Easter Sunday 2015
April 5, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
How many of you have seen or maybe even voted on “The Dress”? The white and gold dress, I mean, that the mother of the bride wore at a mid-February wedding on the Scottish island of Colonsay. Considering that most of us had probably never heard of Colonsay before, and given that the bride and the groom aren’t celebrities (or at least didn’t used to be), it’s pretty amazing that tens of millions of people know about that dress, which wasn’t even worn by the bride herself, but by her mother!
Now some of you are thinking, “Pastor Mary, don’t you mean the blue and black dress, not the white and gold one??” That’s the weird thing about this dress-in-the-news: the majority, maybe 3/4 of the people who have seen it say it’s white and gold (go ahead, raise your hands J), and the rest see it as blue and black (your turn now). Experts don’t agree on why there’s a difference in what we see. A prof for brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester is of the opinion that whether a person sees white and gold or blue and black is determined by the number of cones, light-sensors, in that person’s retina that perceive the color blue. Those with fewer blue cones are more apt to see the dress as white and gold. Another psychology prof from Villanova thinks the dress creates an optical illusion, a reversible figure like the image of a vase that can also look like the profiles of two people’s faces. An importance difference is, no matter how long you look at the dress, or squint, or change the angle at which you view it, the colors you see aren’t going to change.
What the scientists who try to explain the dress phenomenon do agree on is that it’s very unusual and a reminder that we each have a unique way of viewing the world.1 Like the blind men who variously described the elephant as a snake because of its trunk, a rope because of its tail, a fan because of its ear, a wall because of its side, a spear because of its tusk, and as a tree trunk because of its thick legs, each of us can perceive the same thing in very different ways.
Take the events of Holy Week, for instance. Jesus rides into town on a donkey, with a carpet of palm branches and cloaks spread on the road before Him. Some who viewed that odd procession may have chalked it up as quaint local custom. If so, they totally missed the religious and political import of the event: victorious generals rode into conquered towns on donkeys rather than war steeds, as a way of signaling that they came in peace, now that they had won the battle. And those who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” could have been brought up on charges of sedition by the Romans. The Son of David was a direct reference to the long-awaited Messiah, whom the Jews fully expected would be a military leader like King David, a man of worldly power who would defeat their enemies and cast out their Roman overlords. The same event seen through different eyes was either of no importance or of supreme importance, both to the Jews and to the Romans.
Each of us can perceive the same thing in very different ways. Take the empty tomb, for instance. In and of itself the empty tomb isn’t proof of the resurrection; practically speaking, it’s simply proof that there was no body in the tomb, “no body home.” The same event, viewed from different perspectives, leads people to totally different conclusions.
St. Matthew says that the religious leaders warned Pilate that Jesus had predicted that He would rise again on the third day after He died. They strongly suggested to Pilate that he set a guard outside the tomb to be sure Jesus’ friends didn’t pull a fast one and steal His body to make it look like He rose. So of course when word of the empty tomb spread around, some came to the conclusion that Jesus’ followers had slipped away with the corpse. Apparently the guards, who became like dead men (Matt. 28:4) when an angel winged on in and rolled back the stone, hadn’t posted any selfies on Facebook, showing themselves as shell-shocked in the aftermath, and hadn’t done any news interviews to report their supernatural experience. St. Matthew says the chief priests bribed them to say they fell asleep at their post and that Jesus’ disciples must have whisked away the body.
The other perspective, of course, is the vantage point of faith, the glad acceptance of the witness of the women who went to bathe and anoint a corpse and who found life rather than death in the tomb. Understandably, they were “alarmed” to find an alive young man rather than a dead Jesus. St. Mark tells us they were frightened by the messenger and the message of resurrection. It’s shocking, really, that St. Mark’s Gospel almost certainly originally ended as we heard today:
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
As we think back on our own lives, we can probably identify with the women’s grief over the loss (the violent loss) of a loved one, with their emotional and physical exhaustion, with their wrestling with heaven’s response to human pain. Having witnessed Jesus’ painful death just a couple days earlier, having received the flying-in-the-face-of-reason report that He had risen from the dead, were they tempted to believe, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true”? On dark days, haven’t we questioned God’s power to raise up new life from the ashes of the past?
Maybe we can buy into Jesus’ resurrection but not our own. Or maybe we believe God will “raise us up” after our physical death, but we’re not banking on God raising us up now from what pulls us deathward today: addiction, resentment, anger, depression, frustration, confusion, deep disappointment, anxiety, illness, handicap.
It’s all a matter of our perspective, isn’t it? Before electricity was restored in those immediate post-Sandy days, our signboard read:
“God sends solace, not the storm.”
God doesn’t send suffering. God gives strength to endure. The same event, viewed from different perspectives, leads people to totally different conclusions. Is God punishing? Or is God blessing? One Easter sermon isn’t going to solve the problem of human suffering, but this is what we choose to believe: God doesn’t use a magnifying glass to spy out our faults. God clearly sees all our failings, all our weakness, and loves us regardless. God sees who we are created to be, not who we fear we have become. God doesn’t torment us with temptation and saddle us with sickness. God loves us and gives us grace to endure.
The presence of the risen Christ within me and among us is what clinches my faith in the resurrection. The fact that Christians still proclaim the resurrection message almost 2,000 years after the first witnesses were too scared to utter a peep, is ample proof for me that Christ did rise from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and bringing forth life out of death in the church and in the world. Christians of good faith can and do view things from different perspectives, but on this we are agreed: Christ is risen, alleluia! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia! The tomb is empty, but the world is full of God, for those with eyes to see.
1Jonathan Mahler, The White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress That Melted the Internet,” The New York Times Media website, February 27, 2015.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham