Sunday, March 23, 2008
He is risen (and I am dead! Enjoy! I'll be back online in a day or so. After my own resurrection)
I’m told by people who actually pay attention to these kinds of things that the next time Easter will be as early as this year will be in 2160. The last time it fell on March 23 was 1913. Yes, there are people who actually find great enjoyment in calculating the Sunday on or after the spring equinox, or March 21st.
The one thing everyone in this room shares is that, on Easter Day, in the year 2160, or 152 years from now, those of you who are children, and even your children’s children will be with everyone else in this room, with Jesus in heaven.
When I was a freshman in nursing school, a thousand years ago, on another planet in a galaxy far, far away, our nursing ethics course was taught by a retired Roman Catholic priest named Monsignor Horan. Monsignor was a tough old bird with the map of Ireland etched across his face, the last 1,000 miles or so were clearly a very rough ride.
I suspect the director of our Nursing Program, Sister Madeline Clements, had invited him to teach this ethics class as act of compassion - a mercy and a kindness to him. She probably also knew that his wisdom and experience would serve us well as Christian medical professionals.
The first day of class, Monsignor looked out over the 50 or 60 of us in that classroom. We must have looked so young to him – all of 18 years old and all scrubbied up, fresh-faced and eager to do good and, in doing so, change the world. Is there anything as inspiring as the altruism of youth? Then again, it should be also be asked: is there anything more exhausting to older folks than the enthusiasm of the young?
I suspect that’s why Monsignor’s first words were chosen so carefully. I’ll never forget them. He looked out over the class, taking time to look each one of us in the eye before he spoke; and then he said, “In order to be a good nurse, you’ll need two things. Well, come to think of it, in order to be a good nurse who is a Christian, you’ll need two things. And those to things are these: a scar and a sense of humor.”
A scar and a sense of humor. I’ve often thought of those words of wisdom from Monsignor Horan, but I confess that I think of them especially on Easter Day. Now, no one is going to profitably market that saying. That message is never going to make the front of a Hallmark Greeting Card – not even the Shoebox section. And yet, those are two of the most important gifts of Easter – a scar and a sense of humor.
We know from the gospels that the resurrected Jesus bore the scars of the crucifixion. Next Sunday, we’ll hear how the Apostle Thomas insisted on putting his hands into the scars on the hands and side of Jesus before he would believe. I won’t be preaching next Sunday, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I think Thomas must have been a distant relative of Monsignor Horan. Thomas knew the importance of scars.
I think the reason Jesus has such power in our lives is precisely because he has scars; we are assured that Jesus knows our suffering. Jesus knows what it is like to be human – to have been betrayed by one friend and denied not once but three times by another. That’s important to know about your leader – that s/he knows as much about suffering and loss, as s/he does about victory and glory.
Another one of my mentors was my CPE instructor, Larry Burke, who used to say that the first rule of leadership was this: ‘You can’t take ‘em where you’ve never been.’ And, the fastest way to know that someone has been down a rough road is to see a few scars.
Some scars are not visible, however. You can only see it in the eyes of the soul. But, if you look around, you’ll see that every person in this church this morning has a scar. Some scars are old and healed over. Others are still fresh. Some of us bear scars of deep loss and grief. Some of us bear the scars of anxiety and fear.
The economy is very fragile right now. Some of us fear losing our jobs – and even our homes. Some of us are still in shock and awe over the war in Iraq. Others of us have illnesses or our parents or grandparents are fragile and elderly. Some of our children or our grandchildren are growing too fast and we worry about where the future will take them, or what kind of future we are leaving them.
And yet, we all have one thing in common. We are here this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, our beloved Rabbi who has emerged victorious from battle with the principalities and powers of the world with a scar and a sense of humor. He is a wise teacher who has borne the scars of many that we might find new life. Indeed, Jesus is one who promises life eternal if we walk in His ways and learn to touch our scars and know that in them there is hope.
Imagine! Just imagine what it must have been like for Mary who went to the tomb to mourn for her friend. Imagine what she felt when she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. All the pain and fear of the last few days surfaced again, fresh and new. Fearing the worse, some cruel trick, she sat down began to weep.
Turns out, the only trick to be perpetrated was not by the principalities and powers of the world. God in Christ had fooled them all and had arisen, just as he had promised. Jesus not only has a sense of humor, Jesus has the last laugh over death.
This is the One we follow in this church – the One with the scar and a sense of humor. The one who has had the last laugh over death. This is who we are as a Body of Christ, the church. This is what it means to be Christian. Christians have scars and a sense of humor. Just a quick look around the faces in this room will assure you of this truth.
The first message of Easter was the same as it is today. It was the same last year and it will be the same 152 years from now. It is this: There is no sin that God cannot forgive; no burden that Jesus cannot bear; no anxiety or fear that God cannot allay; no scar too deep that God in Christ cannot heal.
God can even take the betrayal of Judas and turn it into one of the vehicles for the gift of the resurrection. Truly, God shows no partiality.
On this Easter Day, with the promise of spring that has just arrived still shivering in the crisp March air, I pray that you may find healing for your scars. Just as the earth, which has been scared by the long journey of winter, begins to yield to the warmth of the sun and burst open into flower, I trust you, too, will begin to bloom into the fullness of joy from the depth of your deepest scars.
For, Christ, the Sun of God’s Glory, has risen from the dead. The green blade of new life has arisen, and, if we let go of the past, if we embrace and celebrate rather than weep over the empty tombs and scars of our lives, we will find ourselves becoming the first bloom of faith. Monsignor Horan’s first lesson in that long ago classroom taught us this: The true gift of a scar and a sense of humor is the flower of deep compassion.
May this day fill you with Easter hope and joy. Alleluia!