Today is Easter Monday. At least, that is what this day was called when I was growing up in North Carolina because it was a statewide holiday. Often, as a child, Easter Monday meant a day to pull out shorts, go barefoot outside, think about planting gardens. It was a laid back kind of day that meant relaxing and enjoying the spring weather. Meals were prepared from leftovers of Easter dinner. I loved the Holy Week and Easter celebrations, then. I still do.
But today, this Easter Monday is different from those that melt together in my childhood memories. As I write at my desk, as I glance out the window, I notice that the sky is dark and cloudy and even though there are blooms everywhere it seems that nature is trying to put up a brave front, trying to get us to be joyful, but to be aware as well because another place, another group of people mourn this evening.
This time the place is dear to my heart—Pakistan. I spent time there when I was 24 years old. I have written about it before. I was there with twelve other United Methodist seminary students, a bishop, and a retired missionary to Pakistan. We were visiting the Christian church in Pakistan. There were friends to meet before we even got there because the United Methodist church had a partnership with the Christian church there—still does. We were going to visit congregations in villages where the UMC had established relationships over the years, so there were people to meet such as everyone’s favorite Augustine, who stayed with us the entire trip.
Today, I have reflected on that time in Pakistan and I have remembered the joy on the faces of the people as we shared our faith together. I remembered standing in the pulpit of a tiny, little church in Lahore, where the bombing occurred yesterday. I stood in that pulpit and prayed.
I was amazed at the witness of these dear folks, whose lives were so different than mine, a daily struggle compared to my life of relative ease. Only 1% of the population of Pakistan is Christian and often that means difficulty being hired, difficulty making ends meet, difficulty feeling safe. And yet, during those days that I shared with those dear brothers and sisters in the faith, I saw joy. I felt joy. I felt power as they prayed for me and for my fellow seminarians. I felt love.
Throughout the years as a pastor on each Easter Sunday, I always tried to get my congregations to proclaim the ancient “Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.” I would always remind them that when they heard the phrase “Christ is risen,” they were to respond with the words “Christ is risen indeed.” I would use the proclamation over and over on Easter Sunday and throughout the great fifty days. Sometimes the proclamation would be loud and joyful. Sometimes the proclamation would be quiet, nearly silent. Always the response would come back to me in the way it had been proclaimed, either in the words of the liturgy or spontaneous such as in the middle of the prayer.
Although I am no longer in the pulpit every Sunday, my family still expects the proclamation throughout the day of Easter and sometimes beyond into the great fifty days. “Christ is risen.” “Christ is risen indeed.”
When we returned home after Easter service yesterday morning, I walked into our house and shouted the words: “Christ is risen!” My children responded: “Christ is risen indeed!” And soon after that exchange I learned of the bombing in Pakistan. And suddenly, it was difficult to proclaim those words. Suddenly, there was a shadow over Easter.
As I have thought about the bombing and the Christian families and their Muslim friends that were in the park celebrating Easter, I began to think about the days and early years following that Resurrection morning long ago.
The first disciples and followers of Christ experienced the gloom and finality of death in the days leading up to and including the crucifixion of Christ. And then on that Easter morning he was risen and they knew that in just three short days the world had been changed and there was hope and forgiveness and love unspeakable. They were happy and full of joy and they had to shout “Christ is risen!” And to respond “Christ is risen indeed!”
Sadly, as the years passed and the story was told and passed on to give hope and life to so many people, there were those who sought to silence these shouts of joy and so the greeting was uttered with a little less volume: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” Even with less volume, the joy remained.
The years passed and history has revealed that there were still a number of people who wished to silence the voices of joy. It became dangerous to be a believer. It was illegal to be a believer. And those who believed and knew of the risen Lord were persecuted, killed and martyred for the faith. To even mention the name of Christ was running the risk of losing life. And so, the greeting became softer—“Christ is risen.” And a soft response would return—“Christ is risen indeed!”
And then the time came when the voices of jubilant proclamation were silenced altogether. What pain it was for those early believers to keep in such joy, but it was no longer safe to proclaim the greeting and to respond. How would they ever be able to proclaim the wonders of resurrection and life, of love and forgiveness?
And then, it is said, that a single red egg surfaced. This egg was to become the symbol for joy, ecstasy, and shouts of proclamation.
Some say that the red egg goes all the way back to Mary Magdalene, who dipped an egg into the blood of Jesus and kept it with her for a time to remind her of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for her and for the love and forgiveness that she felt.
Some say that the red egg appeared when Mary traveled to Rome and obtained an audience with the ruler Tiberius Caesar. As was the custom, Mary brought Caesar a gift—a pure white egg and gave it to him with the words “Christ is risen.”
Tiberius Caesar responded with the words “God could no more raise Jesus from the dead than turn this white egg red.” And the story goes that at that moment, the egg turned red.
No matter what the origin of the red egg it became a symbol for early Christians whose voice of joy had been silenced by those who did not want to hear the words of life. The faithful would carry eggs in their pockets and as they met on the streets, they would pull out the eggs and gently tap them three times for the words “Christ is risen.”
I confess that I have never experience a time when I could not shout those words of joy—“Christ is risen!” But we know, especially after yesterday that there are still places in this world where those words of joy are not welcomed and not encouraged.
Today, I find myself wanting to send thousands of red eggs to anyone whose voice is shushed and silenced, especially those families who are victims of the violence that seems to have overtaken our world. I want the red eggs to bring hope, to be a symbol that there is still reason to celebrate Christ risen from the dead. I want all of us to realize that when violence disrupts lives, we all suffer because through Christ we are all brothers and sisters.
But, my friends, here is the kicker. Despite the violence that once again has descended upon our world, Christ would want us to make proclamation with deep and profound love in our hearts for all people because Christ has deep and profound love for all people. Now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves Christ gave us a commandment to love one another. He didn’t say love the ones who look like you or think like you or speak or act like you. He said to love one another, period.
And, my friends, that loving is difficult to do, but we must try. We must try over and over again and again, for in reality, that is the best way to proclaim: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”
To God alone be glory!