April 16, 2017
About ten years ago, Ann Marie and I decided to take Callie and Caleb to a special event being held at the Atlanta Zoo on the Saturday afternoon before Easter. The event was the annual Zoo Atlanta Gorilla Easter Egg Hunt. Yes, you heard that right, the Gorilla Easter Egg Hunt. I mean doesn’t that sound like a festive occasion for the whole family? The Gorilla Easter Egg Hunt was exactly as the name suggested. At a specific time, all of the gorillas were herded into one corner of their large enclosure and special Easter Eggs in various colors were hidden all over their habitat. Now, I don’t know exactly what the eggs were made of but whatever they were, the gorillas loved them. Eventually, with real easter baskets in hand, the gorillas were turned loose and they went bounding around their habitat with the same zeal, excitement and enthusiasm as a group of young children enjoying their own adventure to discover the multicolored eggs of the season. Like children, the gorillas knocked each other out of the way, searched high and low and often sat down and consumed each egg as soon as they found them which rendered their baskets to be pretty much useless. It really was a fun time and we enjoyed thoroughly the afternoon there.
Over the next several days, we began to share with friends, neighbors, and people at church about our experience. I still remember the look on their faces. “The what?” They would say. “Are you serious, the Gorilla Easter Egg Hunt?” This was often followed by a second comment that often went something like this, “you know, I have lived in Atlanta all of my life, and I have never heard of the Zoo Atlanta Gorilla Easter Egg Hunt!”
What we quickly discovered is that everyone was intrigued by our little outing and a lot of them were disappointed that they had not known to take their own children or grandchildren to the event. Yet, what we also learned was that this particular Easter Egg Hunt, which was billed as a Zoo Atlanta Easter tradition, was virtually unknown to everyone with whom we spoke. None of them had ever heard of it which is to say that the annual egg hunt there was a well kept secret.
We all have had experiences with “well kept secrets”. They are restaurants that we love that we discovered out of the blue, a hotel that is our favorite that no one else seems to know about or a favorite product that we can’t do without that virtually no one else is aware of. These well kept secrets are wonderful parts of our lives yet the advertising connected to them leaves a lot to be desired.
Easter, in its beginnings, could have easily been a well kept secret too. Think about it. With the first Easter, it is crucial to remember that Jesus’ resurrection took place away from crowds, cameras, 24 hour a day news channels or Facebook. Only a few people and mainly women knew about Jesus’ conquering of death from first hand experience. In turn, if you look closely at Matthew 28, this last chapter of the gospel, you find that there are four instances that deal with going and telling what had happened. Twice in the first 10 verses, once by the angel and a second time by Jesus himself, the two Marys are told to go and tell the disciples what they have seen and experienced. In verses 11-15, the guards who were also present at the tomb, are bribed by the leading priest to tell a different story – something other than the truth – about what had happened. Finally, the culmination of the Matthew 28 is what we call The Great Commission, or the charge of Jesus to his followers to take what they have experienced and to tell it to everyone, far and near, around the world.
The greatest story the world had ever known had taken place in their midst but they had to share it, tell it and give witness to it. If they didn’t do it – no one would have known. Instead, the Easter event would have been the great unknown event. The greatest story ever told would have also been the least heard. Easter would have been the best kept secret.
There is a lot for us to take in here. First, we who are here today need to take in this story of stories again for ourselves. We need to hear the story that they first told, has been retold and passed down by those who have gone before us in the faith as carriers of this the greatest story of all stories. This story is for us – to hear, to find hope in, to treasure and to build our lives around and to learn anew through every occasion of hearing it!
Let me ask you something, do you remember having a favorite story as a child? One that you wanted read over and over again and again? Or, maybe you remember your own children or grandchildren having hundreds of books but having only five or six that they wanted read while ignoring all of the others. Did you know that experts have now determined that this interesting yet common practice of childhood is in many ways a good thing, not a bad thing. You build a deeper vocabulary and better comprehension as you understand a fully grasp a story that you have heard a number of times. It gets down in your bones and your soul – you know it by heart and even though its the same it is in some ways a new story each time.
The Easter Story must become that story for our lives. It it is our story of hope in sadness. Our story of life in death. Our story of the power of good over evil and the reminder that God wins. And, most importantly it is our story of salvation – God through Christ overcame even death itself and through him we can do the same. Thanks be to God that this story has been kept alive, told and retold. It is not hidden or secret. It is our story and we need to rehear it today and every day.
At the same time, we must also acknowledge that while the women and the disciples did their part, the question is, will we? Another good word of this Easter morning is that we have the privilege of joining in telling the story. Far better than what Clemson did in January on the Football field and far better than what Carolina did on the basketball courts in March and April is what Jesus did on Easter Sunday. It is the event that has changed our lives and that changes the world. It is our story to hear but it is also our story now at this time and in this place to tell!
I stumbled onto an interesting website recently that is fun to explore called eyewitnesstohistory.com. The site is exactly as the address suggests. There you will find catalogued from across the annals of World History the remembrances of those who were present during key moments that changed the world as they remember what it was like to see those occasions unfold. For instance, one that I found particularly interesting is the story from Grace Tully who was FDR’s secretary and who recalled through her writing what it was like to be in the White House on the December Sunday afternoon in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was unfolding and the administration was scrambling to respond. Tully’s story is invaluable to our understanding of what that day was like. And, while there are countless other remembrances of that day, Tully’s perspective is unique because no one else experienced the day exactly as did she.
We know what we do about Easter because the women and ultimately the disciples told what happened. We know the story as we do because of the unique way that they each shared from their perspective. The world today depends on our willingness to do the same. Don’t for a moment dismiss this. Yes, we will always have the Bible. Yes, there will always be those who will tell the story. But, there are people who are a part of our lives who will never know the story unless we tell it. And, there are people who will only appreciate and understand the story fully if we tell it from our own unique perspective and from the point of view of how it has affected us. Our job is not just to savor and celebrate the story of Easter in terms of what it does for us. Our job is also to tell it – it must not become our best kept secret.
Having said that, I want to encourage us that we cannot tell it only with our voices, we must tell it with our lives. A number of years ago, the Quaker thinker and writer Parker Palmer wrote a book with a great title. The book was focused on how to go about choosing the best occupation that squares with our gifts, interests and ability to make a difference in the world. The title is this – Let Your Life Speak. Let Your Life Speak…which is to say realize that it is the behavior of our lives, our actions that truly tells the story more so than our words.
As a lot of you know, Ann Marie and I are natives of Alabama. While we have both lived away longer than we lived in Alabama we still keep up with the news from our home state. This past week, as you might have heard or read, the governor of Alabama resigned. He was under pressure from both political parties to do so or to be prepared to be impeached. He had thrown his morals and ethics out the window and made some very poor decisions and the proof was mounting. All the way until Monday, the day he resigned, he continued to verbally speak of his innocence. The problem was that his words continued to be drowned out by what he had done which is to say that his actions were speaking far louder than his words.
Others may listen to our words, but, they really listen to our lives. Our words do matter, but, our behavior, our decisions, our actions matter more. And, without question, our behavior will far outlive our words. Which leads to this question. If our job is to add our Easter voice to the voices of Matthew – what are the actions of our life saying? What word is our behavior communicating? What conclusions could others make about Christ’s Lordship or the hope of Easter through our priorities, our decisions or our choices? Our lives are speaking, but, the question is what are they saying? Do our lives line up with the hope of Easter? Does our behavior indicate that we serve a risen Lord? Are we making it clear through what we do that our commitment to Christ is the more important to us than anything else?
When I was in seminary, the congregation I served included a single gentleman who often said very little. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War who had seen a lot of combat. That moment in his life still affected him dramatically and he had thus never married, spent much of his time alone and kept to himself. On Sundays, he was almost always in church though he slipped in, sat on the back row and often left just before or immediately after the service. Sometimes I would go a month or more without ever exchanging a word with him. Yet, he was a good man, he loved our church and his life spoke volumes. He was very gifted with his hands. His craftsmanship was seen all over our church through the countless projects he tackled. He also left a mark in the homes of lots of people through small wood working gifts that he would leave at people’s door steps without having ever said a word and without having rung the doorbell. His voice was often silent yet his life spoke and it spoke in volumes.
The Easter voices of Matthew in the form of the first women at the tomb and the disciples told the story and refused to let it die out. Thus the story of all stories in their lives has become 2,000 years later the story of all stories for us. Will it be our secret; our best kept secret? Or will we share it with our voice and with our lives? What will our Easter voice add to those who have gone before us? Amen.