I need Easter

I'm confronted with Good Friday all the time. I need Easter so that I have the strength to keep going...and dancing.

I need Easter
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
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This post was originally presented as a sermon to the congregation of East End United Regional Ministry on Easter Sunday, 2024. The focus text is John 20:1-18. Like all sermons, these words were intended to be spoken — an audio first experience.

When I was teenager in the late nineties, I was working through the requirements to offer my confirmation to my congregation, and the United Church of Canada. One of these requirements involved attending church services regularly. Tricky thing was...I was on exchange in Heidelberg, Germany.  But my German wasn’t yet good enough for me to understand...much of anything going on at church, really.  

However, Heidelberg is home to a large American air base, so I started attending worship services with a group of soldiers and their families.  At this point in my life, church was church. I didn’t really distinguish too much between different denominations, or different ways of understanding this profound story of love, loss, joy, and resurrection.

So, Easter Sunday comes along and the pastor stands up and reads this achingly beautiful story about Mary finding the tomb empty, frantically trying to figure out what has happened. 

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Listen to this post in podcast format on Sermons from the East End.

I love this story.  Even as a teenager, when I was still kind of working through whether this whole church thing was really for me, the intimacy of this story moved me deeply. The aching and the longing. The shift from grief to wonderment.

Unfortunately, this pastor closed his bible, shook his head and came down pretty hard on Mary.  He came down on her for not understanding what was going on. For not recognizing the risen One within her midst — right in front of her face! “She just wasn’t paying attention,” he said.  

I remember thinking, “My goodness! Can we give the woman a break? Maybe just a small one? She’s kind of had a lot going on. It’s been a heavy week, ya know?” 

And, I mean, if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on, right?

For some of us, it is easy to move into the Hallelujas. The trumpets and flowers. The dancing and joy.  But for others of us, it is not so easy.  It is easy to hope if you have something to hope for.  It is easy to believe if you are presented every day with something to believe in — something good to believe in. It was’t that Mary failed to pay attention. I wonder if the cost of believing that not all was lost was just too great. At least at first.

We're confronted with Good Friday all the time

I often (half) joke that I am a Good Friday Christian.  

I mean, I get Good Friday.

I get it...

...when I am sitting in prisons and writing to those who are incarcerated,  being constantly confronted with what it is to be scapegoated by society. 

...when I’m sitting and chatting with our Out of the Cold guests, and after they tell me their life story, I wonder how it is they can stand to get out of bed in the morning. 

...when I turn on the radio and hear that more than 30,000 Palestinian lives have been lost since October 7th. The alarming increase of violence in Haiti. Civil war in Sudan… 

I am confronted with Good Friday when I hear how terrified and utterly abandoned my Jewish friends feel...

...or when I see the numbers at the Nourish Food Bank Market going up and up and up.

I feel Good Friday when I’m lying awake at 3:00am, staring at the ceiling and going through the playlist of every terrible thing I’ve ever done or every thing that’s ever been done to me; every wrong word I’ve ever said and every violent phrase that I’ve absorbed.

Mary understood Good Friday too

Despite the Military Pastor being so dismissive of Mary (and, I later realized, just women in general) it is important to note that the passion begins with a woman anointing Jesus for burial and it ends with women remaining to bear witness at the cross after all of the disciples flee in fear.  

Mary saw it.  She saw what happens when love becomes too threatening. Mary was there.  And so, quite frankly, I am entirely sympathetic if, deep within her soul shattering grief, Mary is not able to see her love standing right in front of her.  

Because, that is the way grief and despair work.  

The Passion began with women. It ended with women.

And then, it was a woman who was first witness to the promise that death is never the last word.

I may joke that I am a Good Friday Christian, but I need Easter. 

I need it.  I need the resurrection.  And honestly, like Mary, I want to cling to it.  Because while the cost of believing there is something more, better, truer, and, quite frankly, holier than the tragedies we are constantly confronted with is very high...

...the cost of not believing is even higher.

Mary understands when she is called by name

Mary comes to the tomb, and it is empty. She runs to fetch the disciples and they run, but they also leave once more. Let’s give them a break as well.  It’s been a heavy week for them too. 

Then Mary sees somebody else. Perhaps the gardener. 

“Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"

“Please. They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where he is.”

But then, Jesus calls her by name:

“Mary.”

In that moment, when Mary is seen she sees Jesus too.  She recognizes who is standing in front of her. She recognizes that not only is this not the end, but it is the beginning — the beginning of the next chapter of what it means to love...

Love with everything we have...

To love our neighbour as ourself. Not as much as ourself, but as ourself.

Because we are all enmeshed within this complicated and aching world, and our salvation is inextricably tied to one another. 

I need Easter because I do not have the strength to pull myself out of the despair on my own.

I am not God. (What a relief.)

I am witness to violence inflicted upon God over and over again.  But death is never, ever the final word. As British singer-songwriter Sydney Carter puts it, Jesus "is the light that will never ever die.” The Lord of the Dance.

I need Easter, because I need somebody to dance with.

Despite the powerful forces which would have us believe we are never enough, that we need to compete with one another in order to get ahead, or the sense that no matter what we do it will never make any difference anyway, God calls us back by name and reminds us — shows us — that there is always, always more. That there is a force (a God) moving in this world that is greater than any exploitive or oppressive regime. Who weeps along with us, but who also shares in our joy when love returns. A God who calls us to continue moving and joining together in love, calling each other by name, so that others too begin to recognize that love rolls on, refuses not to roll on, and again we are all brought back into life.

It is with that, I find the strength to sing my Halleljuahs.

I need Easter. And so I sing. Sometimes in piano, and sometimes FORTE:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Amen.

Rev. Bri-anne Swan is lead minister to East End United Regional Ministry in Toronto, Canada.