April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18


In his popular book, Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson told a parable about four characters. Two of the characters are mice, Sniff and Scurry, and the other two are little humans, Hem and Haw. The four live in a maze when, one day, they discover a corridor in the maze filled with cheese. So they return to that corridor every day to enjoy their seemingly endless stock of cheese.

The little humans somehow immediately establish routines around their daily intake of the cheese and become quite arrogant in the process. The mice, however, are cautious. They know that the cheese won’t be there forever, so they prepare themselves mentally as the stock of the cheese in that corridor dwindles.

One day, when the mice return to the corridor, they discover that there isn’t any cheese left in it. So they leave the corridor at once and look for cheese in other corridors.

But when the humans return to the same corridor and discover the same thing, they start complaining. One of them starts looking for the ‘culprit’ who has ‘moved’ their cheese. They then start blaming each other for their ‘cheese-less’ situation. They have hoped that their supply of cheese would be constant for the rest of their lives. And when they find that there is no more cheese in the corridor, they don’t know what to do in the situation.

In the story, Spencer Johnson, the author for the book, shares these insights about change, which are necessary for the survival in the maze and in the world: change happens, anticipate change, monitor change, adapt to change quickly, change, enjoy change, be ready to change quickly, and enjoy change again and again!

Friends, is this a familiar story in your life? Well, this was a familiar story in the life of the early Christian community as we can see it in one of the Easter stories that they passed on to us. The story is about Mary Magdalene in that Easter morning.

Mary Magdalene represented those people who failed to understand the full significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Although Mary was the first person to see the empty tomb, she failed to fully grasped the meaning of the event. She was like Hem and Haw, the little humans who fail to understand the consequence of their empty corridor. Twice Mary said, first to the two disciples and then to the two angels, “They have taken away the body of my Lord and I do not know where they have taken it to.” When she met the risen Jesus himself, she still wanted to know the place where the body was so she could, presumably, bring it back to the tomb.

Mary was nothing like the beloved disciple who knew immediately what had taken place and believed straight after he saw the empty tomb. Mary had an advantage over him. She saw not only the empty tomb, but also the resurrected Jesus himself, but she still failed to understand. It was only after Jesus called her by name and spoke to her that she realized what had taken place.

But unlike Jesus’ next encounter with Thomas, one of his disciples, whom he invited to touch his physical wounds, Jesus stopped Mary from holding on to his body. The message could not be clearer. Mary was trying to hold on to Jesus’ bodily presence, but that presence had gone. That presence had been replaced by a different kind of presence: a spiritual kind of presence. Mary had to move on. The disciples had to move on. The entire Christian community had to move on.

Friends, Easter is not only about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; it as also about the transformation of those who follow him. It is about change; about the invitation to move on from one mode of existence to a new one.

Jesus invites us to continue on our journey in following him, but this time in a new way. We are called not to look back to the empty tomb, but to where he lives now in the Spirit. There is no point in looking back, hoping that things would always go the same way as it has always been. Jesus has moved on; God has moved on, and we need to catch up.

Chocolate is a Hollywood movie that was released in 2000. It tells a story about a small village in France, situated only a few years after the WW II ended.

Like other European societies at that time, tradition was deeply entrenched in this village. But their way of life would soon be challenged when Vianne Rocher, the main character of the movie, played by the lovely French actress, Juliette Binoche, paid them a visit. Vianne was a free spirited wanderer who, with her daughter, travelled from one place to another selling their chocolate.

So they arrived in this particular village to set up their chocolate shop. But they arrived during the season of Lent; the time when people in the village were abstaining from eating sweets, especially chocolate.

But Vianne chose to ignore the tradition and kept selling chocolate during Lent. Because of that, she faced much opposition from the people in the village, especially from the Mayor who believed that it was his personal obligation to keep tradition alive and well in the village. With his influence and manipulation, he made the villagers reject and abuse Vianne and subject her to nasty gossips.

But Vianne was not alone. She soon made friends with other people in the village, especially with fellow outcasts. She made friend with a battered wife who had long been abused by her husband, but who could not leave him because of tradition in that village that considered divorce as a taboo subject and an unforgivable sin. She made friend with an elderly woman who was estranged from her family and the rest of the villagers because of her ‘bad’ behaviors. She also made friend with a male gipsy, the rat-bag of society at that time.

Vianne welcomed these outcasts without reservation. And, by doing this, she changed their lives and somehow the lives of the rest of the villagers as well. They saw something within her that challenged their old way of thinking. They started realizing how their effort to preserve their old-tradition had actually taken them away from the very heart of the Gospel: love, acceptance, and forgiveness. They started realizing that their rigid-interpretation of tradition had made them stop accepting people regardless of who they were, just like Jesus did.

The movie ends with the scene of an Easter feast where all people, the former-outcasts and the former-champions of the old-tradition, mingled together, enjoying their new-found life.

Friends, what are the things in our life: in our personal life; in our family; in our workplace; in our neighborhood; in our church-community, that we need to let go so that we can embrace the life that God wants us to have. A wise man once said that, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” We may believe that holding on makes us strong. But, sometimes, it is letting go that makes us stronger.

Once again, Easter is not only about Jesus, raised from the dead. Easter is also about Mary and her need to move on from Jesus’ bodily presence to his presence with us now in the Spirit. It is about Hem and Haw and their need to move on from their illusion of a never-ending stock of cheese. It is about the villagers, in the movie Chocolate, who needed to move one from their cherished-old-tradition so that they could embrace those amongst them. It is about us and the things in our lives that we need to let go; and the things that we need to embrace. God can create and lead us into a different life, a better one.

Happy Easter everyone.
Rev. Toby Keva