Editorial note: I’m working on correcting spacing issues. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
It was the pride of the whole town—
–highlighted by 500 lilies that were arranged in the sanctuary
for the special day—
–sometimes just a bank of lilies;
–sometimes in the shape of a cross;
–sometimes almost randomly strewn around
like an artist with a canvas.[i]
They were memorial lilies.
People gave five dollars for each of them,
and every year, the bulletin insert listed 500 names,
those remembered by the giving of a lily.
Five hundred lilies…five dollars each.
They were beautiful.
In the 16th year of that tradition—it came apart.
One of the older members of the congregation, a woman,
went up after the Easter service
and said, “I’m going to the hospital to visit a friend,
can I take one of the lilies to her?
I know I can’t tell which one I gave,
but anyone of them will do… they’re all alike.”
And without really getting an answer to her question,
she went up to the cross of lilies—500 lilies—picked one up—
–AND THEN turned to those who still remained in the sanctuary
and shouted in a shocked voice:
Well, there was much concern.
Not at first just over their being plastic,
“but, we gave five dollars for these lilies, but if they’re plastic,
they could be the same ones we paid for last year.”
Well, committees met and huddles were formed—official and unofficial, you know—
and the WHOLE tradition collapsed.
Someone came up with the figure,
over 15 years, that $37,500…for the exact same lilies!
The minister gathered those concerned together,
and tried to defend the practice of having plastic lilies.
They were carefully stored and covered, he said,
and they had, indeed, lasted for years—and they were beautiful…
His defense, it seems, was along two lines:
The practical defense:
in response to what has happened to the money, he said—
“We have used it in a contingency fund.
We have been able to help transients,
and to meet emergencies that have not been budgeted,
and let me assure you,
the money has gone to good use.”
And there was whispered and reluctant acceptance by some,
rejection by others.
His OTHER line of defense for the action…was THEOLOGICAL.
He said, “After all,” and he said this with enthusiasm—
“After all, the plastic lilies are more appropriate to Easter—
–because they always bloom…they never die.”
And then he said: “After all, we don’t want to waste Easter!”
He’s right about that.
Easter is an awful thing to waste.
It can be wasted, though.
…with the increase of bonnets and eggs and candy
and birds singing and all bright colors of fine clothes…
…there is a decline
in the relationship of Easter to Good Friday.
Without Good Friday, Easter never happened.
Without Good Friday, you cannot have Easter
because you can’t have resurrection…if nobody is dead.
Now Jesus…was dead.
He was dead.
He wasn’t sleeping, he was dead.
ALL the texts say that.
“What was the proclamation of the early church?
“This Jesus whom you hanged on a tree…
…God raised from the dead.”
Jesus was dead.
You ask the soldiers, they’ll tell you—
“You talking about the one in the middle?
Oh yeah, he’s dead.”
You ask his disciples.
“Well, we weren’t really close—we’d gotten off to a rather safe distance,
but we could tell when he died…”
You ask the women who prepared the body for burial:
“yes, yes…yes, he was dead.”
You ask Mary. Mary?
She says, “Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to ask,
You can’t have a resurrection…if nobody’s dead.
See the nail-prints? See the scars?
The point is—it’s not Christmas anymore.
Somebody go tell the shepherds—it was a mistake.
Go on back.
In reflection…all of our carols seem…
…well, kind of silly, really.
It’s not Christmas anymore—Its not even Epiphany anymore.
You tell the Magi—they’re nice gifts, but thanks anyway…
And tell Herod—He wins again.
In fact, it was rather naïve of us to think we
could actually change anything…
In fact, it’s not even Palm Sunday anymore.
Tell Pilate—Rome is safe again.
As always…tell the High Priest—he was right
It’s expedient that one die for the people.
He’s right—political expediency wins out again
over the dreams of the disenfranchised, of the poor.
So what…it’s over.
And you feel the dull ache of a lost campaign—
Have you ever been involved in a lost campaign?
The people went to the polls…and it was Barabbus, in a landslide!
“Barabbas—all in favor of Barabbas—
–well, we don’t even have to count—it’s Barabbas.”
Somebody needs to go down to the lobby
and speak to our supporters and volunteers.
I know they are downhearted.
But somebody needs to go over to the mic:
The campaign is over—I want to thank all you who worked tirelessly.
It’s been expensive, it’s been hard,
but we haven’t lost everything—
–we’ve come to love and care for each other.
“I hope sometime in the future, we can get together and remember—
–well, we don’t want to remember tonight
but we can remember the good times we had…
“Now, if the band could just play something…
and feel free to take any of the
extra buttons or bumper stickers home with you as souvenirs.”
And then we need to clean up this place,
one final thing—I’d like us to pick everything up
so we leave this place…like we were never here.”
Losing is just like…just like dying!
Did you ever lose—just LOSE? They lost.
The disciples had the same dull ache…like when you have a death in the family.
A death in the family—
–it’s the most confusing, the most meaningless time there is—
–everything is in slow motion,
even though you want it to be over.
And there are people around you, talking to you, who you don’t even know.
And bringing all that food.
Hungry all your life—and now you can’t eat…all this food.
“Make a list…we’ll have to write thank you notes for everything,
return all of the casserole dishes….”
“Can we turn on the TV for the kids—they’re underfoot,
and they don’t understand what is going on, anyway.”
–“Well OK—just so long as it’s Spongebob or something like that—
–don’t let them see anything depressing.”
“Are you going to clean out Jesus’ room, Mama?”
–“Oh, not now.”
“Well, when you clean out his room, James wants his
carpenter apron and his hammer…”
—Ok…maybe next week.”
the proper landscape,
the ONLY landscape in which you set
the empty tomb of Easter… is defeat…and death.
For over half the people of the world—including some of us—
–every day is SATURDAY
between Good Friday and Easter.
No prospect of hope…
…only depression…or despair.
It’s Saturday…between Good Friday and Easter
All is in darkness. That’s it.
…And THEN we are just going to dress up
and pretend it never happened??
Say to the one who is fighting for her life—
Say to him who feel besieged on all sides—
Say to the family which is ripping apart at the seams—
Say to the ones who couldn’t THINK of coming to church today,
for fear that a car bomb or sniper would explode their path—
Say to ANYONE who is trying to SWIM in a world—
–where fine, buttoned-up appearances notwithstanding
…it is much easier to SINK—
Pretend it just didn’t happen??
What? Say to everyone—“Jesus never really died…”
Or, “It’s Saturday—sink or swim on your own!”
Easter is such a terrible thing to waste,
but it’s wasted—if its not the dead Jesus who is raised!
There is no nourishment in an Easter message that says
“He was never really dead.”
“Easter is a nice, symbolic thing—just like Spring…”
“I believe in the immortality of the soul.”
Tell it to Mary!
Bunch of pagans whistling in the dark!
Jesus is dead.
Don’t give me just an Easter message on the crocus,
and the return of the robin.
I don’t get any nourishment from someone trying to tell me:
“But it was a moral victory…”
There is no nourishment in telling me—
“but we have the living memory…”
I cannot survive on the thin diet of that kind of watery nothing.
There’s not a calorie in it.
Not at all.
The stakes for life—for you and me, for every soul in this world—
–are TOO HIGH to sell out
to such bland thoughts
and empty resolve…
That minister was wrong. Wrong in many ways, but he was wrong in this:
Plastic lilies do not bloom always.
Plastic lilies never bloom.
Because in order to bloom, something has to be able to die.
Does that mean, then, that now Jesus has bloomed in the resurrection
there will be no more dying??
no more pain??
no more disappointment??
no more lost campaigns?
Jesus did not come out and say to his disciples in the upper room,
“Look, no scars…no scars, no nail-prints!” No!
He said: “See the scars,”
The Easter Jesus is scarred.
Paul said it beautifully, painfully—
“I have always brought before you Jesus crucified.”
The tense is perfect.
He was killed and still remains crucified.
Jesus was no divine robot who was programmed
to come on-line with perfect timing on Easter morning!
REDEMPTION and HOPE are NOT plastic—
–NOT the manufacture of our own thin hope…
Many years ago,
when Pulitzer Prize winning author Scott Momaday
got the word that his grandmother had died,
he was teaching at the University of California.
His grandmother was the most important person in his life
as he was growing up—
–and when he got word of her death,
he caught a plane—
–NOT to the reservation in southern Oklahoma, where she lived—
–but to Montana.
In Montana, he caught a bus—for the long journey to Oklahoma.
You see, the Kiowa tribe, of which he was a member,
started in the Yellowstone River.
That’s what his grandmother had told him:
“Scott, the reason we are such a small tribe
is that we come through a hollow log
out of the Yellowstone River.
There was a long line, but the opening was narrow,
and not all could get through—
–so we are few.”
He remembered this—and he remembered her—as he rode that bus.
As they traveled on that bus, through Kansas,
he remembered what she said:
“We had many hard winters in Kansas.
We were attacked—both by other tribes, and by whites—
-and it was bitter cold,
and many starved,
but we persevered—we came through.
Momoday’s journey was filled with a flood of memories…like that.
He rode that bus—and he remembered.
When he finally got to Oklahoma,
to the reservation,
to the cemetery,
to the gravesite—he was the ONLY one still there.
When asked what happened, why he had missed the service, he responded:
You can’t just fly to a funeral—
–it’s a much longer journey than that…”
The promises of Easter do NOT come from SOMEONE
who floats above it all,
dispensing benign, spiritual “good thoughts for the day”.
That would be such a …. waste.
The PROMISE of Easter comes right into
the middle of YOUR journey today—
The PROMISE of HOPE—even in the midst of hopelessness,
The PROMISE of LOVE—even in a world filled with strife,
The PROMISE of Peace—in your heart, and in the world—
—comes from One who walked every step of the journey
that we walk EVERY day.
Just like those women who showed up at the TOMB that morning:
And what they were told…was that Jesus was OUT AHEAD of them—
—and they had to keep going!
You may have shown up here today figuring you could get
a little “Easter fix” and call it a holiday.
Who knew…that a JOURNEY awaits…that it only BEGINS today!
You want HOPE?
You want PEACE?
You want TRUTH and MEANING?
You want to EXPERIENCE God?
Well, come on! ….Come on!
Don’t WASTE this—don’t you dare waste this.
The Risen Jesus is out ahead of us…and we’ve got to be going….
We’ve got to be going.
Several friends of mine have captured this, and have re-read for us today’s
Gospel. Watch with me….
Brothers and Sisters, my dear friends, lets go…
[i] Illustration and framework for first part of the story from Fred Craddock’s sermon “The Waste of Easter,” Chapel Sermon Series. Sermon adapted by a sermon of the same title by the Rev. Mark Ramsey at First United Church of Oak Park.
Image: Christ on Easter Morning, by He Qi.