Let Jesus out! Let Jesus in!
Each year, as we come to the celebration of Easter, I am reminded of my favorite Easter story—a favorite because it is about children, and the particular enthusiasm that children can bring to any story, especially to one that’s been around as long as this one.
The school was getting ready for its annual Easter pageant. All the children who were participating were asked to choose which part they would like to play. Suzy chose Mary Magdalene; Sammy and Johnny, together, wanted to be the donkey; and so forth.
The teachers were amused as they watched the enthusiasm of the children grow as each part was assigned. When it came for Jimmy’s turn to choose, there were not that many roles left, but he happily wanted to be the huge rock that sealed the tomb.
After the pageant was over and Jimmy was going home with his parents, his mother expressed how let down they were that he didn’t have a larger, more prominent part in the play. Jimmy, however, was bouncing excitedly all over the back seat, obviously thrilled with his performance in the pageant.
Finally his mom asked, “Tell me, Jimmy, why are you so happy about being the rock to the tomb? Wouldn’t you have liked a bigger part to play?”
Jimmy replied quite innocently, “Oh no, Mom, just think!” I’m the one who gets to let Jesus out! What could be better?”
Now, when that first Easter Sunday started, I think the lead characters felt pretty much like they were in a tomb—a tomb of unrelenting sorrow, disappointment, perhaps feeling let down, angry, and fearful lest they be arrested or even crucified like Jesus.
Then you have the story of Mary Magdalene, who decides to go to the tomb before the sun comes up. And what does she see? The stone was rolled out of the way! Someone had opened the grave to, as the young boy in the pageant put it, “let Jesus out”! But this is not what Mary concludes. To her mind the body is gone, and she has no idea who took the body, nor where it might be found. As one author recently put it, “Had she been able to call 911 she would have.”
Soon, however, Mary and the Apostles and some others would encounter the risen Jesus, and they would understand the significance of the empty tomb. The stone had indeed been rolled away and Jesus was “let out”. Cruelty had tried to stamp him out and failed. Corrupt authorities had tried to silence him and failed. Suffering and sorrow had tried to stifle hope and failed. Death tried to bring an end to humanity and failed.
And now, those who had been entombed in depression, despair and dread could not be silenced. The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus, and for the rest of their lives, they had to let Jesus out! And so it has continued, day to day, generation to generation, to our own time. Their job has been handed on to us: we have to let Jesus out of the tomb!
Have you lost someone you loved? Jesus is out of the tomb of death and defeat. Let Jesus in! Are you experiencing some kind of sickness or suffering? Let Jesus in! Do you suffer from loneliness? Let Jesus in! Are you depressed because you find it hard to forgive yourself for something you did? Let Jesus in!
Those first believers who had the courage to let Jesus out never changed their story: Jesus is risen, they proclaimed. Even when they were threatened with persecution and death, the proclaimed with their dying breath: Jesus is risen! They sold their possessions, they helped the poor, they ministered to the sick, they took care of orphans and widows, strangers and homeless people. They fed the hungry and spoke up for the voiceless. They came together with joy and hope. They worked for peace. They changed the world by letting Jesus out. They changed everything by convincing others to let Jesus in.
And so, on this Easter when so many are in desperate straits, in Ukraine, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in hospitals and nursing homes, in places where Covid is raging, in places where there is no justice or peace, let us make Easter real—not just a memory, but a reality. Because of our faith in the Risen One, let us continue to let Jesus out of the tomb by helping to let him into the lives of those who so desperately need Resurrection.