Craft of Preaching

It Ain’t That Pretty

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Easter is the season when someone on the worship committee figures out how to order lilies online and any 5th grade boy who can play the trumpet and pull off the chorus to "Jesus Christ Has Risen Today" is recruited for worship and the Children's choir, in their white robes, practice a sweet and hopeful melody about Jesus.

It is the time when grandmothers clip grocery store coupons for hams and parents tell kids ridiculous things about rabbits hiding plastic eggs with jelly beans in them and visits to the vet shoot up because cats like to eat Easter grass and they get understandably broody after they do so. Easter is the time when the altar guild asks the Friday morning coffee guys to pull up those boxes from the basement full of gold and glittery Easter trimmings for the sanctuary, the boxes that hold all the glory, the boxes with the fake butterflies.

It makes you wonder if people, including us who are preachers, read the Easter stories at all. Yes, we celebrate resurrection, yes, we celebrate our new life in Christ, but as Jim Nestingen once said butterflies are about the worst image for Jesus at Easter you could pick. It's not that all the newness, or the conquering of sin and death isn't true or we shouldn't celebrate it, but the Easter stories we get from our bible aren't pretty. This year, Year B in the Lectionary cycle, we are given a choice between Mark's and John's gospel. Neither suggests sentimentality. Neither suggests glitter or the glory we know from this world or garden hunts for candy.

In Mark's gospel, there is the problem of the missing body and the women run away, frightened. There you have it according to Mark; no sighting of a resurrected Jesus. In John's gospel, Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener and we know later in his gospel Jesus shows up to the cowering disciples with all the gore and wounds still raw enough that Thomas gets the chance to dig into them a bit. Jesus' body isn't new. It is resurrected but the wounds come with it.

Some might find this disturbing and yet it seems to be the most hopeful of messages. Strip away the glitter and the gold, the cloying sentimentality, the white gloves and the sweet smell of allergy-laden lilies and what you have is what we really need. Jesus, the first born of the dead offers us real hope. We, who are yet to be resurrected, are never to be without our wounds. Even after we are raised and we step out from the grave squinting into the bright light, straightening our ties and brushing the dust off our burial wear, we are still who we always were.

We still bear our wounds but now, they are redeemed, made new, glorious not because they are gone but because it is in our wounds that Christ loves to work his mercy. It is in our sin that Christ loves to bring forgiveness. It is in our death that Christ loves to bring life. It is solely dependent upon God's graciousness, a grace that doesn't disregard our wounds, but touches them as if they were lovely, as if they were and always will be real, as if they were and are important. Christ doesn't disregard our wounds but says they matter, enough so that he'll take on wounds himself.

So tell that to the cancer-ridden. Tell that to the girl bent over from scoliosis. Tell that to the mother who heard she lost her son. Don't tell them it is all just fine. Don't tell them about butterflies and rainbows. Tell them, in their fear and confusion, that their wounded lives matter. Tell them that this is where Jesus loves to do his best work. Tell them about Easter and how from the dark, gnarled root the ordinary glory of green arises. Tell them it ain't pretty, but it is beautiful.

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