Easter Day — Moving From Maps to Experience

I’ve always loved maps.  I remember doing a map exercise in 7th grade with Mrs. Cerrini where we had to start in our hometown and describe how to get to another location in Michigan.  We drew the other location out of a hat.  My group got Copper Harbor a small town at the highest tip of the Upper Peninsula,  and the place furthest away from where we lived in Southeast Michigan.  We aced it.  But I’ve never been there, and there has always been a mystique about this place for me. I love the outdoors.  The pictures I’ve seen online are fantastic.

 I think the resurrection can be like that.  We talk a great deal about it, but do we experience it?

Based on Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

            I can’t even begin to imagine the range of emotions experienced by these women who had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, these Christ-followers.  Luke tells us that on Friday they saw the tomb and how his body was laid, and that they prepared the spices and ointment for Jesus.  They rested from nightfall Friday to sunset on Saturday to observe the Sabbath.  And then early on Sunday morning, just as the sun was breaking over the horizon, they made their way back to that tomb, carrying those spices so they could take care of Jesus’ body.

The others had scattered, of course, fearing for their lives. But these women, Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and the other women, couldn’t care less about the Roman soldiers or the religious authorities.  They had followed Jesus all the way from his hometown, and they weren’t about to abandon him now.  They wanted to honor him the best way they knew how, to take the time to anoint his broken body with those spices and offer their prayers as they gave him back to God.

So they came bearing those gifts, much like the Magi who came at the start of Jesus’ life, to honor him.  Grief surely turned into uncertainty as they arrived at Jesus’ tomb only to discover the stone rolled back.  And then almost immediately that uncertainty transformed into horror when they looked in and saw that his body was no longer there.  They cried out, “Why? Why would anyone do such a horrible thing as to steal his body?”

And then suddenly, two men in dazzling white appear.  Shock.  Alarm.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but he is risen.  Remember how he told you that he must be handed over and crucified and on the third day rise again.”

They are perplexed.  Could it be true?  And then it dawns on them.  They do remember; Jesus did say that.  He did tell them that he was going to die and rise again.  They didn’t understand it then, they thought he was talking in metaphors, but it must be true, right?  His body is no longer here.  He must have been raised just as he said.  And then a flash of unbelievable joy.

They head back with tears of happiness streaming down their faces.  Just wait until the others hear this! They will be overcome with great joy to learn that Jesus is alive!  The women quicken their pace in order to hurry and tell the other disciples, the men who are hiding.

They rush in to the place where they’ve been gathering together since Friday, and the words start rushing out in their excitement.  They’re out of breath, speaking over one another, and the other disciples have to slow them down having just one of them speak.

“He’s alive!” one of those women says.  Blank stares from the others.  Incredulous looks.  So they start over, more slowly, telling them everything that had happened.  Nothing doing.  Those guys aren’t buying this story.  They stood off in the distance, but they saw him die.  They saw him when his tortured breathing stopped and his head collapsed on his chest.  They know he died, that he’s not alive.

Those women feel the disappointment and anguish rising in them. They look at one another, stunned that the others won’t believe them.  They see a couple of the men quietly whispering to one another, and then looking at them.  They hear someone say the words “it’s just an idle tale,” and then one of them begins to cry.  “Why won’t they believe us?” they whisper to each other.  Hurt, disappointment, disillusionment.

Peter alone finally leaves the place where they are staying.  He can’t believe their words, but he must verify it for himself.  So he runs over to the tomb and finds just the linen cloths just inside, but nothing else.  And he is amazed.

Sometimes when we hear unbelievable stories from others about the amazing things God has done for them, we approach them skeptically.  After some time we determine that these stories are merely fantastical—the person telling them is much too excited—so we take them with a grain of salt.  It isn’t that we don’t believe God can do amazing things, it’s just that we have never experienced them ourselves.  Besides we can’t muster up enough chutzpah, or enough disbelief in reality, to imagine that such miraculous things can take place.  So we politely dismiss the stories in our minds, while slowly smiling and nodding to the crazy person talking to us, trying to get them to finish up with their story so we can get on with our busy day.

Who would believe that God can save marriages?  Or that after praying for that person riddled with cancer, now the doctors can’t find anything?  Or those parents with the troubled teen that has had a turn around, surely that isn’t true.  We learned long ago that people don’t change, that even the idea of new life isn’t real, it’s not practical, because Jesus doesn’t really work that way in our day and age.  So we’re doubtful, cynical.

In his writings, C.S. Lewis compares discussing the things of God to reading a map.  A map is useful in describing things, like showing you the outline of a the shore. The creeds are helpful in describing God, for example, and in showing collectively what many have seen as attributes of God.  It’s just like a map, really.  But while maps are useful for getting you to your destination, it cannot begin to prepare you for what’s in store.  A map’s outline of the Acadia shore in Maine cannot prepare you for the breathtaking beauty of being there, of hearing the waves crash in on the rocks and having the salty spray hit you in the face.  If all you look at is a map, you’ll never experience the heart-pounding beauty.

Sometimes the same is true with God.  Perhaps you are here this morning and thinking, I’ve had quite enough of maps, thank you very much; I want to feel the spray.  I know the creeds, or what others have said about Jesus Christ, but I want to experience it myself.  I want to encounter the risen Christ because I am uncertain.  The whole thing seems like an idle tale.

Maybe you’re here this morning and are staring down great difficulties.  Maybe you’ve become estranged from a child or a spouse.  Perhaps you are in bondage to addiction or anger or fear and you think there is no way out.  It’s possible that you’ve been attending church for years but inside you feel that your faith is dead.  While others have had experiences with living God, you’ve never had those encouters or haven’t had them for a very long time.

Or perhaps most of all, this talk of new life, of experiencing the risen Christ seems to you to be nothing more than idle chatter.  Words that must be endured because you’re expected to be here, and you really just want the priest to hurry up so you can get on with the rest of your day, and head over to Tavolino’s for your Easter Brunch.

I want to say as emphatically as I can that Jesus came into this world to free us from those things that weigh us down, to forgive our sins and to bring us new life.  Experiencing the living Christ does not mean that we give up our identities, our deepest and truest selves; it was God who made us to begin with.  Rather, encountering Jesus brings us healing, reconciliation and wholeness; it allows us to be the people we were created to be: our best selves.  When we stumble upon Jesus–or maybe when he stumbles upon us—it is like being at the ocean for the first time and feeling the spray of the water as it crashes in on the rocks, rather than just tracing the shoreline on a map with our finger.

That’s why we gather on this day, and why we come to this table: to experience the risen Christ.  Jesus wants to “help us embrace the mystery of salvation, the promise of life rising out of death.”  May we “hear the call of Christ” and be given the “courage to follow it readily.”[1]   May we proclaim with joy the good news of the risen Christ, and may we experience Christ anew this Easter season, for he is risen, jut as he said.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

[1] Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime.346.

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