Imagine that you're at a dinner party, standing by the fireplace with a small plate of hors d'oeuvres, when you mention to the people nearby that you'd like to talk about Easter. Imagine someone responding, "No, thank you, we are having a serious discussion about education in America." So you listen for a while as they discuss things like class sizes, teachers' salaries, and how high their property taxes are. Then they start reminiscing about their own school days, yellow school buses, packing a lunch, high school proms, and pop quizzes. You want to interrupt and bring up other details, such as how too many teachers burn out or end up having to buy class supplies with their own money, or how peer pressure can be so destructive that it leads many young people to consider suicide; but there's never a break in the conversation.
So you walk over to another group and mention to them that you'd like to talk about Easter. Someone else responds, "No, thanks, we are having a serious conversation about hunger in America." So you listen for a while as they discuss how sad it is that people still need food pantries and soup kitchens, and how the canned food drive held last week was a big success, but the price of groceries keeps going up and you can never find a good parking place near the Whole Foods; and even with all the microwave entrees to choose from, it is hard to find things to eat. You want to interrupt and mention other details, such as how hunger is a silent reality for millions of Americans who are too embarrassed to admit the gnawing pain in their empty stomachs, like the elderly caught between buying food or buying medicine, or young children who simply cannot understand why there's nothing to eat in the house. But, sadly, there's never a break in the conversation, so you remain silent.
But at last you have the chance to make your request again and you say that you'd like to talk about Easter. You tell how on the first day of the week at early dawn, a group of women went to the cemetery outside Jerusalem's city walls to visit the place where Jesus had been buried. When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb and Jesus' body was gone. When the women went back to tell the other disciples what they had seen, the men thought they were lying and telling an idle tale. Someone in the dinner party group near you chuckles and skeptically suggests that he can see why the disciples thought that it was an idle tale. He wonders why it is necessary to hear about Easter again, since it is only a story. He feels like he's in Sunday School and soon he'll be hearing about Noah and Jonah and Adam and Eve. With a shake of his head, he goes off muttering that he doesn't have time for such superficial stories, as he seeks out more serious conversation topics, such as public education, hunger in America, politics, military spending.
If he had stuck around, you could have reminded the skeptical man that even though the disciples thought the women's Easter story was an idle tale, they never treated it like it was superficial. Nor did they walk away from it. Peter ran to the cemetery and did his own CSI investigation: visiting the possible crime scene, looking for evidence of grave robbers, examining the discarded burial cloths, before then returning to the others, perplexed yet also amazed at what he'd seen. Later, when Jesus appeared before them, they were frightened and thought they were seeing a ghost. The disciples had a lot of worldly wisdom: they knew about local politics and the best places to catch fish in the Sea of Galilee. But they didn't know yet about resurrection and the Easter story.
So Jesus said to them, "Look at me closely. See my hands and my feet. Touch me. A ghost doesn't have flesh and bones as I do." Jesus appeared to them and spoke to them, and even asked them for something to eat. He refused to let them run away or treat what was happening as if it was a mere story, superficiality, or an idle tale. He took their worldly understandings and went beyond mere appearances to something deeper. The one who was dead was now alive. Something quite serious, quite wonderful was revealed to them that first Easter day.
And that is what we talk about in church. We talk about God and Jesus; we tell of a cross, an empty tomb, and a risen Lord. But it is the farthest thing from being a superficial or idle tale, because this Easter talk is one of the most serious stories we know. It is about death and resurrection and a hope that is stronger than all darkness and earthly despair. It is about the most intimate, deep, and personal connection that can exist in this life.
Easter is about a loving re-engagement between God and us that exceeds all our expectations. It happened to the women disciples, who'd been kept on the margins of a male-dominated world until God in Christ entrusted to them the greatest story ever told. It happened to the other disciples, who were huddled there in the Upper Room behind locked doors lest they also faced death by crucifixion until God in Christ quieted their fears and opened their eyes at last.
And this loving re-engagement didn't stop with the first disciples. It has continued ever since and, thankfully, includes us. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit participates intimately, deeply, in our world - this world where children sit in classrooms and teachers teach where choices are made about public education and how our shared resources will be allocated to nurture the young minds in our midst. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit participates intimately, deeply, in our world which has been designed to feed all of God's children, but where choices are made that keep too many hungry each day. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit participates intimately, deeply, in our world of politics and law, our world of wars and fragile peace. This world can never be understood through conversations that rely solely on mere facts and statistics. It is a world far too complicated, far too wonderful, and far too spiritually deep for such superficial stories and dinner party conversations.
If the truth be told, it is skepticism and doubt that are superficial; faith involves real depth and intellectual courage. Being afraid to engage or embrace the deep complexity of life is what causes some people to walk away from Christianity, muttering over their shoulders that it is just a bunch of idle tales about impossible miracles. But by contrast, it is the desire to connect deeply with life, to love even when it is risky, and to trust in that which cannot always be seen but which we know to be true nonetheless, that leads us to tell the Easter story over and over again.
Yes, that is the serious story we talk about in church. God loves us so much that God refuses to leave us alone. Sometimes this love causes me to tremble, as we sing on Good Friday standing beneath the cross of Jesus. Sometimes this love fills me with wonder and joy, as we say on Easter morning, standing before the empty tomb of Christ. But always it asks me to take seriously this far from superficial story about a stubborn, intimate, abiding love that is stronger than death. So, yes, let's talk about Easter.
Let us pray. Loving God, we thank you for the story of Easter. May we be encouraged this day and always to tell it, to share it, and to live it. For in that story you have drawn near to us in ways that give us true life and that is our hope and our greatest joy. We offer ourselves to you this day in Christ's name. Amen.