Easter Sunday 2017
· They visited local cemeteries and brought gifts to place at the tombstones.
· They found themselves trapped between fear and joy, anxiety and hope, so much so that their emotions left them unable to do anything else for days.
· Many of them recalled all the promises that had been made leading up to that day, especially one quote that they hadn’t dared let their hearts believe, “Sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.” (Harry Carry)
Place green apples on the lectern and a World Series cap on my head.
As a church in the shadow of Wrigley Field, I couldn’t pass up the chance for one more victory lap today. Because those days back in October and November were, for some of us, a little like Easter morning. Disbelief, or maybe for the “true believers” faith against all odds… Hope in the face of fear and anxiety. And then a win—a win for a team known by the rest of the world—and even us—as lovable losers.
Which brings us to the greatest miracle story. Yes, this one IS bigger. This one includes
· an earthquake
· an angel who moves a stone away from the tomb
· guards who are so shocked that they appear as dead men themselves
· and it includes fearful women who are the first witnesses to the resurrection.
It’s no wonder these women were afraid. And it’s no wonder that the first words the angel speaks are of comfort and courage. “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.”
And they do. They come and see, then they run and tell. The gospel writer describes their reaction as a mixture of “fear and joy.”
Fear and joy…isn’t that our reality, too? Our lives are tinged by both fear and joy, even today amid all of our celebrating and exuberant alleluias.
For this day, this week, and these months we live in a place between fear and joy. Fear of what may happen to our children in a dangerous world and joy at the blessing they are to us and we pray, they will be to the world. Fear of whether we will have a job in the year to come; joy at the colleagues who surround us. Fear about the fate of a loved one struggling with illness; joy in the gift that person is to us. Fear about the future amid problems both national and global; joy in the present moment surrounded by those we love.
To the women at the tomb, the announcement of resurrection doesn’t take away all their fear. But it enables them to keep faith amid those fears. Faith in the midst of fear equals courage. Easter morning victory doesn’t smooth all the rough places and losing seasons of our life, but the renewed life made known in Jesus’ resurrection keeps us steady amid the tremors.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says to the women—and to us. For those of us who came through these doors this morning, perhaps dressed in our Easter best but also carrying concerns that overwhelm us, we need these words. Do not be afraid. For we have much to fear in our mortal lives. Yet in Christ’s rising on this glorious morning, God changes everything. Together we remember the promises that life is stronger than death, that love is greater than hate, that mercy overcomes judgment, that the sufferings of this life are transient and do not have the last word.
What we celebrate today is not just one event that happened long ago in one place to one body. It is not just one worship service a year filled with trumpets, flowers and alleluias. The resurrected Jesus is the one we encounter when we have come in fear or doubt, and receive God’s grace. Then, like the first witnesses to the resurrection, we go and tell others with joy about the new life and hope we have received from the Holy One.
Which, surprisingly, brings me back to baseball. Of course, I’m not the first writer or preacher to draw comparisons between baseball and faith, even baseball and resurrection. Wayne Ramsey of the Fetzer Institute wrote a homily about baseball a few years ago. In it he describes his love for the shape, the geometry, of the baseball diamond:
“The round white pitcher’s mound, and miles and miles of green, green grass. And the trinity of bases, or the stages of life maybe—from youth to adulthood to old age. And all the time heading home. We are all heading home.”
He continues, “I especially love how baseball matches the seasons; born in the spring, dying in the fall, like life, including our daily routines with small moments of great joy, as well as those lingering moments of great sadness. For a while baseball leaves us to the darkness of winter, and we cling to the improbable hope of spring and the resurrection. But, baseball, and life, will offer us another chance. You’ll see. We will be born again, as we always are, every year, every spring, always, always.”
Ramsey wrote this homily three years ago, recounting victory upon victory for the Yankees, the Red Sox, The White Sox… And then he wrote, “Good things will happen. Miracles do happen I tell you—except maybe for the Cubs. Life has to hold some deep mysteries.”
Miracles do happen I tell you. Sure as God made green apples, the Holy One gives new life as we live between the now and not yet, between fear and joy, between disbelief and faith.