An Early Easter
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 4-16-2017)
I was a bit annoyed. Renee Grisham was interviewing the novelist, Christina Baker Kline about her new book, “a piece of the world.” In the interview, Kline told us the back story of Christina, actually a historical figure who is the young woman lying awkwardly in the field in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting, “Christina’s World.” You will see a print of his painting in your pew. Take a brief look at it.
Then, Renee did what any good interviewer would do. She asked Ms. Kline to read from her new book. Kline took the book, flipped to the last few pages and started to read. Who does that?! Who reads the end of a book to a group of potential readers of the book? I don’t want to know how a book ends before I read the first page. I was tempted to shout: STOP.
While I was stewing over this obvious marketing mistake, Kline’s words somehow managed to draw me into “Christina’s world.” In the novel and in real life, from an early age, Christina suffered from a degenerative neurological disease that eventually would leave her physically mangled and unable to walk. All her life, she is the subject of people’s pity, “poor Christina,” a pity that she rejects with intense pride. Most people, even those close to her, know her only by her infirmity, “poor crippled Christina.”
In the novel, Andrew Wyeth asks a much older Christina to pose for a portrait in the field. By this time in her life, the disease has left her with almost no ability to walk. She crawls wherever she needs to go. When Christina views the finished painting, she sees herself at much younger age. She realizes that somehow Wyeth has captured her, portrayed her, and understood her, in a way she has almost never, if ever, been seen and understood. In the penultimate sentence of the book, the older Christina is reflecting on the younger Christina found in this painting. About Christina, Kline writes: “What she wants most—what she truly yearns for—is what any of us want: to be seen” (p. 296). By the time Kline finished the reading and closed the book, I knew I had been absolutely wrong. I needed to read the rest of the story.
Over the years, I have found that most people do not know what to do with Easter, including church people. They know about all the trappings of Easter—family get-togethers, egg hunts, big meals, new clothes, occasionally, a festive hat, bright colors, lilies, and lots of alleluias—but to know Easter this way is not unlike only knowing Christina as that infirm girl in Wyeth’s painting; there is so much more to know about Easter, so much more to see.
In one way, Easter is all about seeing Jesus, seeing him as more than an exemplary moral leader, a clever teacher, a fiery social activist, a miraculous healer, a brutal victim of Rome’s violent hand. Easter is all about seeing Jesus, beloved child of God, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bones, in whom and through whom God wrenches life out of the jaws of death.
In another way, Easter is all about the human, crucified, and risen Jesus, seeing us – not the public us, not the dressed up for Easter morning us, not the put your best foot forward to impress others at church us—but seeing the real us beyond all our masks, amid all our brokenness, despite all our infirmity, and yet loving us nonetheless.
A great irony of Easter in the church is not only how hard it is for us to see Jesus, but how hard we make it for Jesus to see us through our confident chorales our boisterous Alleluias, as if Easter were ever about us setting aside our doubts and fears; to see us through our anger at God over the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the decline in our capacities, the betrayal of a friend.
Easter is about the human, crucified, and risen Jesus who sees far beyond Peter’s inexcusable denials to a person whom he will entrust with the leadership of the church. Easter is all about the human, crucified, and risen Jesus meeting Mary in the garden and even though at first she cannot see Jesus through her sorrow, he can see her. He sees beyond her sadness and he gently invites her out of the tomb of grief, saying, “Mary, don’t you weep.”
“What she wants most—what she truly yearns for—is what any of us want: to be seen.” I cannot begin to explain the Risen Jesus, how a man crucified, dead, and buried, is not finally shackled by death. I cannot begin to explain how the walk-the-earth-with-disciples Jesus is also the fresh-out-of-the-tomb Jesus. I cannot begin to criticize Thomas for considering all this Easter talk as so much wishful thinking and religious nonsense. He is in good company, even among many who sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” every Easter morning.
I can rejoice, though, that the human, crucified, and risen Jesus that I follow sees me, the real me, the without a robe me, the scared of aging and dying me, the too-often-short with my family me, the filled with “what if” religious questions me, the sometimes fine but often failed friend me, the struggle with weight and body image me, the frustrated at bureaucracies, including the church, me. I do not have to pray pretty prayers to assuage God or try to impress Jesus on Easter morning, because God sees me, God knows me just as I am. God sees you. God knows you just as you are.
That can be a terrifying truth, to be seen and known that intimately. It can also result in an early Easter, for whenever we realize that we are seen and known by a loving and merciful God, Easter has come. Hopefully, Easter will come at our family’s dinner table this morning, as we taste the bread that never runs out and drink from the cup that is never empty. The fare for this meal is soul food, food that gives you Easter dreams when you sleep, dreams of a world where there is enough bread and enough drink for all, where there are always enough loving homes and everyone has access to quality health care, where there are so many people fighting for peace that those who holler for war are drown out.
In Luke, the human, crucified, and risen Jesus walks with distraught disciples to a town called Emmaus. They are too deep into their grief to see Jesus. It is not until the bread is broken that they see the One who is just waiting to be seen and has seen and known them all along the journey.
So, scoot yourself up to this table, enjoy a heaping helping of this soul food that has been prepared for you and me, then get up from the table and see the world that God loves and for which Christ died and yet lives. Get involved in bringing Christ’s peace into this fearing, vengeful, and death loving world. Do it not because the world has changed today, but because you have.
What did Kline say about Christina, “What she wants most—what she truly yearns for—is what any of us want: to be seen.” Lean into the truth that the human, crucified, and risen Jesus sees us, knows us, forgives us, welcomes us, loves us, and maybe by God’s glorious grace, Easter may come as early as today.