What Easter Looks Like
First Lesson: Luke 24:1-12
Second Lesson: Isaiah 65:17-25
Two of the fingers on his right hand
had been broken
so when he poured back into that hand it surprised
him—it hurt him at first.
And the whole body was too small. Imagine
the sky trying to fit into a tunnel carved into a hill.
He came into it two ways:
From the outside, as we step into a pair of pants.
And from the center—suddenly all at once.
Then he felt himself awake in the dark alone.
So says the poet, Marie Howe, in her poem, Easter, as she imagines what it must have been like inside that tomb on Easter morning. How it must have felt for Jesus as he reentered the world of the living. How he “poured back into” his body, as she puts it.
How his body was “too small”—to which, when I read this poem a few weeks ago with a group from our church, someone said, That’s true for all of us. Aren’t we more than our bodies can contain? And doesn’t that become clearer with each passing year?
And what of this re-entering two ways, first from the outside “as we step into a pair of pants”—an image I love—and then “from the center—suddenly all at once?” Like how we wake up from a deep sleep? Like how we fall in love? Was that how it was as Jesus returned to himself inside the tomb that first Easter morning?
Who can say? Scripture is painfully silent on these things. The gospels don’t provide any first-hand accounts of what happened in the tomb that morning. No monologues from Jesus on how the moment of resurrection felt, what he knew and didn’t know, what he saw and didn’t see. In fact, you may have noticed in our first reading that Luke has very little to say about the risen Christ at all in those first resurrection moments. He’s nowhere to be found.
No, Scripture is silent about what it looked like inside the tomb that first Easter morning. But friends, let us not forget that Scripture has much to say about what Easter looks like.
The risen Christ didn’t narrate his resurrection for us, but Jesus, long before Easter morning, had already told us what Easter looks like. He said it’s like a son who’s lost his way returning to his father, and his father running out to meet him while he was still far off and embracing him and and calling the neighbors to come celebrate, saying, My son has come home.
He said it’s like a mustard seed—this impossibly small seed—that starts small but grows and grows so that birds come and nest in its branches. Or some other handful of seeds that you throw in the ground and water and then go get distracted by the rest of your life and when you finally think to return, the seeds have pushed up from the ground with flowers, blooming and fragrant. They’d been there, growing all along.
He said Easter is like children running up to you and sitting on your lap right when you think you’re in the middle of something important, and reminding you what really is—Don’t forget that Easter belongs to them, he tells us.
Easter looks like storms being calmed and hungry people being fed.
Easter is your demons being cast out, or your bleeding stopped. It’s your wounds being seen and named and touched and healed. Jesus didn’t tell us just how it felt when he stepped back into his resurrected body on Easter morning, still bruised and open from the Friday before, but somehow new and alive. But by that point, what more was there for him to say about what Easter looks like?
And even before Jesus, visions of what Easter are everywhere in the Bible— the whole of scripture points to it. Easter is like Joseph forgiving his brothers for leaving him to die—telling them What you intended for harm, God used for good, and then all of them weeping there in each other’s arms. It’s like Ruth saying to her mother-in-law, Not even death will keep me from you and Esther mustering enough courage to save her people. It’s like Sarah laughing at the wild promises of God and then laughing even harder when they come true. Easter is like Moses parting the waters to reveal dry land, and that voice at the dawn of creation that looked out over the world and blessed it and said, This is good.
Easter is like God speaking through the prophet Isaiah as he looked out over Jerusalem as the exiles returned home from Babylon telling them, I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth, but it won’t won’t drop down out of the sky—it will come from within us and among us—suddenly, all at once. He said it will be like sick children, critically ill babies, living.
Easter is like PICU discharge papers. It’s anyone’s discharge papers. Easter—he says—is life and health and wholeness for all people, old and young. When Easter comes, Isaiah tells us, it will look like simple, homespun things: people building houses and living in them. Planting gardens and eating of them. People enjoying the work of their hands.
Do you hear this?
Easter isn’t just about dead people coming back to life but people having the opportunity to truly live.
Easter is not a world of all new things; it’s this world, but with all things made new. It’s lost things and lost people being returned.
It’s broken homes and broken relationships and hearts being repaired.
It’s dust covered dreams and hopes and faith being restored. These visions of Isaiah are so important because they remind us that while we don’t know what it looked like inside that tomb on Easter morning, we know what Easter looks like because we’ve seen it in our own lives.
“Maybe it's all utterly meaningless. Maybe it's all unutterably meaningful,” Frederick Buechner writes. “If you want to know which, pay attention to what it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we're in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us…The unexpected sound of your name on somebody's lips. The good dream. The strange coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Even the smallest events hold the greatest clues.”
Do you believe this is true?
Do you believe that’s what Easter can look like? Have you seen it?
A physician, working for many years in pediatric intensive care, told me a story once from years ago when he was caring for an infant who had come several weeks early. The father was estranged, and not welcome in the hospital. The staff began to have suspicions about the mother, too, how she would leave and come back smelling of liquor. The baby wasn’t doing well and my friend came to have a very hard conversation with the mother. She was asleep in the chair next to the incubator with her head turned away from him. He came to her and, as was his practice, knelt down on one knee at her side, to be at eye level. He touched her knee and said her name and when she turned to him he almost fell over. He looked at her face and saw instead the face of the risen Christ. He looked down to blink and when he looked back at her, it was just her sitting there in front of him.
In remembering it so many years later, he couldn’t describe exactly what the face he saw looked like or how it all happened. But what he did know was that Christ was, for a moment, sitting there before him. Could it be that this is what Easter looks like?
My friend Jeff Hampton is a writer who lives in Garland, Texas, and he describe a surreal experience this past week of “standing next to LeAnn, [his] wife, while staring at the name of Debra, [his] first wife, on the mausoleum wall.” He “never expected to see her name on that wall so early in life, and after that happened,…never expected to love and marry again. And most certainly never expected to be in a room with both of them.” “But there we were,” he wrote, “the three of us, united in death and life.”
It had been LeAnn’s idea to go and see where Debra rested in the town of Victoria, TX, about 300 miles from their home. They were in town for Debra’s mother’s 90th birthday celebration. LeAnn said she wanted to go and pay respect to this person she didn’t know who had helped shape her husband. They were standing there when Jeff pointed to the black square of marble next to Debra’s name and with some reluctance said, “That’s where I’m supposed to be someday.” "That’s what happens when you bury someone decades earlier than expected,” Jeff wrote. “In the fog of the moment, you plan for your own ending; you dig your own grave. You don’t consider how your hopes might be resurrected, how your life might be reborn, how someone unexpected might walk in the room and change everything.”
He calls it his “upper room moment.” “Not like the moment in the upper room when the disciples broke bread with Jesus for the last time, but that day after the crucifixion when they were back in that room, heartbroken, alone and afraid…[thinking] “it’s over.” He said that’s how he felt when he bought his place in the wall. “I wasn’t expecting to have this life that I have now…I wasn’t remembering how Jesus walked back into that upper room and let his [friends] know: ‘It’s not over. In fact, it’s really just begun.’”
Easter may look like rebirth, but can it also be remarriage?
In the months leading up to my father’s passing almost six years ago now, we spent a lot of time as a family in hospital rooms. But I remember especially the time we spent in one room in particular, the last one my father would be in, on the seventh floor, in the oncology wing.
We had four generations of family crammed in this tiny room around my dad, and over the week we were there we managed to create some astonishing memories together. We celebrated my little nephew’s one-year-old birthday party in that room, all of wearing little birthday hats and eating cupcakes and watching him make a mess of himself—the nurses, angels though they were, wouldn’t let us light a candle, which we understood, oxygen tanks and all. My nephew took his first step in that hospital room, with all of us there watching, my father smiling and clapping in approval. While we’d planned to keep it a surprise, Audrey and I revealed to our families that the child we were expecting would be a baby boy, so we could share that moment with my dad who would miss Billy by two months. When it was just the two of us, he and I, I even told him the name we had picked out and he said he’d take it to his grave, and we smiled because he hadn’t lost his sense of humor.
We laughed in that room and cried a great deal in that room, and we said things we’d never said before because we thought we’d always have plenty of time. And it wasn’t until sometime later after we put my father in his own place in the wall of our home church that we looked back over those days, when all that life was happening right there in the face of death—right where death was supposed to be—and we realized that while Easter will finally come when death is no more, it is possible to know something of what Easter will look like now. Even in death’s shadow. Maybe especially there.
Have you seen it?
Have you, even once in your life, been given a vision of what Easter looks like? And these visions are always and only “given.” And if you have, would you tell us? Because one thing each of the gospels agree upon is that whatever happened inside that tomb, Easter didn't happen until someone shared what they saw.
In the end, Easter isn’t what happened inside the tomb. It’s what happened outside of it. It’s what happened when the women came and saw the stone rolled away and heard the angel’s words and remembered all the glimpses they’d caught of Easter when Jesus was alive, and they ran and they told others what they’d seen. And every year since, Easter is what happens whenever anyone has done the same—when the people who would dare go back to see the tomb of death find the stone has been rolled away and they realize—or as Luke tells us, they remember—that they know what Easter looks like. They’ve known it all along. And you do too. If you’re here this morning you know what Easter looks like because Easter looks like you.
It looks like the part of you that thought there was no more light in the world to see, but suddenly there it was, and it’s new every morning.
The part that was sure that love was over or a lie but then there they were.
The part of you that was convinced life ended at death and yet here you are.
Try as we might, we cannot go back and see inside the tomb from that morning so long ago, but the good news is that we don’t need to. The good news is that you already know what Easter looks like.
The good news is Easter looks like you.
 Frederick Buechner, from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale
 Jeff Hampton, in a blog post for Wilshire Baptist Church, “Digging Your Own Grave,” https://www.facebook.com/notes/wilshire-baptist-church/digging-your-own-grave/10161553669865317/