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Piel: Where do Easter people go after Easter Day?

Our neighbor George fell in love (maybe the word “love” is not the right word) this Easter season not only with the Carroll Arts Center “peeps” but also with a couple of resurrection hymns that he rediscovered. One was by William James and the other by Brian Wren. The key verse in the James’ hymn was “every day to us is Easter with its resurrection song.” The same theme is picked up in a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette “each week we celebrate your Easter Day.” In the Wren hymn his key verse was “not throned afar, remotely high, untouched, unmoved by human pains, but daily, in the midst of life, our Savior in the God head reigns.”

When asked, “Why these two hymn verses?” his reply was interesting. The real meaning of Easter is that it is a way of life not a day or even a season. What concerned George was that the day after Easter Day he went into a local store only to find that all the Easter candy had been reduced by 75%. The same candy had changed price from one day to another. And the same thing happened when he went into the Westminster Post Office (where he often purchases cards) to find that all the Easter greeting cards were gone and the theme was now Mother’s Day.

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I can understand why commercial outlets go from season to season but I am afraid, he went on, that followers of Jesus tend to do the same thing. Easter is, or should be, the foundational event. In a quote we used last month Theologian N.T. Wright writes, “Take away the stories of Jesus’ birth, and you lose only two chapters of Matthew and two of Luke. Take away the resurrection, and you lose the entire New Testament and most of the second century-fathers as well.”

The foundational message of Easter is that death does not have the final say. We can take risks, even with our lives, because life, not death, is the final word. I thought of the words of Martin Luther King when he said “I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Maybe the “promised land” could also be called “the kingdom of God.” It becomes our responsibility empowered by the Spirit, to make it happen like in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the Wren hymn, the key words are that Easter happens “in the midst of life”— “not throned afar, remotely high, untouched, unmoved by human pains.”

Easter is a call, maybe even a command by the risen Lord to get involved in the midst of life, take risks just as he did. I remember a loving mother that I was with when she found her son had overdosed and tragically died. She dealt with the pain and the self-blame she put herself through for many months. Somehow she came to the realization that she needed to move beyond death and celebrate life. She took on the role of a hurt-mother who now counsels with parents who have dealt with the death of their child. In sharing their pain she brought them some relief, hope and healing.

We had a military family in the congregation whose son, their only child, was killed a short time after arriving in Vietnam. They had been against the war from the start but felt that it was their duty and their son’s responsibility to love their country by joining the military. To the best of my knowledge, because of mixed feelings, they never have visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. But what they did do was after some specific training visited military hospitals and shared God’s love of hope with those who were permanently injured both physically and emotionally in the same war as their son. They said their most meaningful message was simply to remind those they visited that they were not forgotten and that someone cared.

Speaking of the military, as we approach Memorial Day (which is more than simply the beginning of summer and a three-day weekend) there is an interesting comment by Minda Zetlin regarding the reaction of her Vietnam veteran husband about treating Memorial Day the same as Veteran’s Day. A message from the television station told viewers to "Celebrate our troops on Memorial Day," and Bill’s reaction was loud and negative. "I hate it when people treat Memorial Day the same as Veteran's Day, as a day for supporting our troops," he said.

He continued “go ahead and thank our veterans and support our troops on every other day. Save Memorial Day for remembering and honoring those who never had the chance to become veterans. All those men, and some women too, who died in Vietnam and every war before and since, didn’t get the chance to bring up their children or grow old with their spouses, or have careers. All they have is their name on the Wall or another memorial like it, and a triangular folded flag for their families. This one day a year is all they and their loved ones have left.”

Let us expand the Memorial Day list to include those who have given their lives as victims of radical terrorism, children who died from malnutrition due to war or poverty, those in towns & cities who were shot to death on the streets, those whose lives were cut short due to inadequate or non-existing health care. And the list goes on. I ask myself the question “what can I do (beyond taking a day off or cooking a hamburger) to make a difference?

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

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