My mother assists in teaching English as a second Language. She helps some Spanish speaking student by having conversations with them and recently the conversation was about Easter. Some of the Spanish speaking students said, “we don’t celebrate Easter in Mexico, (Mom looked confused – knowing that Mexico is majority Catholic with a strong protestant presence) – he continued – “we have Holy Week and Resurrection Day, but we don’t have Easter.” To people who grew up in a country where everything shuts down – schools, government offices and businesses during Holy Week, where going to church every day of the Holy week is the norm, it is easy to see how people might think that Easter is different from Resurrection Day. Nothing changes for most people, including Christians, during Holy Week, meetings, activities go one as usual here. Holy Week services are small in attendance, and a priority for only a few. If you are not part of a church community, you would think this is a holiday about the Easter bunny who brings colorful eggs full of Candy. Most children think so too.
Our text this morning says, “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” I am not totally sure what this means but I am certain that its meaning cannot be found inside colorful plastic Easter eggs no matter how long we search or how cleverly they were hidden. I am certain that the Easter Bunny does not have the answer and that no amount of chocolate will help – well maybe some chocolate would help. The point is that this passage – like the resurrection is not easy to understand, not easy to take end and not easy to teach. The mystery of Christ cannot be understood by reading it once or two times, it cannot be uncovered by studying Greek or reading articles by Biblical Scholars. Death and resurrection – Jesus and Christ are complex, mysterious things that we never finish studying.
I have been studying death lately. A lot of us have. The news has been full of death. The children who died this week on the boat in South Korea have really been on my heart. As a congregation, we have said goodbye to many saints of the church in the last few months and a week ago my family said goodbye to my stepdad’s mother, Charlotte. And all this death happened in the darkest season of the year when the sun is down more than it is up, when the earth is bleak, when the air is cold and full of silence. I live with my family in the woods which is not particularly pretty in the winter except when covered with snow. In the winter, especially this past winter, I would be pretty content to stay inside by the fire. But we have chickens and if we don’t give them food and unfrozen water, they will die. So I was forced outside every day this past winter, like it or not. I would bundle up and go outside. There would be no sounds except my breathing and footsteps. There would be no sign of life except from the chickens huddled together. When it was below zero, I worried that I would find a chicken dead, like some neighbor farmers found some of their goats on several mornings.
Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Our liturgical calendar is tied to the rhythms of the planet – to the migration of the birds, the hibernation of the bears, the cycle of laying eggs for our chickens – the amount of light in our days. Just when we are pretty sure that winter will never end, spring comes! Just when we are pretty sure that we will be defeated by death, Easter comes!
It is good for us to consider how deeply our faith connects us to the cycles of creation. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” These words of Ash Wednesday remind us not only of our mortality but also our lives as earthly creatures. The words translated as dust from Hebrew can also be translated as soil. From soil you came and to soil you shall return. Genesis says that we are made from the soil and of God’s breath not by magic with glitter and sparkle dust.
After the funeral for my step grandmother, I came home went straight out to let out the chickens. I sat down in the grass and watched them as they scratched the dirt. The birds were chirping. The trees were beginning to green. The daffodils and hyacinth were blooming along with dandelions and violets and the redbuds. A squirrel was so loud running around, that I thought it was one of our dogs. The little patch of earth I was on was brimming with life.
Shaina was baptized today, an act that symbolizes dying to our old selves and rising to new life with Christ in God. And while we only get into the baptismal waters once, life tests us often to recall that we are now living with Christ in God. The world tries to pull us down and hold us back; material things take our time and attention; worry and anxiety and grief overwhelm us, and so we frequently recall the baptismal waters – we must remember that we live with Christ in God – and set our minds on things above.
I may never completely understand what this passage means. But I believe that by spending time outside and paying attention to the moon and the seasons and the trees and the birds and – maybe even my chickens – I will move a little deeper into the mystery of God.