by Rev. Doug Gray
Since before I can remember, I have loved Easter Egg hunts. Was that a tradition at your house when you were growing up? Or is it something you’ve seen other folks do? If it’s a new tradition for you, you might check out our kids while they are doing the Easter Egg hunt. Watch their faces as they hunt. Watch the littlest ones. Sometimes they find an egg, and then they’re happy. When you open it and there is something inside—the delight on their faces. Watch the older ones, and they are more into finding the eggs. Candy, stickers, prizes? Ok, fine, but there’s work to do! We have to find the eggs! It’s why we do our Easter Egg hunt in two waves, because the way the two groups approach the process is so different—the littlest ones really don’t stand a chance if the older ones are in on it from the beginning. You know, it’s funny, but I think that the adult search for Easter and the Risen Christ is a lot like that too.
Some of us are like the littlest ones hunting Easter eggs—totally happy to find there is a day for joy! Like the women standing in an empty tomb wondering what the heck is going on…and then finding joy, we may not be really sure what to think about the whole resurrection thing, but it’s great to celebrate what God is doing! To open the day, and find a prize—some sweet music, a cool message, some good prayer—who’s not up for that? If you are here for the joy and beauty, then you’re in luck! We have lots of joy and beauty in today!
Some of us are more like the older kids hunting eggs—we are in it to win it! Open the eggs? Are you kidding? We are into the hunt! For us, we want to understand this whole resurrection thing. What do you mean raised from the dead? What if Jesus was really a ghost? Was Jesus actually raised from the dead? Why are there differences between the four gospel accounts of the resurrection? The best explanation for the different accounts of Jesus on Easter Sunday is to think of Jesus rising from the grave like a televised football game. There are lots of cameras at the game—some look down on the plays on the field from above, some look at the same plays from the ground level, some are looking at the fan response in the stands, some look at it from the quarterback’s point of view. All the cameras are looking at the same game, but we see different things from each one. All the cameras agree on the main features—who won the game, maybe some of the key plays, maybe the crazy woman with the Viking hat who decided to jump the fence and was ushered out—and they all add important perspectives to understand the game. When we look at Easter Sunday, all the accounts agree on some things:
It was the third day after Jesus died on the cross. The Romans were pros at execution. No way Jesus makes it out of that alive. Jesus was really dead.
Women were the first to go to the tomb, hoping to anoint Jesus with aromatic spices so that when the other people came to visit, it wouldn’t smell so bad. In a patriarchal society, someone making up the story would have had men as the first witnesses.
Jesus was not in the tomb. Most likely, some of the women encountered Jesus too. They knew what ghosts were, and this Jesus was not a ghost. They could touch him, he was living and breathing.
The women are freaked out and unbelievably happy at the same time, which is a hard set of emotions to have at the same time.
They go and tell the other disciples—none of whom believe them at first.
If you are hunting for Easter, full of questions and doubts, and maybe a curious mix of wonder, fear, and joy, you are in luck—we have plenty of questions, doubts and mixed emotions. We are always looking for more of Easter too.
Of course, the thing about Easter is that it’s more than hunting eggs. The story is told of a boy named Philip who never felt like he belonged. In his Sunday school class before Easter, Phillip’s teacher introduced a special project. He gave every member a plastic “egg”—the kind pantyhose used to come in. He explained that each child was to go outside, find a symbol for new life and put it into the egg. The class really got into it. Back in the classroom the eggs were opened one at a time. In the first egg was a pretty flower. In the next a beautiful butterfly. Green grass was in a third. The children “oohed” and “aahed” over all the ideas. Finally, the last egg was opened—there was nothing. “That’s stupid,” said one child. Another grumbled, “Someone didn’t do it right!” The teacher felt a tug on his shirt. It was Phillip, who said, “That’s mine, and I did do it right! It’s empty, ‘cause the tomb was empty.” There was an unusual, thoughtful silence. And strangely, from that time on, Phillip was accepted as part of the group. Phillip struggled with many physical problems. That summer he picked up an infection which most children would easily have shaken off. But Philip’s weak body couldn’t, and a few weeks later, he died. At his funeral nine eight-year-olds with their teacher brought their symbol of remembrance and placed it near his coffin. Their unusual gift of love to Phillip wasn’t flowers. It was an empty egg—now a symbol to them of new life and hope. The fearful disciples who locked their doors before Jesus’ resurrection would, in a few short weeks, become bold and fearless ambassadors for the Jesus who was not in the tomb. The empty egg and the empty tomb are not simply empty, they are paradoxically full of hope and power. Richard Foster wrote of this group of Easter hunters, “These are the ones who can envision a new future, a future of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. They are being taken over by a holy power to do the right. They are being brought out of bondage to human beings. They cannot be bribed or manipulated or flattered. They love their enemies and pray for those who despise them. In time their very presence and actions will bring down those structures that are sustained by greed and pride and fear.” The hunters for Easter know that they are not really hunting for the event—what happened long ago; they are hunting for a person who lives with us today, and whose presence transforms people. So we hunters for Easter can know that the better tomorrow starts with Jesus rising to be with us today. Uncertainty, wonder, and joy! He is risen!