What says Easter to you? (Sharing) What should Easter look like? What defines Easter to you?
If you had asked me as a child what Easter was about I would have said well it is about the Easter bunny and his cousin the Easter Chicken. There was always an Easter Chicken at our church Easter Egg Hunt. It was about Easter Egg Hunts and the special Easter baskets that showed up on Easter morning. It was about getting pretty new dresses that were brightly colored and fun to twirl around in. As a middle school-er it was time off from school, new clothes, and Polish food. As a high school-er, it was about the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service followed by prayer watch alone in the church for an hour on Good Friday. The sadness of the season spoke to my heart and I began to appreciate the Easter season as I learned about the sheer power of the holiday. In college and grad school, the holiday was about the celebration of the Passover with my in-laws, Maundy Thursday Tenebrae, prayer watch at 3 in the morning, and Easter morning services. It is about the sadness of Christ’s last hours remembered. We are not to forget the suffering and the sacrifice because without it we cannot truly appreciate the joy, hope, and promise of Easter morning.
As I was reading this week, I was profoundly struck by this quote from St. Augustine in the 4th century, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song”. So I asked myself, “What does it mean to be the Easter people?” This is something we all should examine, so let’s look at our scriptures from this morning for advice. They are passages full of hope for a future of love, revitalization, a time where there will be no suffering. Jeremiah’s is about some distant undetermined time. But the resurrection story from John is much more pertinent. It is now. It is every day. Not just sometime between March and April or sometime in the distant future or the metaphysical future.
As we read the story, we might notice Mary Magdalene. She is understandably full of grief. She had just lost the one person who cared enough about her, a marginalized person of society, to give her back a life with purpose. Jesus was someone she loved, learned from, and found direction from. She wept out of grief. She, like the other disciples, had heard Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection. Yet she, much like us, could not feel the hope through her grief. When we are in these moments of pain it’s as if there is a temporary lapse in memory with it comes to the promises of God. We can’t see the resurrection as clearly. We just see the empty tomb and the rags left on the stone slab. Like Mary, we see and our minds make sense out the situation by the only way we know how. Death was final. Jesus had been gone for three days. His body was no longer usable and his spirit would have moved on. He was gone. And now robbers had taken his body, which was very common. Her mind went to what she knew to be true from experience. And don’t we all. Our minds go towards that which we have experienced, that which we know to be true. Mary was not a bad person for her lack of faith. She was just like you and me. She was the average person of faith. Her grief made her forget the words of Christ in his last hours. Her grief clouded her vision to the point where she didn’t even recognize him when he came to her. Can’t you just feel her pain? Don’t you feel pity and sympathy for her? Don’t you want to reach out to her and give her a hug and sit with her in her pain?
This is the message of the resurrection. This is how we become the Easter people Augustine spoke of. Christ said to Mary, “Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” This is the lasting message for us. There will be times when we grieve. There will be times that are hard in life. But we need to remember that God doesn’t want us to hold onto the pain. He doesn’t want that pain to get in the way of the message of Easter. There is hope. There always is. Our job is to feel compassion for those who suffer the most. Our job is to act on that compassion. We are to grieve and then go and live compassionately. Because we have felt pain, we can feel for the needs of others. And Christ says go to our brothers and sisters in faith, in humanity, and live as Christ lived his life compassionately caring for the needs of others. We are called to care extravagantly, making compassion our first priority in life. The most important thing we can do in life is to love others, to love freely, to live into the Easter message. There is hope for all peoples everywhere. Because Christ lives, because he did the impossible and was raised from the dead, because Christ suffered and died, because we have all been the recipients of compassion then we are obligated, required to think of those who have no one else to care for them.
Jesus sent Mary forth into the world, to the disciples, to share with them that he had been raised. He chose her as his voice and not Peter, nor his favorite disciple. He chose Mary who had experienced his care and compassion to be the one to go forth and share that compassion with the world. And so he sends us as the Easter people to live lives of hope, compassion, love, and care for all those in need here in our country and throughout the world. We are the hope for the world. We spread the love and joy of Easter morn. So go forth into this day and every day and be the Easter people and let Hallelujah be the song that defines your lives.
 St. Augustine, 4th Century.
 John 20: 17, NRSV.
(Based on Jeremiah 31: 1-6 and John 20: 1-18)