|He Qi (Contemporary Chinese Artist) "Women Arriving at the Tomb"|
“…who on the tree of the cross gave salvation to all, that, where death began, there life might be restored, and that he, who by a tree once overcame, might by a tree be overcome.” (From the Eucharistic Preface for Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday; Lutheran Book of Worship, 1977. This is updated from a similar preface from the Lutheran Church Book of 1886.)
I have to remember to call my sister this Easter. Of course, I should do that every Easter, but this one is special. April 1st happens to be her birthday. Sixty-one years ago our mom was told the surprising news that she was carrying twins. They were expected around May 15th.
April fool!! Mother went into labor and delivered a month and a half early, proving once again that God’s timetable is never ours. There’s a lot of truth in saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.”
There’s been a lot of surprising, unplanned, and unexpected stuff in the news lately, hasn’t there? The world has certainly been saddened by the death of eminent scientist, Stephen Hawking, but Professor Hawking’s demise was actually predicted fifty-five years ago when he was first diagnosed with ALS. The current life expectancy for an ALS patient is two to four years. Not only did the famous physicist defy medical science by half a century, but he lived a most productive life and encouraged others with disabilities as he did so. You never know, do you?
And what about those youngsters who’ve been marching in Washington in protest of gun violence? They call it the March for Our Lives. For almost two decades America has seen one mass shooting after another: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, Las Vegas, Sutherland Park, Parkland, etcetera, etcetera. Over and over again, and nothing has changed. It would be reasonable to expect that nothing will change given our recent history. But, surprisingly, a new generation has taken to the streets to advocate for sensible gun laws, and that new generation isn’t even old enough to vote. And they are making an impact. Who saw that coming?
Life is full of surprises, and Easter is the greatest surprise of all. Here is the story of a good and wise and loving man—Jesus. As a child he surprised the elders of his religion with his understanding of their scriptures. As an adult he perplexed the people of his day by welcoming outsiders and people they thought weren’t fit to be associated with. He astounded everyone with his ability to bring healing to the sick. He amazed the crowds when he, a simple peasant, preached truth and made divine mysteries understandable to them. And he shocked the temporal leaders with his open opposition to their hypocrisy and oppression.
Not surprisingly, however, those leaders accused him falsely and executed him by impaling him on a piece of wood.
But—April fool!—God raised him from the dead. It was natural to expect that such a horrible death would be an end to Jesus, but, surprisingly, the story still goes on. And history bears this out.
Even the most passionate atheist has to admit that something happened in the third decade of the Common Era which brought new life to this planet. Something happened connected to this man Jesus which made twelve scared Jewish peasants want to tell the world. Something happened which turned an ardent Pharisee like Paul of Tarsus into a fearless evangelist. Something happened which led, within a generation of Jesus’ crucifixion, to people on three continents worshiping him as their Savior. Something happened which caused Christian martyrs to defy Roman law and go singing praises to their deaths in the Roman arena. Something happened which caused the empire which executed Jesus and sought to eliminate his followers to embrace him as Lord. Something happened which caused the entire Western World to date its calendar from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Our Easter gospel (Mark 16:1-8) is full of surprising details. Who could imagine that the horror of crucifixion would create a movement and become a symbol for divine love? Who would imagine that God would choose two scared women to be the evangelists who would change the history of the world? Who would tell those women to find Peter, the man who had proven the most cowardly and disappointing, and single him out to bear the Good News?
God’s ways are never what we expect them to be, are they? And if there’s one piece of really freeing Good News today, it’s that the resurrection story reminds us that we’re not the ones driving this bus. We can’t predict, we can’t control, we can’t micro-manage anything. As Saint Paul reminds us:
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is wiser than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)
I hope we come away from every Easter celebration reminding ourselves that God is still in the business of surprising us, and that the surprises are far from over.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!