Grass growing through cracked cement

Grass growing through cracked cement

Jamie Howison’s sermon for Easter Sunday, on Matthew 28:1-10


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Ah, that word: alleluia. That’s the first time we’ve used it since Lent began, way back on March 1st. The church fasts from using the word for those 40 days, but when Eastertide hits we certainly make up for that. Every time we gather over this fifty day season—and note that Eastertide is longer than Lent—we will sing and say “alleluia”… a whole lot!

If you’ve been observing some form of a Lenten fast—from coffee or dessert or some other food, or maybe from something like Facebook, television, shopping malls or the like—you’re probably rather delighted that this day has arrived. Giving up the use of my car stereo has become on of my regular practices in the Lenten season, and I’ll be quite happy to resume playing it again. Of course if you’ve added some sort of practice or discipline and found it to be a really helpful thing, you certainly don’t need to stop doing that. I know of one person in our community who did some focused songwriting and recording over Lent, and there’s no reason that should come to a halt.

I’m also quite aware that for a good number of us, Lent and Holy Week have served in other ways, and that it might actually be challenging to transition to this season of alleluias. There are people in our midst who attend most regularly in Lent and in Advent; the two darker seasons. There are many who would say that Good Friday is the liturgy they most look forward to each year. Maybe I’m in that camp too. My Good Friday sermon is easily my longest of the year; my Easter Day sermon often one of the shortest. Not that I don’t want to celebrate resurrection; I’m just profoundly aware that words of sorrow, longing, and loss can be the ones that most resonate in a world marked by so much sorrow. I know of one person who on Friday said to Rachel that she was really not doing very well, and that she thought it would be okay to bring that with her to a Good Friday service. Rachel responded that yes, it was very much okay to bring her burdens on Good Friday, but that it was equally okay to bring them anytime we gather for worship.

I think this is in our congregational DNA. We are a people who have embraced an invitation to the table that includes those words:

Come, whether you have much faith, or little,

Have tried to follow or are afraid you’ve failed.

Afraid you’ve failed. Who among us doesn’t have that fear tucked deeply in their soul?

Back in 2009 when we were pulling together all of the submissions for Beautiful Mercy | a book of hours—our collection of writing, music and art marking the cycle of the seasons—we were flooded with submissions for the seasons of Lent and Advent, but had to push a bit to get material for Eastertide and Christmas. What? We’re depressed?

No. But we do give this space for people to bring their burdens, longings, fears, and failings. We don’t ask that you deny how life really is; how life really can be marked by struggle and loss.

Yet over that we also steadily proclaim grace. “Come, because it is his will that those who want to meet him, might meet him here. These are the gifts of God for the people of God.” Named as the people of God, named as a holy people, named as reconciled and drawn home again and again and again. And you know why we can do that? Because of this story.

The women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

They left the tomb with both fear and great joy. Joy that a new day had dawned, but fear as well. When your judgments and expectations have been so unsettled—even if it is by grace—it can be a little frightening. Yet they’d hardly begun run to find the disciples when they have this experience of the risen Jesus. And what does he say to them? “Do not be afraid.” It is beginning, and while it might be turning things inside out for you, there is no reason to get locked in fear.

Which is why we celebrate resurrection, even if at times Lent might feel like a more natural fit. The news brings fresh stories of an increasingly militarized North Korea, of more violence in Syria, of that steady refugee crisis, of another death in the North End. In our own lives we may be steadily dealing with an illness or a depression or a deep loss or a job we can’t really stand or, or, or… it all seems to sit more naturally in Lent, doesn’t it? Do not be afraid, Jesus says to those women, and it is what he keeps saying to us.

I very much appreciate what N.T. Wright has to say about the enduring message of that first Easter morning:

The world is now to be seen, neither as a tired old system going round and round without hope or meaning, nor as a sick joke in which intimations of immortality always run into the brick wall of death and cynicism, but in terms of new grass and spring flowers growing through a fresh crack in a concrete slab. (Twelve Months of Sundays)

This spring every time you see grass pushing through a cracked sidewalk, see it as an icon of resurrection. In fact, even if it is one of these cursed dandelions you see coming up through the cracked cement—maybe on your own driveway or sidewalk—don’t curse it. Laugh at it, and relish it as the most unlikely icon of the promise of life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

  The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And because he is risen, so are we.

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