Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Question

How many times have you heard the Easter story?  What is happening in your life this day which makes it possible for you to hear the story as if for the very first time?

Lessons from a Crooked Tree

In my part of the world, dogwood trees bloom at Easter.  My Sunday Church School teachers told an old Christian legend to explain why: 

“See those four petals?  How they form a cross?  Notice that there is a mark of shame at the tip of each pedal. The lumber used to build the cross on which Jesus was hung was from a dogwood tree.  Now in Jesus’ day, dogwoods were tall and straight and strong.  The dogwood was embarrassed to be used in this way, so it shriveled itself into a small tree with a twisting trunk.  Never again could it be used to kill one of God’s children.  The dogwood’s petals not only form a cross, but they have dark marks on the ends as reminders of Jesus’ wounds.”

In my part of the world, dogwood trees are among the first indicators that new life is happening.  They assure us that the death associated with the winter has been pushed aside.  Their blooms brighten our yards and our lives, reminding us that nothing will stand in the way of God’s goodness and promise of new life.  That crooked tree is a powerful witness to the Easter promise of hope beyond despair.

Singer and song-writer Molly Tuttle recently came to my town.  She has a song which reminds me of the strength, beauty, and power of a small and twisted trunk.  Her music video, “Crooked Tree,” is posted on YouTube.  The lyrics celebrate what we too often consider of lesser value.  Lumber mills demand tall, straight trees and turn them into profit, Tuttle celebrates crooked trees (and people) who “won’t fit into the mill machine.”  In the lyrics one finds a reminder that the Easter message lifts up those of low degree and champions those who embrace their God-given individuality.   

In my part of the world, dogwood trees bloom at Easter.  And they encourage each of us to bloom, too.  They teach us that what others may value is not always what God values.

Discussion Questions

  • No tree grows perfectly straight.  Can you figure out some of the reasons why?
  • Some think the world is less than what God intends when force everyone into the same mold.  Do you agree?
  • Name some of the “really different” personalities who have helped you  or simply brought deep joy into your life.

Resurrection of Our Lord

Acts 10:34-43

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Luke 24:1-12

John 20:1-18  (Alternate)

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

For a desolate and haunting place, Jesus’ gravesite sure attracted lot of people.  Many of our congregations will read from Luke on Easter; others will read from John.  Matthew and Mark also recount the events of Easter morning.  In each, there are a lot of folks present.  

In Luke some characters are waiting when the visitors arrive.  We often call them “angels,” but that is not what the Bible says.  Its designation is “men.”  Yet there is something different about these “two men.”

Verse 11 states the obvious – the Easter story seems  to be an “idle tale.”  Perhaps the writers of the Gospels included as many eyewitnesses as possible in order to overcome the tendency to dismiss those telling this improbable story.  When others  bear witness to the something I want you to accept, it becomes more believable.

Another line of note is verse 8;  “Then they remembered.”  Jesus had tried to tell them what was going to happen, but words don’t have the power of experience.  What experiences have you had since, you last heard the Easter story, which make it possible for you to hear and remember what God is doing in your life?

The earlier references to dogwoods and crooked trees in this Faith Lens lift up another aspect of the story.  The events of Easter do not erase our individuality.  Each of the Easter morning characters are, well, characters.  Peter confessed Jesus as Lord and then immediately argued with Jesus over how best to save the world.  Mary Magdalene had been the host of seven demons.  Characters each.  And they are our witnesses to the Easter events.

Too often we see the story of Jesus as one which tries to make us into perfect replicas of something we are not.  The Easter story bursts forth with reminders that it is the unique and distinctive traits of person each which give these events their eternal significance.

By His death and resurrection Jesus destroys the  death of failing  to experience the beauty and the blessings of our uniqueness.   Your particular voice is beautiful and needed.  Use it and bear witness to the wonder of Easter.

Discussion Questions

  • Among the characters present on that first Easter morning, which tends to make it most likely that you will accept the things described?
  • Make a list of the ways in which the life of Mary Magdalene differed from that of Peter.  What stands out?  What impact might their life experiences have on their seeing an empty tomb?
  • The Church teaches that eternal life  has already begun, that it is more than something which happens after death?  How is eternal life is linked to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
  • What religious, political, or social pressures make it hard for you to stand firm in your individuality?

Activity Suggestions

  • Take a good, long look at some trees.  Ask a few questions about what makes a tree grow the way it does.  Perhaps invite an arborist (tree specialist) to talk to you about the unique characteristics of different trees (like why we use oak for furniture but tend to use pine for building walls).
  • From a distance, soak up the beauty of a bunch of flowers.  Maybe your congregation has dozens of Easter Lilies around the altar.  Now, look more closely at one individual flower.  Compare it to an adjacent flower.  How are the similar?  What makes them different?
  • Ask your teacher or pastor why there are four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  Ask what makes each of these different from the others; what is it that each gives us that would be missing if we only had three?
  • In anticipation of Pentecost Sunday, identify those who are least likely to know that the Easter story is intended for all.  Speak with those persons and share how the events which lie at the center of the Jesus’ community affirm our uniqueness.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God, it was upon a tree that you were hung and left to die.  We confess our complicity in that horrible mistreatment of your truth and your promise.  Deepen our awareness of the endless ways in which your resurrection sets us free and sets us on a new path.  Amen.