This Easter I wish all of you (and myself!) these three Easter gifts: peace, joy, and surprise. I wish not only that we might receive these gifts personally, but also that we might bestow these gifts on others.
I wish you peace. The first words Jesus says to his frightened disciples after the resurrection are these: “Peace be with you.” Peace then is the first gift of the Resurrection. But peace is not the absence of war or conflict. It is not even the absence of noise or confusion. Rather peace is the deep sense that, beneath everything, God’s grace moves. Just below the surface of reality, God’s Holy Spirit is making all things new. I wish all of us a re-conviction of this basic belief expressed so beautifully in Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
And I wish that we would bestow this gift of peace on the people we live with, work with, pray with, and meet on the street or in the store. How might we do this? By greeting others warmly, by being polite and kind, by slowing down, by refraining from hurtful gossip, by saying, “I’m sorry” when we offend, by extending forgiveness when we have been offended, and by entrusting all our worries and fears to the Risen Jesus.
I wish you joy. I often quote G. K. Chesterton’s beautiful words: “As Christians, joy is the underlying pulsation of our life.” This does not mean we don’t cry or experience deep pain. But it means, as the Easter story tells us, our tears and pain can be transformative. They can be redemptive. They can lead us to new life. The Easter story reminds us that God has the “last laugh.” By raising Jesus from the dead, God shows that, in the end, life conquers death, joy triumphs over sorrow, and goodness overcomes evil. We can spread this Easter joy in many simple ways: by recalling what’s right with our life and our world, by smiling more, by humming or singing more, by cultivating a sense of humor. As someone once said, “The opposite of joy is not sorrow. It is unbelief.”
I wish you surprise. In their accounts of the resurrection, all four evangelists make this point: Jesus’ Resurrection was a huge surprise for his followers. The women at the tomb, his apostles, Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus were all surprised and shocked when they encountered the Risen Jesus. None of them was expecting this! The word “surprise,” then, is truly an Easter word. It reminds us that we believe in a God of surprises. What does that mean? It means we must not be so wedded to our own plans and expectations, that we miss recognizing the surprises God has in store for us. When our plans come to naught, rather than grieving or pouting, we must trust that God might be ready to surprise us in a way we never expected.
Let us celebrate this Easter by surprising ourselves and others. We can surprise ourselves by doing something we don’t ordinarily do or have never done. If we have never eaten a certain food, we can eat it. Or we could attend a talk or class on something we know little about—whether it’s 19th Century French painting or “everything you wanted to know about mushrooms but were afraid to ask.” What is the point of surprising ourselves during Easter? It is one way we get out of our rut or our “tomb,” that is, our usual way of doing things. It is a way of instilling new vitality into our lives—which is a very Easter thing to do.
We can celebrate Easter by surprising others too—by doing small favors around the home or workplace, by leaving a generous tip, by calling someone we haven’t spoken to for a while, by treating someone to lunch, or by sending cards to family or friends for no particular reason.
Someone has said, “The simplest meaning of Easter is that we are living in a world in which God has the last word.” And maybe that “last word” is something like this: “Be at PEACE for I bring you great JOY. Jesus lives–and you will too–forever! SURPRISE!”
(NOTE: My next post will be Monday, April 8, 2013.)