An Easter Letter
Text: Luke 24:1-12
I am reading this letter to your family and friends gathered at Cove Presbyterian Church on the day of your baptism. Earlier this morning your mom and dad made promises to teach you about God’s love and the good folks at Cove made promises to show you God’s love. On your baptism day, your grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousin Jackson, were with you or were celebrating with you on screen. As your proud Grand Uncle, it was a day I want to help you to remember and so I have written you this letter.
If things have gone in the way I pray, you are reading this baptismal letter on the day of your confirmation. Today you step beyond what your family and church family have taught and shown you about the Christian faith and you claim that faith as your own. I hope to be around to celebrate with you on that special day, but just in case, there are some things that I want you to know.
Your baptism happened on a beautiful, spring, Easter morning in 2022. While God’s creation was in all its splendor, the world was not. The world was at war in Ukraine and was under global attack by a viral pandemic that had covered it for well over two years. Hate and prejudice and division polluted the world. Everywhere I looked, I saw souls who were weary, bone-tired, and scared.
I have no way of knowing what church life looks like on your confirmation day, but on the day of your baptism, the church of every stripe was struggling. For many the church was an afterthought, while some declared themselves to be spiritual but not religious, claiming no need to associate with people who said one thing and did another. Still other people held no malice against the church; they simply found no need for it or could not fit it into their busy lives.
I pray that on the day you read this letter the world is a kinder place, a more just place, though I will be surprised if either one of those prayers is true. I pray that the church has regained its voice and vigor. I pray that it is making a strong public witness that the life-giving grace of God wins, always has won, always will win, even despite suffering and death. I pray that churches are filled with people who know that they are loved by God, forgiven by God, and made new by God. There is no better time to remember those prayers than on Easter morning.
When dawn broke on that first Easter day, no one was celebrating. No one was looking for bright clothing to wear or were out gathering flowers to signal their joy and gladness. No, sadly, the men who had followed Jesus were mending their emotional wounds while a group of women went to do what must be done in the time of a death, to anoint the body for burial. The women went looking for death because they had seen him die on a killing stick, a cross.
That is how the first Easter began and how every Easter begins. It begins in the killing fields, fields not covered with lilies and stylish hats but fields littered with lost dreams, dashed hopes, deserted promises. Easter begins in a minor key, with mournful sighs, and people doing what must be done when death arrives. There is nothing surprising about how Easter begins, because we humans have a consistent way of hurting and excluding, wounding and killing each other.
If Easter had ended with faithful women tending to the dead body of Jesus, we might occasionally remember their act of compassion, but we would also empty the water from every baptismal font and remove the wine and bread from every communion table. We might come to church once or twice in our lifetimes in remembrance of a good man, a loving man, a brave man, the best of men, whose name was Jesus, who the religious and political leaders of the day managed to silence through violence. We might do all that if that is how Easter ends.
Joe, I will leave it to your mom and dad to tell you what you wore and how you behaved on the morning of your baptism and how the crowd at Cove smiled in delight to see those holy waters wash over you. What I want to remind you of is something far more important. I want to remind you not of how Easter begins, but of how Easter ends.
Each storyteller in the Bible has a slightly different way of ending the Easter story, but for this letter, I invite you to listen to Luke. In his Easter story, the grieving women go to the tomb and are met by two men who ask them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Joe, that is the Easter question.
After the two men at the tomb ask the women their question, they say, “Jesus is not here. He is risen.” When the waters of baptism covered your head this morning, they covered you not in the name of a dead hero, but a living Lord. You were baptized not as a fraternal requirement to enter an arcane historical museum, but as a public witness that resurrection, God’s promise of new life, prevailed despite the wrongful execution of Jesus.
Like a lot of prideful and stupid men ever since, when these women shared the incredible news that “Jesus is not here. He is risen” the male disciples quickly dismissed it as women’s idle chatter. Fortunately, Peter’s curiosity got the best of him, as it always seemed to do. He went to see if their report was somehow true because Peter knew better than most that death is natural, but there is nothing natural about resurrection. It is nothing like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon or flowers bursting forth from the cold, hard ground in Spring. No, resurrection is what God does when humans delve in death. Easter begins with our death-dealing. Easter ends with God’s life-giving.
Now Joe, I cannot explain the resurrection of Jesus or answer all your good questions about God. I can tell you, though, that when the waters washed over you today we celebrated our faith that you will always live in the arms of the One in whose providence you were born, by whose grace you take each breath, and through whose mercy you will one day be resurrected to new life.
My prayer for you and for every person overhearing this letter is to see Easter not simply as a future occasion for us to head to heaven. Easter is a daily promise that the Risen Jesus is with us right here, right now, leading us away from dead choices, dead relationships, dead ways of living into a new and life-giving way of life.
So, Joe, no matter what others may choose, I pray that you will choose to follow the Risen Jesus in the company of imperfect and loving Christians in an imperfect but loving church. I hope you will never fall to sleep doubting that you are beloved by God, by your family, and by your church family. And, I pray you will spend every waking hour finding new and faithful ways to share God’s love everywhere you go.
We all know how Easter begins. May you live each moment confident of how Easter ends.
Your Grand Uncle Gary