Tuesday I traveled to Staunton to have my bicycle inspected and resurrected. Basically I made sure my brakes were functional, something that is critical when riding on the Skyline Drive. Perhaps the real reason for the trip was after hearing of the tragedy in Brussels, I needed a chance to shut my brain off and think about something less important. Will UVA make it to the Final Four? How might the final episode of Black Sails conclude? Why I am standing so close to the golf ball after I hit it? You would think I would be consumed by Holy Week, but to be honest, the trip to Staunton was also an excuse to get away from Lent, Good Friday, and most of all Easter Sunday.
So I dropped my bike off. The owner tells me he will have it ready in less than hour so I excuse myself and go find a bite for lunch. On returning, the owner and another customer are having the most appropriate conversation for this time of the season.
“What are you doing for Easter?”
“I hope to get in a bike ride. What about you?”
“I found this really neat idea called Texas Easter Eggs. They are made out of papier-mâché and filled with candy.”
“That sounds cool.”
“Yeah, we hide the eggs in backyard and let the kids find them. We are doing it Easter Morning. If you want to join us, we can ride later in the day.”
I guess the owner didn’t want me to feel excluded so he asked, “What are you doing for Easter?”
Here was my chance to show off my chops and win one for the home team. Unfortunately only thing I managed to say was, “I thought I might go to church.”
“Really! You don’t strike me as the religious type.”
With my ego, not to mention my vocational choice bruised, I left the shop I wondering how we have lost the most important day of our faith. It didn’t take but a mile or two on I-64 to decide the culprit had to be the Easter Bunny. Who can compete with a rabbit capable of laying Cadbury Eggs? Then again the Easter Bunny has never reached Santa Claus status. By the time I reached the top of Afton Mountain I came to conclusion the demise of our highest holy day could not be laid at the feet of a Trojan Hare. We, the faithful, are the guilty ones.
We sanitized Easter. We cleaned it up. The beginning of spring and Easter has become synonymous. In the South, Easter is the Sunday the dark suits return to the closet and men, for no logical reason, wear seersucker. Easter is the day when women return to white shoes. And no Easter is complete without a new Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it. By cleaning Easter up, Easter lost its meaning.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, that famed, foul mouth, tattooed layered preacher has something to say on this subject. She was the guest speaker at an Easter Sunrise service at the Red Rock natural amphitheatre in Colorado. Allow me to share a few of her words.
I was sitting on the edge of the rocks that Easter morning preparing to speak to 10,000 people. Praise songs were being sung slightly off-key by suburban moms dressed in matching outfits. Since it was worship, and I am a clergyperson, I had to pretend not to be horrified. Then came the liturgical dancers. I find liturgical dance neither to be neither liturgical nor dance. Whatever they are doing it is often performed by a bunch of liberal, middle aged women with a lot of scarfy things going on. Then it was my time to speak. I said to the crowd, “Easter has become another word for church showoff day. We spiff up the building, put out the lilies, hire a brass quintet, put on fabulous hats and do whatever we have to do to empress the visitors. But I suspect on Easter Sunday Jesus didn’t look all the great. He must have had dirt under his fingernails. Why else would Mary Magdalene think he was the gardener?
I love that image. The writer Isaiah proclaimed God was going to do a New Thing. He didn’t proclaim it was going to be squeaky clean. If we identify Easter with the beginning of spring, why would anyone in their right mind want to celebrate nature’s warmth and beauty by being cooped-up in a building? But much more important, when we make Easter perfect, where is there room for broken people?
Our misrepresentation of the new thing that God has done ENCOURAGES folks to flee to the mountains and the bike paths and the golf courses. Our beautification of something not so beautiful screams to the broken, the worn out, the rejected, the addicted, and even the curious that we will greet you with open arms when you clean yourselves up and become good righteous people like us.
Place that image against the resurrected Jesus with dirt under his finger nails. Occasionally Deb will ask me to dig a hole in the ground so she can plant a new bush. I don’t really like participating in her gardening projects because it takes time away from riding a bike or hitting a golf ball. Plus when she visits the grandchildren, I have to water them and pretend they are an important part of my universe.
But because I love her, I dig the hole. It never seems to be deep or wide enough. So I dig some more. Since the hole has to be perfect, I use my hands to remove the last bits of loosened soil. Fertilizer is poured in and spread evenly. Have you ever read the ingredients to see where that stuff comes from? I wouldn’t suggest it. Finally the bush is lowered, the hole filled and the excess dirt removed. By the time the job is complete I am one holy mess. And so was Jesus.
That is the unfiltered truth of the Easter Story. To quote Bolz-Weber a second time, God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance and our addictions. God loves us back to life over and over and over again. (stop)
Perhaps I am naïve in thinking the lives of those two people I met in the bicycle shop aren’t as perfect as they appeared. Perhaps hiding Easter Eggs and taking a bike ride are all that’s needed to receive perfect harmony with life. Perhaps I am just a fool to believe there is a God who loves me more than I can imagine and a community that accepts me warts and all. Perhaps I have been downright brain washed into imagining God would do anything to be reconciled to me. That is a lot of patience, and a lot of digging in the dirt.
When I see you, not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday, I feel a spirit that entwines our joys, our sorrows, and our stories. Few of us claim similar origins or lifestyles. Our vocational experiences are vast. I know most of you have been wounded and tragically some of that pain has come from a church. Yet here we are, not so much because of who we were but because of who God is.
Some of you dressed up, some of you didn’t. Who cares! We have come to celebrate and follow the one who dirtied his hands for us. What else is there to say except,
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Amen.