in Jesus’ coming kingdom. Jesus is on the verge of entering Jerusalem, and all of the events that we commemorated this Holy Week were about to unfold, including Jesus’ crucifixion, and up to the very gates of the city, Jesus had to wonder if anyone at all understood the purpose of His life, His ministry and even His impending death because everyone around Him was only thinking about their own privilege and their own glory. And yet Jesus never waivers. He stays true to His ideals, to His purpose and to us. He believes in us. For Jesus, we’re worth sacrificing for, even if the effort seems futile, because Jesus sees something in us that is worth the sacrifice. It makes sense to Him.
This is why there is selfless good in the world: because we are followers of a selfless and good God that Easter makes present among us always. May’s newsletter-article is about the different accounts of the resurrection. We don’t have the time to go into all of the differences here, but it’s clear that the differences are intentional. And the differences tell us about a mystery so profound that its witnesses could not explain their encounter with the resurrected Christ. It’s about the powerful in-breaking of God’s truth into our world of half-truths. This doesn’t mean that the Easter experience was inauthentic. It means that it was so authentic that the explanation couldn’t keep up with the experience. Something wondrous happened that day. Maybe it can’t be explained, but there’s evidence for it all around us because we are an unnatural people, us resurrection people, we understand good.
As we already mentioned, not one of the disciples understood what Jesus was all about in those last days of His life. According to the oldest Gospel, Mark tells us that not one of the disciples was even brave enough to watch Jesus be crucified. There are even hints in the resurrection message about Jesus meeting the apostles in Galilee that this reflects the fact the disciples have already fled away from Jerusalem by Easter Sunday. By the third day, they had already returned to their old lives back up in Galilee, to their lives before they ever met Jesus. To them it was over and done with. It failed. And they wanted to protect themselves. They wanted to survive, and this makes perfect scientific sense. And yet because of Easter all of them were changed. They weren’t worried any longer about their own survival. There was a higher calling and purpose now in their lives. And this only makes sense because of Easter.
Chris read for us today from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is out in public telling any and all who will listen about Jesus. He was too afraid to go to the crucifixion, but now he’s out in the world preaching about it. What happened between Good Friday and these earliest days of the church? What changed these people? Why did they care enough to preach so that others could believe when before they only cared about their own survival? There’s only one thing that changed between the time of these two events, and again, it was Easter.
Easter changed them and it changes us. Scientists can’t explain good and selfless behaviour. Easter can. People who believe in Easter can rejoice because if the tomb is empty, then Jesus is here. That is an amazing source of confidence and power, enough even to change us, to surprise us with its potential. It’s not always about proof. Sometimes it’s the merits of what we believe in that matters the most, that makes it worthwhile. We are different people because we believe in Easter. This makes all the difference in the world because it can make for a different world. It can explain the unexplainable good in us. And this is why we rejoice in Easter. The smell of kielbasa is one sign of Easter, but the good in the world, the good in us, is the real, everyday sign that Jesus didn’t die for long. Easter is about life, not only death. We’re good people, let us pray that Easter make us better people, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo