Have you ever had one of those nights? You cannot sleep and the worry and fear keeps gnawing at you... maybe someone you love is travelling all night, perhaps you are waiting for word of a new job, or a medical result... Or maybe something horrible has happened and you cannot let it go.
So you toss and you turn and you stare at the ceiling. And eventually, somewhere close to when it doesn’t matter anymore whether you sleep or not; blackness engulfs you.
Now, here is the real question... have you ever woken up from one of those nights to discover that everything is all right? That the person made it, the test is negative, you got the job or your kids are safe...
That is Easter Morning.
This is the festival of new life, this is the celebration of hope, this is Spring and flowers, and sunshine, and stones rolled away and every good thing we can think of rolled into one service.
And it started with a story of a man who said that love was more powerful than death. Almost no one believed him... his closest friends and followers gave up on him during his arrest, trial, and execution... they all had that long dark night of the soul when they were sure their dreams were gone, when they were sure their friend was dead, when they were sure they were next.
But then came morning; and the reality that life had so much more to offer and that feeling was so powerful that the followers of Jesus have been sharing it ever since.
Crucifixion is meant to put down rebellions. Pure and simple, effective too; you find the leaders of the movement, and you hang them up in the sunshine on the road into the city. I tell you this, the next person is going to think twice before suggesting we go against Caesar.
Of course, the thing is, Jesus kept trying to tell them... it was not Caesar he had any problem with, it was the way people were living. And the story he told went back to childhood tales around the fire, of a God who created a man and a woman and put them in a garden with the animals and said, “take care of each other.”
And Jesus wondered, whatever happened to that? Whatever happened to the days when you knew your neighbours name, when you trusted the mechanic and the teacher and the police officer and the banker?
Whatever happened to neighbourhood BBQ’s and letting your kids play outside all day on their own... what has happened to life?
And the people in charge pointed out that life is better now than it has ever been; although no one quite believed them; and they got rid of this guy who dared to speak for God, who dared to say that life should be different.
But the thing is, the message seemed true to the people. It echoed what they had always been taught in church, they believed the words of the prophet Isaiah who said that God was going to make the world better, peaceful, loving, hope filled. And Jesus was just pointing out that these were the promises of God.
4,000 year old promises for us... that the lion will lay down with the lamb. And sure, there are days when I am discouraged, there are times when I think it will never happen... and then I see some random news story about a stranger who does something loving.
Last week I watched a newscast from the states about a kid who threw the basketball to a member of the wrong team, on purpose... seems there was a boy with Down ’s syndrome playing this one game, he usually takes care of the equipment and the coach let him play the final game. Well, all through the game he had tried to get a basket and missed. There were three seconds left and the opposing team had the ball on the sidelines... So the boy who had the ball takes a look around, and throws it right to the guy, right in front of the net, on the other team, who has waited his whole life to take this one shot... and he makes it.
You cannot tell me that that is not a story of Easter.
Sunrise in the Garden
The story of the wee hours in the garden where Jesus was buried is a very passionate one. You can imagine the pain, the wonder, the fear... I mean, think about it... if someone you knew were dead, and you discovered the body was missing, and then that maybe they were not dead after all... how fast could your feelings keep up?
But in this one passage in John we see everything laid bare: disbelief, wonder, fear, pain, hope, loss... and we see how hard it is for us to accept the wonder that is all around us.
Mary argues that Jesus has to be dead. She argues against the miracle... And I don’t think she really wants Jesus to be dead, I just think it is next to impossible for her to accept anything else.
We know how things work... we know how the world is... and we expect the worst.
That is where Easter gets in the way.
I want you to see how powerful resurrection is, and that is why I started by asking if you have ever felt those nights of fear and mornings of relief... because this is a biggy. This is the thing that happened to those who loved Jesus – they lost everything, in one weekend, in one night....
And somehow, inexplicably, they found it all the next morning.
What if the promises of God are true? What if some of what we have said for thousands of years really does make sense? What if there is something more powerful than the darkness we too often feel? Mary, Peter, the disciples, the followers, they all came to know, completely and totally, that this was true.
They saw Jesus love come back to life in a way that cannot die.
And for them, that was the story of Easter.
If you ask me, the one thing we are meant to take from Jesus is the idea that anything is possible.
Add to that the truth that love conquers all and I think we have all the tools we need to make it into any future, to face any pain, and to come to love one another the way that God intended.
For me Easter is so much more than the story of Jesus returning from the grave, it is the story of the complicated way we live, stuck between all that goes wrong, and the potential for so much goodness. And when I hear this story I am able to say that there is something else... that God does come through... that new life is all around us...
This is what God invites us to celebrate.