By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
I would like us to consider the best way to celebrate Easter, namely the way that Jesus did. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This day, the most important in the Christian calendar, sets loose a torrent of activity. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection in countless bright and colorful ways. We dye Easter eggs and eat chocolate rabbits. Women and girls turn up in new dresses and hats; men and boys appear in sharp suits and shiny shoes. We sit down to festive meals and enjoy dishes of ham or lamb or other treats. Easter lilies and springtime blossoms decorate our homes and churches. We gather for worship: to sing triumphant hymns and hear the resurrection gospel, to receive communion and shout ALLELUIA. We have all these ways and many more to celebrate this Sunday of the Resurrection.
But the best way of all to celebrate Easter is the way that Jesus did it. And to celebrate Easter as Jesus did does not require painted eggs or chocolate rabbits, new clothing or a festive meal, springtime flowers or crowded churches. To celebrate Easter as Jesus did means to forgive somebody, somebody who doesn’t deserve it.
The events of Holy Week are one long account of how Jesus gets tossed out of this life through the contempt of his enemies and the cowardice of his friends. People take him — people no worse than you and me — and give him the bum’s rush out of this bright world, and through the doorway to death.
That’s what he gets from us. That’s what he gets for all his troubles: the healings he accomplishes, his meals for the multitudes, his wise words and unforgettable stories. That’s what he gets for giving hope to the hopeless, light to the blind, acceptance to the outcast. He is deserted by his friends, then roughed up, humiliated, and executed by people whose security is threatened by compassion, whose ideology is overturned by his announcement of a new and better kingdom.
They nail his body to a cross, stab him with a spear to make sure he’s dead, then return his corpse to his half-baked friends who, with sad and shameful faces, stick it in a tomb and roll a huge stone across the entrance. This huge stone keeps the world outside. It also hides inside the tomb the evidence of their cowardice.
But something happens. Something that no one expected! This dead man Jesus shows up again. He’s not a memory, or a ghost, or a projection. This Jesus is flesh and blood and bone, able to touch and be touched. He’s the same Jesus as before: the scars left by his execution no longer bleed, but they remain visible.
Yet he’s gone out of the corpse business. He’s alive, as alive as anybody here this morning, indeed, more alive than any of us. Compared to him, it’s we who seem like corpses. This Jesus comes back to his disciples bright with glory, radiant as a person is meant to be, the first blossom after humanity’s long, dark winter.
Jesus shows up to celebrate Easter, and he celebrates it in his own way. He forgives. He forgives those who don’t deserve it.
Jesus forgives all who will receive the gift of forgiveness, and even those who won’t. His friends and his enemies! The Jews and the Gentiles! People of his time and people of our time! Israelis and Palestinians! Afghans and Americans!
Jesus comes back in the power of his unending life to forgive them for what they did to him on the first Good Friday. He comes back to forgive them for what they do to him in the person of each other today and every day.
All have their places under his Easter tent, the canopy of his forgiveness. Each one of us is there with the boss we can’t stand, the neighbor who irritates us, the family member we don’t get along with. All of us are there, beneath his big rainbow tent. He forgives us, though we don’t deserve it.
He celebrates Easter in his own way, and the irony becomes apparent. We thought he was dead as a doornail, but he turns up again, as alive as life, and shows us we’re the dead ones, not him. We remain dead as long as we don’t accept his forgiveness. We remain dead as long as we don’t forgive those who offend us.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “In preparing the service and service for last Sunday, I was having difficulty in turning my thoughts into something meaningful for the congregation. Your material gave me the impetus I needed. You have treated a difficult passage in the gospel with the skill of a pro and your exegesis is most helpful. Thanks for a job well done!”
A thousand sparks to inspire you — and your congregation!
You and I take Jesus and give him the bum’s rush out of this bright world, and through the doorway to death, and what happens? He comes back, radiant with glory, and with a king’s dignity ushers us to the banquet of forgiveness where old enemies feast as friends.
Jesus shows up in this sad world, ready to celebrate Easter, and he celebrates it in his own way. He forgives those who don’t deserve it, and the world starts to look different. He asks that we, the forgiven, show forgiveness to others, and we start to look different.
It’s not only his resurrection day, but ours as well. The miracle of his empty tomb meets its match in the miracle of our new and living hearts. In the light of Easter, even our enemies start to look different.
Jesus forgives us. He knows the secrets of our hearts. He knows our sins better than we do. He knows, and still he forgives. And he makes his unparalleled trip back from the grave to tell us. What divine humor, what heavenly laughter! The dead man returns to call us back to life! He rolls the stone away from the entrance of our tomb that we may come forth into the light of Easter morning.
Jesus asks that we forgive others. He invites us to join him in the way he celebrates Easter: by forgiving others, those who don’t deserve it.
In the quiet time that will follow this sermon each of us can do one simple thing. We can recall a person we need to forgive and who doesn’t deserve it. It makes no difference whether that person is living or dead, near or far, out of our lives or closely involved with us. We can decide that the death that has bound us together has gone on long enough, and it is time for resurrection.
Then, later in the service, when we approach the altar for communion or a blessing, we can pray there for the grace to forgive as we have been forgiven. We can ask Jesus to lead us and that other person past this death to the abundant life he wills for both. By forgiving somebody who does not deserve it, we can celebrate Easter as Jesus does, the dead man who returns to call us back to life.
I have spoken these words to you in the name of the God whose Easter gifts to us are Jesus’ tomb now empty and our stone hearts turned to hearts of flesh: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.