Scripture: John 18:1-18
The Easter Nudge
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
Of all the places that Clare could have been last Easter Sunday, she found herself in Heathrow Airport. She was returning with some friends from two week’s vacation in Turkey. From Constantinople and Istanbul to Ephesus, Clare had been enmeshed in history and rich culture as she traveled through the country of Turkey. It had been the trip of a lifetime; she told me when she had returned home. But what she hadn’t anticipated was how difficult it would be to spend Holy Week in a predominately Muslim country – not because the people there were Muslim, not at all, but because she, personally, felt disconnected from the signs and symbols and stories of her faith.
This was the first Holy Week that Clare hadn’t joined her three-generation Polish American family in Connecticut to prepare Swienconka (Sh-veen-soon-kah). Good Friday would have be spent, from dawn until dusk, preparing hardboiled eggs, symbolizing life and resurrection, butter lamb, symbolizing Christ, babka (bob-kuh), a bread-like cake, symbolic of Jesus, ham, symbolic of joy and abundance, homemade horseradish, symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ, salt, representing purification, kielbasa, cheese, and they would carefully place these items that they have created in a basket woven with boxwood and lined with crisp white, lace napkins. On Holy Saturday Clare’s family would join other Polish Americans in bringing these beautifully adorned baskets to church. Families place their swienconka that they have prepared on a long table in the center of the sanctuary and the priest presides over this table of sustenance and abundance and he blesses it and then with a small canister, he sprinkles holy water on each basket. Families return home on Holy Saturday with their Swienconka and it remains untouched until after Mass on Easter morning, when they come together around the table to celebrate the presence of the living Christ in their hearts and homes and lives.
As she sat in a café at Heathrow Airport waiting for her connecting flight, Clare thought of the Swienconka that her family had prepared back at home, she imagined the priest setting his hands over the basket and the blessed, sacred waters falling upon it. Then, an amazing thing happened, she told me as tears welled up in her eyes, she overheard the couple a few tables over from her speaking to one another in Polish. She got up and went over to the couple and said hello to them in Polish. They talked for a bit and exchanged an Easter greeting. That’s all it took, an ocean away from her roots and she felt connected to the resurrection spirit that Easter day.
The first Passion of the Christ in Ixtapalapa, Mexico was in 1843, in the midst of a cholera outbreak. The story goes that after the reenactment of the Passion in the streets of the impoverished city, cholera deaths began to decline and within a few months the epidemic had ended. Whether fact or fiction, the Easter tradition of acting out Jesus’ final days on earth in this area of Mexico City has continued ever since. Each year in Ixtapalapa, or what’s commonly referred to as a “barrio muy popular”, which is really a euphemism for a poor and unsafe neighborhood, hundreds of people come together to reenact the Sermon on the Mount, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the feeding of the five thousand, and the last supper.
For this week, the people of Ixtapalapa set aside and step outside of their normal lives as students, laborers, or housewives and they come together to offer God their love and enthusiasm and to stand within the hope.
Leticia Vizcaino, who holds a day job as a manager in a restaurant, played Mary in this year’s Passion procession in Ixtapalapa. In character, Leticia kneels at the foot of the cross on a hill overlooking Mexico City and she cries out with tears streaming down her face. Leticia prays that her role as Mary will, “show the people how Mary is suffering right now over the difficulties of her community.”
I imagine that as she made her way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, before the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene must have been very angry for what they had done to Jesus. She must have been very afraid for her own life. So, when she arrived at the tomb and discovered the stone rolled away it is no wonder that she ran as fast as she could, in the opposite direction to go get the others. She went to get help from Simon Peter and the other beloved disciple, “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” and the three of them quickly ran back to the tomb and indeed Jesus’ body was not there. Peter and the other disciple turned around and they went back home, but Mary, she stayed. She stood, weeping outside of the open, empty tomb. In utter grief and despair and it was in that moment that Jesus came to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
“Sir,” she said, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.”
And with the simple whisper of her name, “Mary”, Jesus told her everything she needed to know in order to understand. “Fear not...for I have called you by name, (Mary) you are mine” (Isa 43:1-2).
Mary understands and Jesus says to her, “Do not hold on to me. Go to my brothers and sisters and share with them what you have experienced, this news of resurrection.”
It is easy to get stuck in our own heads, trapped in our own minds when thinking about the resurrection. We have a tendency to try to intellectualize the resurrection as an actual event. In what ways can we quantify or qualify the events of that first Easter morning?
Yet, the scene on resurrection morning between Jesus and Mary at the tomb is deeply emotional and personal; it is not intellectual, but experiential and visceral. Mary weeps and waits in the emptiness of his grave until Jesus calls her by her name, “Mary.” And then, she understands and she goes, to be with the others.
There is a certain enchantment about Easter that nudges us here to this particular place on on this particular day. Easter nudges us toward a deeper relationship with God, one in which we are searched and known intimately, our deepest hopes, fears, losses, dreams exposed and nudging us onward, to a new hope, to a new faith; there is something about Easter that nudges us toward one another, to be with family and in community. As we experience Jesus whispering our name, we are nudged toward hope that transcends intellectualism and reason.
On that first Easter morning, Mary crossed a border she didn’t even realize she was crossing. She crossed over from the world that nailed her Lord to a tree, a world in which hope was a constant danger, where peace had little chance, where the rich got richer, where physical and material strength always won out, where oppression was the norm to a world of life and hope.
Easter nudges us onward into such a world. Easter nudges us toward visceral, physical signs of hope and life and community. Easter nudges us toward lilies in memory of those who have received eternal peace with God, grace upon grace, and in celebration of those who are with us to share in this life here and now.
What do you expect from an Easter world? In your relationships, your family, your neighborhood, your nation, your world? Beyond the intellectualism of this day, how does the resurrection rest upon your heart? How does it draw you out toward others? Where will there be unforeseen joy and good news in your life?
The resurrected Christ is an experience, and we are experiencing it together right here, right now, this morning. The resurrected Christ comes to us through the senses. In Easter lilies; in baskets of eggs and kielbasa; in parades of people in first century costumes marching on through the streets of a barrio muy popular, in the simple utterance of our name, Easter nudges us onward to a new hope.