Every year, Laura and I have some very important discussions about the Easter service. This is the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the biggest day on the calendar for Christians. And since we are Presbyterians, we are going to celebrate decently and in order. Every line of every hymn and song is reviewed for the right theological message, prayers are scrutinized for detail and placement in the service, even, “how does this prayer connect to that banner.” Everything has its place and time in the service, and by golly, it just better stay that way.
But then there is that (see photo below).
That cross is chaos. I remember standing in front of it the first year we decided to do it thinking, “Now, how will we manage this.” We talked about inviting children up by age groups. No, that would take too long. Maybe we do sections of the sanctuary during verses of a song. No, that would be too complicated. How about a lottery? Numbers 1-20 go first and so forth and so on. But, who would want to be handed a lottery number when they came in for worship, especially on Easter? Then I remember saying with great hesitation, “Maybe we will just have to let the congregation have at it.” And what we saw this morning was crazy: kids shoving and pushing, people trying to sing while flowers are flying. It was noisy and unruly, very un-Presbyterian. But look at it. It is beautiful, more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, more beautiful than I could have done on my own. Every year, I approach that cross with fear and joy.
And I think our cross helps us get a slight glimpse of what happened that first Easter morning as the women approached the tomb. Matthew’s version of the empty tomb is filled with the most drama, the most chaos, of all the gospels. It would be the version with the most special effects if it was a movie. The earth shook and so did the guards. Flashes of light more spectacular than the grandest 4th of July fireworks filled the sky as the angel descended. The women watched in awe as this angel pushes the stone away from the sealed but now empty tomb. And then he sits atop the stone. Can you picture him? I picture him excited; more excited than the kids pushing their way to put in a flower on the cross this morning. “Don’t be afraid!” He says, “Come look! Something more beautiful than you can imagine is here, something more wonderful than you have ever experienced. An empty tomb! Go tell the others that Jesus has been raised from the dead! He is waiting for you! He is waiting for them!”
And they ran; they ran with fear and joy from this chaotic scene of lights and angels and earthquakes. But that fear and joy is good news. The fear comes from encountering something outside of what’s expected, while the joy comes when that something is so much better, more wonderful, than what was expected. God had done something huge that day. In a world that says the dead stay dead, God said, “Enough.” And the whole fallen cosmos shook. This wasn’t a scene of chaos for God. Chaos is no match for God. In the beginning of Genesis, God breathed the Holy Spirit over the chaos and brought forth life. From the beginning, our God is a God of life. And, on that first Easter morning, God brought the cosmos back into the way he had created it; back to the way he had intended. Truly alive and truly free in resurrection of Jesus Christ. No wonder the earth shook! It had been created as a garden where life could flourish, not a cemetery to bury the dead.
But God doesn’t just leave us at the empty tomb. We have to turn away from it and face the chaos and craziness of our daily existence. And that is where we find him. Or, I should say, he finds us. There is the risen Lord, waiting for us. That’s the second wonderful part of the resurrection. We have a God of life and love. God just didn’t raise Jesus from the dead to show off his power to two innocent bystanders, but gives the resurrected Lord so that we can live our daily lives in a new, loving relationship with him, each other, and all of creation. He is there. In the midst of broken relationships and families, there he is, offering forgiveness. In the shadow of addiction, he is there, offering hope and wholeness. In the middle of sickness and cancer, there he is, offering healing. In the middle of war, he comes bringing peace and reconciliation. Christ is there, drawing us towards God and molding us in his Spirit to be the people we were created to be, truly alive and truly free in him.
Friends, Christ is risen. And his resurrection was more than a miraculous light show to shock and awe those who had him crucified and those who were his followers. When Jesus rose, he turned the entire universe on its head. In his resurrection, death is silenced and all creation is made whole and restored. God has the final word, and that final word is Jesus. And it is in Jesus the entire cosmos celebrates.