It’s great to have you here today. In case you haven’t worshiped with us recently, I want you to know that for the last seven weeks we have been following the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life and using as our guide the book 24 Hours that Changed the World written by Rev. Adam Hamilton. Just last Sunday was Passion Sunday and we left here with Jesus dead on the cross.
Here’s how Hamilton interprets that scene:
“With the death of Jesus on Calvary, we witness, amid the cacophony of soldiers and criminals, gawkers and passers-by, what looks like the final triumph of evil. All the ugliness and violence we can imagine was embodied in the events that had as its climax the six hours during which God in human form hung on a cross on a hillside outside the gates of Jerusalem.
“We cannot really appreciate Easter until we have been to the cross. The power of this day lies beyond our comprehension until we have journeyed through hell itself, immersed in the darkest of places. It is only once we have seen the full extent of evil on display there and witnessed the apparent victory of death that we can begin to appreciate the triumph that is Easter.”
He goes on to explain that Jesus died at about three o’clock on Friday afternoon. And here’s the thing… unlike our way of reckoning when a new day begins, for the Jews the new day begins in the evening just after sunset. And unlike our practice of observing a holy day on Sunday, their holy day, called the Sabbath Day, was on Saturday, which actually began at sunset on Friday. Since burials were not allowed on the Sabbath Day, and since Jesus died about three hours before the Sabbath, there was only a short window of time to make arrangements and prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
But Jesus’ disciples had all split the night before, and it was one of Jesus’ secret followers, a wealthy and respected member of the religious council that had condemned Jesus to death, who boldly stepped forward to ask the Roman governor, Pilate, if he could have Jesus’ body to bury it. Pilate was surprised that Jesus was dead already, but having gotten confirmation that he was, he let Joseph of Arimathea have it.
And on that Friday evening, according to the story by the Gospel of Mark, there were only three people present when Jesus’ lifeless body was placed in the tomb – Joseph, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary.
That was Friday. As the sun set, the second day began. It was Saturday, the Sabbath day. The sun set and then it was the third day. Now that the Sabbath was over, some of the women followers of Jesus could finally get out to purchase some spices and oil to properly anoint Jesus’ body for burial. At first light, they headed toward to tomb for their sad task, but when they got there they were thunderstruck by what they saw!
Let’s hear now how Mark tells the story. Remember that Mark’s Gospel was the first to be written and provides the earliest account of how things happened that morning. His story also ends abruptly, with the women fleeing from the tomb, unable to say anything to anyone because they were afraid. There are a couple of alternative endings to Mark’s Gospel, both of them added later by writers other than Mark. No one is sure why Mark didn’t finish the story himself. Perhaps he was unable to, or perhaps he did and the material got lost.
Or, perhaps, he realized that the rest of the story is the one being told by you and me, the story that has continued to unfold over the centuries as the disciples of Jesus, live out the reality of the Resurrection in their lives!
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Sermon: Empty Eggs and Open Hearts
As I mentioned during the Children’s time today, the Easter egg has a long tradition, which we continue to this day. I have an Easter egg story I want to share with you this morning. It’s a true story first told by Harry Pritchett, Jr. when he was rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The story has been around for quite some time now and has been retold many times. Perhaps you’ve heard it before. It goes like this…
“Once upon a time I had a young friend named Philip,” Rev. Pritchett begins. “Philip lived in a nearby city and Philip was born with Down syndrome. He was a pleasant child, but more and more he became aware of the difference between himself and other children.
“Philip went to Sunday School. His teacher was also a friend of mine. My Sunday school teacher friend taught the third grade at a Methodist Church. Philip was in his class, as well as nine other 8-year-old boys and girls.
“Most of you know 8-year-olds. And Philip, with his differences, was not readily accepted as a member of this third-grade Sunday school class. But my teacher friend was a good teacher. They learned and they laughed and they played together. And they really cared about each other -- even though, as you know, 8-year-olds don’t say that they care about each other out loud very often. The teacher also knew that Philip was not really a part of that group of children. Philip, of course, did not choose nor did he want to be different. He just was. And that was the way things were.
“My Sunday School teacher friend had a marvelous idea for his class on the Sunday after Easter one year. You know those things that pantyhose come in -- the containers look like great big eggs? My friend had collected ten of these to use on that Sunday. Each child got a great big egg. It was a beautiful spring day and the assigned task was for each child to go outside on the church grounds and to find a symbol for new life, put it in the egg, and bring it back to the classroom. They would then mix them all up, open them one by one, and share their surprises and symbols of new life together.
“Well, they did this and it was glorious. And it was confusing. And it was wild. They ran all around, gathered their symbols, and returned to the classroom. They put all the big eggs on a table and my teacher friend began to open them. All the children were standing around the table.
“He opened one, and there was a flower and they ooh-ed and aah-ed.
“He opened another, and there was a little butterfly. ‘Beautiful,’ the girls said, since it was very hard for 8-year-old boys to say ‘beautiful.’
“He opened another and there was a rock. And as third graders will, some laughed, and some said, ‘That’s crazy! How’s a rock supposed to be like new life?’ But the smart little boy whose egg they were speaking of spoke up. He said, ‘That’s mine. And I knew all of you would get flowers, and buds, and leaves, and butterflies, and stuff like that. So I got a rock because I wanted to be different. And for me, that’s new life...’
“The teacher opened the next one and… there was nothing there. The other children, as 8-year-olds will, said, ‘That’s not fair -- that’s stupid! -- somebody didn’t do it right.’
“About that time my teacher friend felt a tug on his shirt, and he looked down and Philip was standing beside him.
“‘It’s mine,’ Philip said. ‘It’s mine.’ And the children said, ‘You don’t ever do things right, Philip. There’s nothing there!’
“‘I did so do it,’ Philip said. ‘I did do it. It’s empty -- the tomb is empty!’
“The class was silent, a very full silence. And for you people who don’t believe in miracles, I want to tell you how one happened that spring day. From that time on it was different. Philip suddenly became a part of that group of 8-year-old children. They took him in. He entered. He was set free from the tomb of his differentness.
“Philip died the following summer. His family had known since the time that he was born that he wouldn’t live out a full life span. Many other things had been wrong with his tiny, little body. And so with an infection that most normal children could have quickly shrugged off, Philip died. The mystery simply enveloped him completely.
“He was buried from that church. And on that day at that funeral, nine 8-year-old children marched right up to the altar -- not with flowers to cover over the stark reality of death. Nine 8-year-olds, with their Sunday School teacher, marched right up to that altar and laid on it empty eggs -- empty, old discarded holders of pantyhose.”
Their Easter eggs were empty because the tomb was empty! Philip did do it right! The Christian celebration of Easter is about God raising Jesus from the tomb and about Christ being alive today and always. Our Easter faith is a resurrection faith. God has the power to overcome death and Jesus is the way.
But, my friends, I am here to tell you today that Easter is not only about God raising Jesus from the dead. It is every bit as much about people experiencing new life in the ever-living Christ.
I have this plastic egg here. We have an idea what the Easter egg symbolizes. Today, let’s stretch our imaginations to see this egg as a symbol for something else. Let’s see this egg as representing the human heart – that is, our self at its deepest level. Our heart can be turned toward God or away from God. It can be open to God or closed to God.
It is not unusual to have hearts that are turned away from God and are closed. The Bible describes this condition in many different ways. It says that our hearts can be “shut.” It says that our hearts can be “fat,” as if encrusted within a thick layer. It says that our hearts can be “proud,” puffed up, enlarged. It says that our hearts can be “made of stone.” Often our hearts are “hard.”
And what happens when our hearts are closed? Marcus Borg asks that question in his book, The Heart of Christianity and these are the answers he came up with…
What goes along with a closed heart?
Enclosed in our own world we do not see God’s reality – we are blind, we do not see clearly.
The closed heart deceives the mind in a process that is called “rationalization,” and we believe our own deceptions, which are little more than self-interested self-justification.
We live in bondage to the desires of our self-serving hearts.
We lack gratitude because when our hearts are closed, we believe that we are entitled and self-made.
We become insensitive to wonder and awe because with a closed heart the world looks ordinary.
We forget God, lose track of the Mystery around us, fail to remember the one in whom we live and move and have our being.
With a closed heart we go into exile because we turn inward upon ourselves and become shut off from a larger reality. Separated and disconnected, a closed heart is estranged.
A closed heart lacks compassion because it cannot feel the suffering of others.
A closed heart is insensitive to injustice for the same reason it lacks compassion.
The closed heart, it appears, is a natural part of being human. We learn to live with an isolated and insulated self (both words begin with “I”), as if the self is enclosed in a dome or a shell. The world is “out there” and I am “in here.” And this shell can become hard and rigid. It closes us off from the world and from God and we live centered in ourselves.
We need for our hearts to be broken open. The shell encasing our heart needs to be broken open if the life within it is to enter into full life. What we need – to borrow a phrase from Frederick Buechner, is a “hatching of the heart.” If the heart is not hatched, we die.
So Easter is not only about an empty tomb. It is not only about God did with Jesus a couple of thousand years ago. It is also about God is doing through the living Christ today. It is about the hatching of the heart, breaking open the self to God, the sacred. This is the good news of Easter. Not only does Jesus Christ live, but when we give our hearts to him they are broken open to God – hatched – and we enter into the richness and blessing of full life.
When closed hearts are broken open to God and hatched by Christ we begin to see more clearly – the person right in front of our face, the landscape out before us. We move from darkness to light, from night to day. Before, Mary Magdalene stood at the Garden Tomb and could only see death and the gardener. When Jesus spoke her name, her eyes were opened and she saw the living Christ and new life.
When, by God’s grace in Christ, our hearts are hatched they become alive to wonder, to the sheer marvel of what is. The world is not ordinary. What’s remarkable is that it could ever look ordinary to us.
When hearts are broken open to God gratitude flows, compassion is kindled, and a passion for justice begins to burn within. A heart open to God feels the suffering and pain of the world and responds as God would respond.
Such are the fruits of the Spirit and the true miracle of Easter. Christ is alive. And when we place Jesus in the center of our lives, our hearts are hatched open to God and abundant life.
Friends - the Easter miracle of the “heart broken open to God” is what the church is about. Churches, this one included, are basically incubators for hatching closed hearts and keeping them open to God. If you are yearning for an open heart, a new heart, a transformed heart, I invite you celebrate Easter every Sunday and to open your heart to God through the path of discipleship. After all is said and done, that is why we’re here!