Anyone here ever read Charlotte’s Web? While many of you may remember the overall plot of EB White’s classic book, I suspect the beginning has gotten a bit fuzzy for most of you. Fern—the delightful girl who befriends the farm animals—sleepily asks where her Pa is going with the ax one morning when she come down for breakfast. Her mother explains that some pigs were born overnight and that one of pigs is a runt. “It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything,” her mother says. “So your father has decided to do away with it.” Fern will have nothing to do with this and wakes up quickly. She runs down to the barn lickity split and stops her dad from killing that poor pig. Later that day while she’s at school she decides to name him Wilbur, and she takes wonderful care of him. It’s only later, after that pig has grown quite a bit, that Wilbur makes his way to Zuckerman’s farm up the road.
Wilbur soon discovers that farms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. He can’t find a friend to play with among the other animals and loneliness sets in. He cries himself to sleep one night when a voice tells him that in the morning she will be his friend. At the sliver of dawn, he asks all of the other animals if they were the one who had spoken to him the night before, but they all tell him to go away. Finally the same voice calls out to Wilbur, “Salutations!” White describes what happened next in this way, “Wilbur jumped to his feet. ‘Salu-what?’ he cried. ‘Salutations’ repeated the voice. ‘What are they, and where are you?’ screamed Wilbur. ‘Please, please, tell we where you are. And what are salutations?’ ‘Salutations are greetings,’ said the voice. ‘When I say “salutations,” it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.’” It’s how Charlotte meets Wilbur.
It’s early on the first day of the week, Matthew tells us, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb. Suddenly, a great earthquake begins because an angel of the Lord has suddenly appeared, coming down from heaven. The angel looks like lightening and has clothes blaze as white as snow. He pushes back the stone, and then once he’s done with that task, he hops on top of it and takes a seat to check everything out.
Well, the soldiers when they see all this start quaking themselves, only it’s caused by tremendous fear. In short order, they all pass out. The angel casually sitting on that giant stone looks at the women nearby and says, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.’”
The two Mary’s immediately turn and run away, both in fear and great joy, to tell the other disciples. Suddenly Jesus himself appears before them, unable to wait until his prescribed destination of Galilee, and says, “Greetings!” They come and bow down before him, holding his feet and worshipping him. Then he also tells them not to be afraid, and to continue on with their mission to tell the disciples that he would see them in Galilee.
I don’t know about you, but “Greetings,” sounds a bit stiff. It’s a like Charlotte’s “Salutations!” It’s not something you’d hear everyday. If you were to say “Greetings!” to someone at the grocery store, they might look at you a little funny. Now imagine if it was one of your dearest friends who had just unexpectedly gotten back from a trip. Or, in this case, a friend you’d never thought you’d see again in your entire life. “Greetings” the friend says casually, and you’re thinking “Dude, is that the best you can come up with? ‘Greetings’? You sound like one of those bad 80s sitcoms that has someone trying to play a robot or a space alien. ‘Greetings, earthling.’ Like any normal human being would ever say that, let alone someone you know and love so well.
I imagine if the Marys and Jesus showed up on “This is Your Life,” the host would ask about that moment. “So, Jesus, you just got raised from the dead and the first word out of your mouth was ‘Greetings’?” Mary Magdalene would then say, “We were caught a bit off guard by that comment, but we tried to give him a break. I mean he had been dead a few days and had only just come back to life.” Jesus would laugh and say, “Yeah, I should have thought about that one a little more. I didn’t think it’d get written down and everything.”
In the Greek it’s chairo, a simple enough word of salutation. But in the translation into English, it loses some of its punch. It’s not just “Hello,” but it’s bursting with joy. “Rejoice!” is how it gets translated in other places of the New Testament. St. Paul uses it when he writes to the believers in Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again I’ll say it, Rejoice!” Or when the shepherd leaves the 99 to go out searching for the single lost sheep. When he finds it, he places that sheep on his shoulders and rejoices. Be joyful! Delight! Be elated! Revel in what is taking place before you! Which is the kind of greeting you’d expect to hear when the teacher you’ve devoted your life to suddenly appears in front of you a few days after you saw him placed in the tomb.
“Rejoice!” Jesus says to the women, letting out a whoop! And they run up to him, unable to believe their eyes and they worship him. “Now go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
A new adventure is afoot. Something wonderful is beginning to brew.
Which may sound a little stiff to some of us today. Because we know what’s happening out in our world. And maybe “Greetings” from the Risen Lord is bit more believable than “Rejoice!”
Writer and pastor Frederick Buechner writes, “Anxiety and fear are what we know best in this fantastic century of ours. Wars and rumors of wars. From civilization itself to what seemed the most unalterable values of the past, everything is threatened or already in ruins. We have heard so much tragic news that when the news is good we cannot hear it.
“But the proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well. And as a Christian, I say this not with the easy optimism of one who has never known a time when all was not well but as one who has faced the Cross in all its obscenity as well as in all its glory, who has known one way or another what it is like to live separated from God. In the end, his will, not ours, is done. Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen.”
I want to assure you today that Love is indeed the victor. Death does not have the final say, but a fullness of life. And in Christ there exists life with more beauty and mystery and grace than we could ever conjure up in our wildest dreams. That’s what lies before us.
Those of us who were English majors can tell you that Charlotte is a Christ-figure in that children’s story. She saves Wilbur from becoming the prominent dish of Christmas dinner. She spins out those words in her web that exude joy and tell the world how Wilbur is indeed some pig. But notice she isn’t Christ. She says it best herself, on that glorious day in Wilbur’s life at the Fair when he asks why she’s done so many good things for him. She replies, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I like you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
Charlotte is—whether she realizes it or not—a disciple. Not Christ himself, but his follower. She lives her life like Jesus. By helping Wilbur she lifted up her own life a trifle—and his too.
And that’s the adventure before us as followers of Jesus. Perhaps we can only imagine that things remain too tough in our world, but wouldn’t it be a much better place if we shared our joy? When we help someone else, we lift up their life and ours. When we work for the good of all, when we stop and slip a dollar into an outstretched cup and talk with a homeless person for a couple of minutes. When we forgive someone who has wounded us, or ask for forgiveness ourselves when we’ve blown it. When we play a game with our kids, or make a meal to share with a neighbor going though a tough time. When we choose joy in the face of difficulty and hardship, when we recognize that our actions, our words, and our deeds change the trajectory of someone else’s life, that’s the way we truly follow Jesus. We’re not Christ figures; we’re Christ followers.
So, my friends, my fellow disciples, “Rejoice!” Do not be afraid! Jesus has been raised from the dead, and he is going before us on the most wonderful adventure of our lives. So let us follow him with delight and exuberance and much joy! Rejoice! Again, I say it, Rejoice!
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!