What Does Easter Look Like?
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
My father once told me a story I’ll never forget. He lived on dairy farm as a boy. Driving tractors and trucks came at an early age on a working farm. One day he was told to go get the family car and pull it up in front of the house, which he happily proceeded to do.
It was an old car with a manual transmission. The gearshift sprouted from the steering wheel. Three on the tree, they called it. Anyway he went and started the car, put it in gear, and gave it some gas. He was looking backward through the rear window when the car lurched forward breaking the wall in the back of the garage.
My dad was sure he was in BIG trouble! Relaying the terrible bad news, however, surprised him. Instead of yelling at him, his dad (my grandfather), a hard old German Swede, told him it was okay. You can’t get in trouble for doing your best, even when a terrible accident is the result.
I don’t remember how I messed up to provoke him telling me this story. I only remember the life-lesson my dad drew from it. It’s a lesson I’ve already passed down to my own kids on more than one occasion.
I’m not going further into the details of the fire last night in the ministry center. We haven’t seen the full report. However, we do know all three agencies called out to investigate, the Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, and a Federal agent from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms all agreed the fire was an accident. No one acted willingly or carelessly to start it. Unfortunately, it was one of those accidents that sometimes happen even when we are doing our best.
What I do want to tell you about, is how so many of our friends and neighbors responded with efficiency, experience, competence and compassion. Leaders of this church poured out on the sidewalk. They worked late into the night. It was obvious how much people, including our neighbors, care about this place. But more important, it is obvious how much we all cared for one another. It was a proud moment for your pastor.
According to 3rd century theologian Tertullian, the ancient Romans used to remark about Christians, “Look, see how much they love one another.” That’s where we find connection in our scriptures for today. When Tabitha, also called Dorcas, died the prayers and compassionate actions of a loving community surrounded and cared for her body. The lives of early Christians’ lives were affected, transformed by the compassion and service of Tabitha, and they in turn offered prayers, presence, and tears, but they also took action for the sake of the one who could do nothing, at this point, for herself. Their faith went to work, and amazing things followed.
This is what Easter looks like. This is how the resurrected life works. Jesus is risen. Saul became Paul. Tabitha lives. Immanuel moves forward in mission to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace, because we belong to the same risen life in Christ.
Tabitha sounds very much like a living saint, very much like many of the living saints in our churches today, who spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources in ministry to those in need Often overlooked is the fact Luke refers to Tabitha as “a disciple.” She is the only woman explicitly identified as a disciple in the Book of Acts. Elsewhere Junia is called an apostle. Other women were leaders, financiers and pillars of their communities. But this is the only occurrence of the feminine form of ‘disciple’ anywhere in the New Testament. The counter-cultural egalitarian and inclusive quality of the early Christian community was breathtaking—but again that’s what resurrection looks like when it takes hold and gives direction to our lives.
Resurrection means there is reason to hope even when we think that there is no possibility of resolution, restoration, or resolution. While everyone else lives in a “Humpty Dumpty” world in which everyone is convinced that things can not be put back together again, the gospel tells a different story, about people “empowered to ‘turn the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) The world is not as it should be, and God is at work, often through us, putting it right again. (Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews, Sermon Seeds, 4/17/16) Early Christians operated out of the optimism of grace, that was their starting point, because that’s what the resurrection looks like when it takes hold of our community and us.
Resurrection becomes reflected in how we think. Easter becomes part of how we feel. Together, these direct what we do. Noted Catholic theologian Thomas Groome describes this as the comprehensive three-fold pattern of discipleship:
- Christian faith is a way of the head. It demands a discipleship of faith seeking understanding with personal conviction, sustained by study, reflecting, discerning, and deciding, all toward spiritual wisdom for life.
- Christian faith is a way of the heart. It demands a discipleship of right relationships and right desires, community building, hospitality and inclusion, trust in God’s love, and prayer and worship.
- Christian faith is a way of the hands. It demands a discipleship of love, justice, peacemaking, simplicity, integrity, healing, and repentance.
Many people think having faith only means “to believe in Jesus.” Yet, faith, as revealed and lived among Tabitha’s community did not consist in an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox. God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love; God can only be experienced in communion. Faith constantly calls us to be a part of something, to participate in caring for something or someone as much as ourselves. Mind, heart, hands working together for the sake of love, that’s what resurrection and Easter looks like.
At the end of the second century, another theologian, Irenaeus wrote, ‘God passed into humanity so that humanity might pass over into God.’” We are invited by Christ to accompany him inside the living sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, and to dwell there with him forever. We are called to participate in the very nature of God, which is Love. Now that’s what resurrection and Easter look like. (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations)