RCL Year A, Easter Day
My kids are of the age now of relentless curiosity. They want to know everything. They are full of questions. They listen to Jim and me talk and want to know what we’re talking about. They ask what that picture in the newspaper is showing. They want to know what happens after people die. They want to know just what would happen if the house caught on fire. They want to know if that car we passed is a luxury car with leather seats and fake wood inside. They want to know if tonight is a dessert night. They ask and they ask and they ask and they ask. We grow weary with answering.
But I get why they ask so many questions. There is so much to understand about the world we live in. When you only have a few years of experience on earth, there’s just a huge amount out there that you don’t know anything about. It’s one of those parts of parenting that make me think, maybe this is something of what God has to deal with, with us.
And Easter – crucifixion and resurrection and salvation and all of that, all of that makes for a lot of questions. And not just for us. People in the stories in scripture that lead up to Easter have a lot of questions too. On Palm Sunday the crowd watching Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem asks, ‘Who is this?’ When Jesus meets the soldiers in the garden coming to arrest him, he asks them, ‘Who are you looking for?’ As he stands on trial, the high priest wants to know who he thinks he is. Pilate asks him if he’s the king of the Jews. As he dies, those who watch him wonder, what just happened? And today, confused and weeping in the garden, Mary Magdalene sees someone standing there, and thinks, who is that?
There have been a lot of answers put forward to those questions of who Jesus is and what this day of Easter means. All through the Passion story and into the resurrection narratives and on beyond through the history of the church, many many many people have tried to answer them. He’s the prophet from Nazareth. He’s the rebel trying to overthrow the government. He’s a wonderful rabbi and teacher. He’s the sacrifice for us all. He’s the gardener. He’s the savior of the world. He is life itself.
But the real answer is the one Jesus gives himself. I don’t mean the titles, the Son of Man or Son of God or Messiah or any of those words. I don’t mean the theology of the atonement, or the physicality of the resurrection, or the technical debates over salvation. Those answers need time and explanation in order to unpack and understand. Those answers are interesting, but they tend to engage us in our brains, not in our hearts and lives. One way of knowing, but not all the ways we can know. No, the answer that Jesus gives is in what he shows us.
He calls people to follow him. He heals the sick, breaks bread with the despised and marginalized, raises the dead. And in his last surprising act, he gets down on his knees and washes his disciples’ feet. And then he dies, giving up his life for all. And days later, people experience him alive again, and their lives are forever changed.
The answer that Jesus is showing us, in other words, is love. Love that gives itself for others. Love that leads to life.
That’s the heart of the whole story of Holy Week and Easter, of course. Jesus gave himself up for us completely, God pouring God’s self out in love for us on the cross. It’s the most dramatic self-giving there is, love without any boundaries whatsoever, love given for every single one of us, whoever we are and whatever we’ve done.
But it’s not just his love for us that Jesus shows. He tells us to do the same. He washes his disciples’ feet and then he says, you also are to wash one another’s feet – you are to love as I have loved you. You are to give your selves in love. The answer to ‘who is this?’ and ‘what does this mean?’ comes back to us, and how we are to live.
Giving ourselves in love – we can make that out to be harder than it is. There are some who seem to show love better than others, and we call them saints, people who have become almost completely transparent to God’s love shining through them. But most of us, it’s true, stay pretty cluttered up with our own stuff. It is hard to let our own selves go. It is hard to reroute our priorities, swim against the tide in our ‘me-first’ world, run the risk of humiliation and harm. It is hard to really give ourselves in love for others. That’s wonderful, we think, but that’s really more the path for Mother Teresa or St Francis, not for me. Self-giving love is noble, but it’s just more than I can imagine living out in my own life right now.
Or is it? When a mother startles awake at 2am and goes in to nurse her crying baby, isn’t that self-giving love? When a worker stays late at the office to listen to the worries of a fellow employee, isn’t that self-giving love? When groups of people spend time at the church to prepare food for the homeless to eat, or to prune the trees and mow the lawn so others will enjoy the gardens more, isn’t that self-giving love? What about the really little things, like letting someone who’s in a rush ahead of you in line at the store or on the freeway? What about taking an extra turn cleaning the bathroom in the rotation of chores at home? What about paying for someone’s way when you know they can’t afford it? Aren’t those all acts of self-giving love?
After all, the thing Jesus tells his disciples to do, the way he shows his love, is in washing feet. He doesn’t tell them to die on the cross – that is his to do. And washing feet is really pretty simple. There’s nothing in it that changes the world. It’s unglamorous. It’s a plain, necessary sort of job in a world of dirt roads and sandals, something done by household slaves, not a job that will get you any kudos or attention – unless, of course, you’re the Pope. When Jesus tells us to love one another like that, he means that each one of us can give of ourselves here, now, in our own lives, in simple, ordinary ways.
What Jesus ultimately shows us is that giving up your self in love leads to life. The final, full giving he did led directly to what we celebrate today, the resurrection, new life for him and for the whole world. I came that they may have life, he said, and have it abundantly. Giving yourself in love might lead to something as dramatic as Mother Teresa or St Francis. But it might not – it might just mean a series of small things, unobtrusive ways that you care for another first, ways that add up slowly over time and make you more and more transparent to God’s love. More and more a saint. More and more somebody who lives the resurrection in every day of your life.
Love one another, Jesus says. Go and do this for the world. May Easter begin again today with love. Amen.