When I was a child, every Easter Sunday began the same way. The Easter Bunny would, the night before hide chocolate eggs all over our house. In the morning, upon rising, my two younger sisters and I would race to see who could find the most eggs. The catch was, though, that it was never a fair fight. We wouldn’t wake each other up or we wouldn’t wake our parents, upon waking it was all out Easter egg hunt war and the earliest riser would make out like a bandit, the other two would have to fight out who got what of the left over chocolate. I can remember a few times when they would go out for blood, of course, I maintain innocence in all dirty Easter morning dealings.
In John’s retelling of the Easter story, it is like reading a drama in 3 acts. The first act’s synopsis is an exploration of people’s fear, grief, and loneliness. Mary Magdalene, in the first act, has broken through the terror and trauma of watching her beloved friend die a terrible death. As Mary approaches the tomb, she notices that the stone is rolled away and the body of her dearly beloved friend is no longer in the place it was placed two days earlier. Suddenly, like any of us would do, Mary jumps to conclusions. She does so, though, without walking into the tomb first. Without all of the fact she goes ballistic and rushes off to tell Peter what she saw.
Act two pans open to find Peter and the beloved disciple going to investigate exactly what was going on. Fear and bewilderment take over when they arrive. Peter and the beloved disciple enter the tomb and then Mary joins them. Sobbing, she asks, on behalf of her two friends and herself, where the body was taken. Receiving no answer, she asks the person she is now assuming is the gardener, again where they have taken her friend’s body. In an arresting move the gardener looks at Mary and says, ‘whom are you looking for?’ Just like John the Baptizer asks in the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
In John’s account of what some have identified as the greatest story ever told, another important fact stands out, perhaps above the rest. The story begins in darkness, just as John’s creation story begins in darkness in the opening verses of John, “...All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:3)
My father is a great gardener. I inherited his hairline and several of his mannerisms but his green thumb I was not fortunate to inherit. There is nothing he enjoys more, it seems, than coaxing a new, unique seed, to sprout new life, or reviving a plant that looks as though it has soaked up its last bit of water. While to some people the seeds, pits, and plant tops represent good compost fodder, to him, a small grapefruit seed, Avocado pit, or the top of a pineapple, represents new life, the continuing cycle of living. Several years ago, dad took a chance on a tiny grapefruit seed. He salvaged it from the carcass that remained after a devouring of a delicious ruby red grapefruit, properly dried it, and planted it, not knowing if it would ever grow beyond its white exterior. Today, that tiny, lifeless seed is a tree that is marveled about by visitors to my parent’s home. It sits just behind the furniture in their living room and has sparked more than one conversation with visitors.
Poet Linda Gregg wrote:
“There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over the proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the herons
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim in standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.”
Easter for the Gospel of John, is an invitation to begin again, to be recreated by the Spirit as we move forward. In the previous days we have commemorated the final meal that Christ shared with his Apostles, through foot washing and through breaking bread and drinking wine. We have remembered Christ’s humiliation as he journeyed through Jerusalem’s winding streets, and we remembered Christ’s breathing of his last breath. In essence we were dried, lifeless grapefruit seeds, waiting for someone to see our potential to produce lush, green leaves, and strong, complex root systems with enough care and attention.
Today’s celebration is not merely of Easter Bunnies and chocolate eggs. It’s not about being the first to witness great events, it’s not about who got to the tomb first, or who was most devoted to Christ while he walked among us, although I am sure there were those arguments among Christ’s closest friends. It is about being born anew when the time is right. When our life experiences align with our faith and our view of the world shifts in such a way that we are convinced of God’s never-ending love for each and everyone of us.
The great Shaw House Easter Egg Hunt that took place when my sisters and I were children became such a competition that we would try to one up each other every year. One year it would be seven o’clock in the morning, the next the earliest riser would rise at six o’clock. When we got to four-thirty in the morning, we figured out that the Easter Bunny did not visit our house until sometime after five o’clock. The miracle, was not the fact that I out smarted my sisters twice, they liked to gang up on their older brother, and often used it to their advantage, the miracle was that there was always enough chocolate for all three of us, and I may or may not have stolen a few of their chocolate eggs from time to time, but don’t tell them. The Easter miracle now before us is that just as God coaxes into being the owls who, for Gregg, watch out over Tomales Bay, we are coaxed by the same God to celebrate the newness of life each day. The miracle of being small, dried up grapefruit seeds and when the Great Gardener places us in soil and waters us we sprout greens shoots that lead to strong root systems and lush green leaves. God is beckoning to each of us, dear friends, inviting us to join Him in life ever-lasting. Inviting us to open ourselves to new possibilities. We must mourn and wail as we have for the last few days; but this day, this great, this miraculous day has brought with it great celebrations. God has conquered death and given us life eternal, will you accept His invitation?