April 2, 2023

"Easter is an Earthquake”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 21:1-10

When I lived in San Diego, my partner and I were treated annually to an Easter lunch after all the Holy Week activities and services were complete. It was a wonderful time of recounting all that had happened. How many were in church that day. Talking about the folks we hadn’t seen in a while and catching up on the latest church gossip. It was also a time to kick back with a glass of wine and celebrate the fact that we had made it through another Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.

We always ate at Albert’s Restaurant – a kind of tree house structure nestled in the middle of the San Diego Zoo. Albert’s had a lovely view of a waterfall and the gorilla exhibit. The setting was peaceful and the ambience casual.

One year, just after our entrees had arrived the room began to shake. It seemed minor at first but then quickly magnified in intensity because – remember I told you this was kind of a tree house restaurant. The structure was on stilts. Soon everything was rocking back and forth to the point where I began to feel queasy still wondering what the heck was going on. Then it dawned on me.

You see, the funny thing about earthquakes in Southern California is one develops a bit of amnesia about them. Perhaps it’s denial. Most of them are so minor that they go unrecognized – oh the glass in your windows may rattle a bit or you may feel a strange vibration in the floor but, if you are like me, you hardly ever notice them. Am I right Cali-friends (anyone here from California)? But the fact that the wait staff started to run for the doors should have been my first clue that we were in danger. Fear and the rush of adrenaline overcame each one of us as our “Easter suddenly was an Earthquake.”

The Easter Earthquake we read about in today’s gospel reminded me of my Easter experience at Albert’s restaurant over 10 years ago. It really shook me (pun intended) and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. As Mary discovered, sometimes God shows up that way – in a manner that you cannot miss or ignore. Other times, it’s much more subtle, and you smile, as you realize anew God really IS present and in control.

Many of you know that my father died recently. Dad wanted to die for years but his body was just too darn strong and would never give up. He was still exercising well into his 92nd year. The problem is Dad took to falling, and his personal care became an overwhelming burden for my sister with whom he lived. You see, she made a promise to my mom (who died 20 years ago) that she would NEVER put Dad in a nursing home and that she would take care of him until he died. It was a promise she finally realized she was going to have to break if she were to maintain her sanity.

So, we applied to a Veteran’s Administration home about a year ago. They told us it would take at least a year to secure a spot for Dad and they placed on a waiting list. My father was completely oblivious to all of this. My sister’s stomach was in a knot. Unbeknownst to my dad, my sister and I had endless conversations about his future, and I told her I would come home when the inevitable would take place. I assured her I would take the heat on this. She had done her part. I was willing to be the bad guy on this.

Dad died exactly one month ago on a Friday morning just after he finished his favorite breakfast that included PA Dutch Sticky Buns. Then, he went into his living room, sat in his easy chair, turned on the television and like every other day – fell asleep. But this time he never woke up.

That afternoon a certified letter came in the mail from the VA which read in part. “Dear Mr. Landis, your application has been accepted. You have 48 hours to respond whether you will move into our nursing facility.” It’s a decision we never had to make nor did Dad ever have to know about. You cannot tell me God doesn’t show up when we most need God’s presence in our lives.

We sometimes fantasize that Easter was quiet and serene – a peaceful experience where we sense God’s presence much like we get to enjoy here in Mākena at our annual sunrise service. Or when we are reassured by a certified letter that we can, in deep gratitude, simply throw away.

At other times we need to be hit over the head with a 2x4 – a seismic shift of sorts. To get our attention just like it did for Mary – where we are assured death is not the final victor.

But in either case – whether serene and subtle or the earth shaking beneath our feet, it’s just the beginning. Remember Jesus’ words? Don’t cling to me. Don’t hold on to me. Go and tell the others. Go on ahead to Galilee. I’ll meet you there. We’ve got work to do.

Friends in Christ, this is a grand and glorious day. It’s good that we are here. It’s wonderful to celebrate with flowers, and music, and doves, and a Holy Meal that reminds us of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until he comes again. But we’ve got work to do. We have a message of love to proclaim in word and deed and Easter is not the culmination. This isn’t it until next year when we come together and do it all over again. Oh no, Easter is our starting point. We’ve got to move on to Galilee for further instructions.

I wish you a blessed Easter. I hope you have many experiences today and each day of God’s presence in your life. I hope they get your attention – whether sublime or total surprise. And that your spirit is seized to get to Galilee. Jesus is waiting to meet you there. There’s still lots of work to do. See you there. Amen.

1 Title borrowed from Karoline Lewis that was used in a sermon she and her mother preached years ago and referenced on Working Preacher Podcast – 4/9/2023

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