Easter Disappointment - thrive UMC Official Blog

Easter Disappointment

Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate Easter. And if you’ve ever celebrated Easter in any church before, you’ll no doubt know that Easter Sunday is supposed to be an incredibly special day. It’s a day where church communities go all out, dressed up in their finest pastels. It’s the day where all the choirs of every ages sing their loudest and most energizing hymns. It’s the day the preachers preach their most enthusiastic and highly-caffeinated sermons. It’s the day where they repeat, over and over again that triumphant refrain that’s now been said in hundreds of different languages across the ages and the world: ‘he is risen! He is risen! He is risen!’ Easter Sunday is maybe the only Sunday of the entire year that’s practically guaranteed to be happy, and hopeful, and filled with good will, no matter where you go. On Easter, even the ritually angry Christians turn their frowns upside down. And that is, indeed, a miracle. It’s the one Sunday every year where all of us –across the globe, and all cultures, and across all of our political differences- all of us stand in wonder and awe of the mysterious power of God, witnessed in the bewildering surprise of the resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the grave.

So get out the best linens! Spend weeks or months practicing the best songs! Gather up all the good news, and bright colors, and incentives to smile you can to make the biggest party you can muster, because this is what it’s all about! This is the day where Christians win! So, come on everybody, let’s prepare for the happiest Sunday of the whole year! Let’s fill our calendars and hearts with positivity, and our minds with optimism, and our bellies so full of sugar that there’s no room for real food –because this is Easter! But if that’s what you’re looking for, or if that’s what you’re expecting from our time here this morning, then I’m afraid you’re going to be pretty disappointed. Because today, for us, Easter, is going to be, and feel, a lot like any other Sunday for us. Of course we took some time to discuss it, and we considered a few flashy, attractive gimmicks to make today feel like the kind of holiday people seem to be so hungry for. And then we decided not to do anything too terribly special. We have some flowers, and that’s about it. The energy just wasn’t there.

Therefore this year, Easter is going to be a little different for us, but not because those happy celebrations are wrong by any means, nor because we want to be different just for the sake of being different. I’m sure in the years to come, if we’re so blessed, we’ll have more than our share of happy, uncomplicated Easters. But not this year. And we’re not going to have those because today won’t necessarily be a happy day for a lot of you. We know this, because we’ve heard some of you talking about it. Ever since January, I’ve been hearing people share fears about the next family gathering they’ll have to attend, because politics has divided their household. And for lots of those households, today is the day! It’s the first holiday where the extended family will gather to confront one another in this new version of America we’ve entered. Today at lunch or supper, we’ll have to sit down at that table across from Uncle Jim, and listen to him chew with his smug mouth that never quite closes, as his beady little eyes dart around the room, just waiting for his moment to speak the triumphs of Trump and divine election. Or others of us will have to stand, during the Easter Egg hunt, next to Cousin Jill, who’s been shaking non-stop with fury for the last four months, and is wired like a time-bomb set to blow and take everyone with her, because her very vision of justice was murdered by the system of the Electoral College –obviously because evil now rules the cosmos. And she would just murder everyone if it weren’t for the fact that she was a firm advocate of active non-violence.

Then we catch grandma back in the corner, sneaking valium and schnapps, just praying, sweet Lord Jesus, don’t let Easter be ruined by politics or the layers of family drama, both silent and shouted, that have haunted the family since there was one. So more food! More sugar! More happy memories! Such great weather! Do you remember the Smiths who’s kids just turned out perfect (what would the Smiths do)? Oh gracious, I heard that nice young man Ashton Kutcher was back in Iowa, did you hear about that? Oh just shut up about the news and look at the kids, look at the kids –for Christ’s sake- look at the kids!

Already some of you are noticing that I’m ruining your nice, happy Easter. How terrible of me, to encourage you to reflect already on what so many of you will have to face. I spoiled the one hour that was supposed to be all good news, and no fear, and nothing but existential winning. But now the hope of one pure hour of positivity on what was supposed to be the happiest day of the year is dying with each new word that escapes from my mouth.

How… disappointing.

But of course, for a good source of Good News, we can always turn to our Holy Scriptures, can’t we? We’ve been reading from the Gospel of Matthew for several months now, and we haven’t quite made it to the real Easter bit yet, but Jesus has been assigning some crazy homework, and teaching his disciples some really cool stuff, so we can pick it up right there and see what we find. We’re in Matthew, chapter 10, and will continue right along with our reading in verse 32. Jesus is still talking, and he says this to them: 32 “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. 35 I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 People’s enemies are members of their own households.[c]

37 “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me.38 Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. 39 Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.

Well crap. That doesn’t really feel like it has the appropriate Easter tone either, does it? You’d hope that, of all the places to find good news, you’d find it in the good news!

But instead we find Jesus saying he’s not here to bring peace, but a sword! And to turn families against themselves! And here he demands that we love him more than we love our own kids and parents! And here he says we have to lug around our own crosses. And here –instead of saying he’s going to give his life for us- he says we have to give our lives for him. And that’s crazy, right? Because, after all isn’t that the only reason we’d ever follow him in the first place: only if he makes our lives better? Only if it’s a wise investment of our time and ourselves, promising to yield a greater return than we could get from any other way? Don’t we just follow Jesus to be blessed and get rich? Don’t we just follow Jesus so we don’t have to feel bad about the bad stuff we’ve done? Don’t we just follow Jesus so that we can trade a regular, temporary life in for a newer, better, longer-lasting one? Don’t we just follow Jesus to get the greatest quantity of happiness at the cheapest possible price? I mean, honestly, isn’t that the deal we all came here for?

If so, you’re going to be disappointed! Profoundly and profusely disappointed.

Which, by the way, disappointment is a required prerequisite for Easter. We’re all aware of that, aren’t we? We all know that we’re here celebrating Easter not because Jesus was so super successful as a teacher and king, where he worked so incredibly hard for his heroic accomplishments that he had to recover for three days from all of his success. And so when he woke up, all of his admirers were so impressed with not only his teachings and leadership skills, but also his totally B.A. REM cycles that they were like “Yay, you’re awake again! You rose from some truly impressive sleep! Let’s try to get everyone in the world to celebrate that forever!” No, we celebrate Easter because the Jewish people at the time mistook Jesus for a guy who was supposed to be like the great King David of old, and would raise an army to defeat their Roman oppressors in bloody combat. So when Jesus tried to get them to reform the temple practices and challenged the leaders within his own community instead, they framed him for the very thing he had failed to be for them: a political savior. And he was executed!

Can you imagine? Can you imagine how disappointing Jesus was for the people who were hungry for a violent revolution? Could you imagine how disappointing it was for the disciples to leave their homes and jobs to follow Jesus, only to have him murdered by the very people he was trying to help? Can you imagine how disappointing it was for Jewish people in the early church to discover this miracle of resurrection for themselves, but then get arrested, beaten, and disowned from their families because of the new life they were trying to share? It was a controversial thing to be a Jewish person who decided to follow Jesus in the first century. And it did not always lead to happy results with their neighbors.

It felt like ‘wait, wait! I followed Jesus because it was supposed to be the good and right thing to do. But instead of things getting better, things seem to be messier than ever!’

And especially around the time that this Gospel of Matthew had been written, it was a tumultuous, uncertain time. Matthew was writing explicitly to Jewish people who had decided follow Jesus. And their community was scared. They were scared because, decades after Jesus’s resurrection, a group of Jewish rebels tried to revolt against Rome. And Rome responded by laying a full military siege to the city of Jerusalem. And they won. And when the Romans won, they desecrated and demolished the temple, they filled the streets with blood, and even sewed the fields with salt, so that no crops could grow for years and years to come. It was awful. It was horrifying. It was like the horror of the crucifixion was happening all over again, but this time on an absolutely massive scale. And here, built right into the gospel, is Jesus saying: not peace but a sword. Not happy families, but conflict and division. Not happiness, but a cross for you too.

But don’t be afraid. Because if you share in my crucifixion, you will also share in my resurrection.

And, that, brothers and sisters, is the good news of Easter. Not that happiness and blessings and success will just fall from heaven. It isn’t that Jesus suffered and died so that we don’t have to. It isn’t that Christianity won and everyone else is evil and wrong. But instead the good news of Easter is that that when we are defeated and disappointed –when we are precisely on the brink of death- God will be present and offer us new life. Therefore, the call of Easter is to travel through the fields of disappointment, with the living hope that new life will be found on the other side. We can’t go around or over. We can’t avoid or distract ourselves from our disappointments forever. We have to move forward through them, humbly by the grace of God, and with a spirit of acknowledge vulnerability. Yes, Jesus is risen; and we’re here to celebrate that on this Holy Day of Easter. But resurrection is not a one-time-only event. It isn’t just something that happened long ago or was reserved only for God’s unique Son; and it isn’t just a sign hinting at what is yet to come. Rather, resurrection is the very language God speaks. Resurrection is the rhythm and the pattern that runs through life and death like a sine graph. Resurrection –as a literal return to life of a dead body- might be rare, but it certainly has more common and ordinary expressions too. And today we want to take care that we don’t leave those out, and thus diminish our awareness of God’s presence and glory in our midst.

Over the years, I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories about life and death. A good friend of mine from seminary told me his dad had a heart attack maybe two years ago. When the paramedics found him his heart had stopped beating completely. At least five and maybe even ten minutes had passed before they were able to get it going again, and he came awake with a gasp, almost like nothing had happened. My in-laws too have a good friend who was in a terrible motorcycle accident maybe a decade or more ago. He was so mangled and bloody that the paramedics didn’t even bother with him. The coroner too saw no need to check for vitals. Experience told him he was looking at a dead man. But before they got him shipped to the morgue, someone noticed the body bag was gently moving. He was breathing. I met the man at a party several years ago, and Kristen told me later that I had been talking to the man who had been in the body bag. I couldn’t believe it.

There are a few more stories like that too. My dad has one that’s pretty spectacular. And they’re fun to tell and hear because they challenge the boundaries of what we know about life and death. But those stories alone probably won’t change history. After all, some of you are already probably thinking they weren’t really dead –just close to death. And that’s fine.

I think a couple of weeks ago I had said something along the lines that ‘resurrection is a form of healing;’ but I think I might have been wrong about that. Instead I’m growing to think it would be more accurate and true to say that healing is a form or resurrection. Healing is just a symptom, rather than a cause of life persevering and growing into something new and more beautiful. So yes, there’s a history-shattering mystery that took place in Jesus’s literal resurrection from the dead –and our hope is that we’ll have some part in that too when the days end; but I also think each and every one of us here have experienced the more routine and ordinary forms of resurrection. We’ve healed from little cuts and bruises. Maybe we’ve even fully recovered from more serious forms of trauma. But so many of us have also experienced new life after both simple and severe disappointments. After disappointment has left our spirits crippled and our hopes dead, God has breathed in new life to us.

And this is the kind of Easter we want to recall and celebrate today: the ordinary kind. The kind that applies to us. The kind that can be easy to overlook because it’s always in front of us, but which is reliable and true. Today we celebrate the resurrection we live every day –trusting that even old things can become new; and that new possibilities might blossom in dead space and wasted hearts. The kind of resurrection we can believe in because we experience it. We experience it when we heal. We experience it when we persevere through times of grief and uncertainty. We experience this kind of resurrection when we wake up every single new morning –rising again. It’s the kind that’s maybe not so magical-feeling, but it does not let us down.

This form of resurrection, which we’ve already received and are able to share with one another, heals us by disappointing our disappointment.

I’d like to encourage you to take just a moment to consider the word disappointment. Usually we say disappointment as if it’s an almost trivial word for the simple sadness we feel when our expectations aren’t met. But even the word itself signals something deeper: a loss in presence. Listen closer: it says dis-appointment. To be disappointment means to lose our appointment, our position. So when we experience disappointment, we’re also saying on a deep level that we’ve lost our place in the world. Something’s changed in the state of our presence. We’re naming the sense that we’ve somehow become down-graded, or demoted –simply because we were wrong about how we thought things were supposed to turn out.

But resurrection disappoints our disappointment. It says to us that, though we might be wrong about the future, we’re not displaced. There is a yet a way for us to move forward and find even a new station in our new found humility. This is what it means to take up your cross: to own your shame and your vulnerability. To call those things yours, while also realizing that you belong to something greater. You are a part of the resurrection: God bringing life to hopelessness. It is your experience with being wounded and disappointed that will allow you to encourage others to pass through their wounds and disappointments too. It’s precisely your vulnerability and your weakness that serves as a gift. By being vulnerable and disappointed, you’re drawn to the deeper truth that you are not ever alone. And it’s your wounds and vulnerabilities and disappointments that give you common ground and a sense of purpose with others. You can use your experiences and survivals of death-inducing fear to give courage and share grace with others. Brothers and sisters, this is our Easter morning. We’re celebrating the resurrection and the ways we’ve been healed. The ways our disappointment have been disappointed.

Today we celebrate the resurrection!

Our truth is not just that Christ is risen; but our truth is that we too, have been risen! Live into that good news today. Share it with those you meet. Share it with those around the table of this holiday meal. Share it with those you may be at political or ideological odds with. Let your resurrection story remind you of the vulnerability that comes along with being human. Let it remind you that your story has breaks in it –gaps and spaces that don’t make sense. And there, in those spaces and gaps, dwell for a moment so that you might be reminded that your story is yet incomplete. Let humility teach and grow you. Remember that those people you are at odds with are vulnerable just as you are –with great gaps and scars in their stories too. Therefore their story isn’t complete either. But as we come together, with offerings of our vulnerabilities and our blessings –with our knowing and with our unknowing- may a new life be created again, together.

Let’s pray.