Easter Sermon ~ Cicadas: Better Than a Million Bucks!

Scripture Lessons Isaiah 65: 17-25

John 20: 1-18


I hate to tell you this, but you’re in the wrong church. I know, you walked right in here, at the corner of Summer and Seminary streets to the First Presbyterian Church. And, WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE HERE! But, you might be better off this Easter if you had walked into the Bay Area Fellowship (okay, it’s in Texas) because/but they’re hosting a gigantic Easter give-away that includes, I kid you not, flat-screen TV’s, skateboards, Fender guitars, furniture, gift bags valued at $200, and get this … 15 cars! The total that they’re giving away is $2.5 million! At least, that’s what they DID back in 2010.[1] On Easter! Can you believe it? And, to the church’s credit, the pastor did go on record as saying, “our hope was that the greatest give-aways would go to someone who had not been to our church ever before!” Other churches have done similar things to follow suit.


Now, just for the record, leaders in our church did not even CONSIDER giving away flat screen televisions, tablets, or, for that matter, even little TOY cars (get up and leave now if you must!). Perhaps, because, the story of and the gift of the resurrection are GIFT ENOUGH THEMSELVES, at least for today! (Not to mention some little teaching of Jesus’ about not storing up treasures on earth where moth and rust consume!)


Perhaps this story’s enough for today:

Mary goes to the tomb, sees that the stone’s been rolled away, and tells the disciples. They don’t even change out of their sleeping clothes before going running. The details draw me right in, imagining the disciples stumbling over themselves toward the tomb. Who would get there first? The beloved disciple looking in but, for some reason not going in. Peter sinks into the Jerusalem tomb, perhaps not unlike his sinking into the Galilean waters as he stepped out of the boat…in some semblance of faith…and there…he sees it…the ABSENCE of what’s expected! Peter sees the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed! Somehow, it was nothing. It was, ironically, the presence of an absence? Peter and the Beloved Disciple returned to their homes. But Mary STAYED…Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. (Where did THOSE come from?) She speaks, first, with the angels, then Mary sees someone she MISTAKES for a gardener… “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” “Sir,” she asks him, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Using her name, “Mary!” Jesus called to her. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).


And sometimes the promises are told in a whisper. It’s not necessarily something flashy and larger than life like a free car give-away but a simple, quiet promise of an empty tomb that makes all the difference in the world.


I often wonder if Mary had to lean in close to hear that Gardner Mistaken For Jesus… and that we have to lean in close, sometimes, too? For some Easter Sundays, we proclaim it from the mountaintop! Sometimes it’s bigger and larger than life with trumpets & other brass – and other times, it’s quiet, good news…the form of a whisper, an empty tomb with some little white cloths and a pair of angels appearing out of nowhere.


Barbara Brown Taylor had a lot of time in the woods when she was a girl. At night she would line up her treasures gleaned from nature on her bed … “fat flakes of mica, buckeyes bigger than shooter marbles, blue jay feathers, bird bones and – if she was lucky – a cicada shell.” A cicada was one of those dry brown bug bodies found on tree trunks when every 17 years the locusts come out of the ground to sing all summer before laying a new batch of eggs and dying.


Most of us are intrigued when we find the abandoned shell of the cicada. At first glance, it looks like the actual living insect until we look more closely and recognize it’s only an empty shell. It looks like the once-living cicada as if it was photographed in sepia tones of brown and tan. Without the actual insect inside, the brown outer crust accepts and reflects the light but it is hollow having lost the living shades of the greens and blues that reflected the presence of the cicada itself. When we find them on a tree or in the yard, they are stiff and brittle. Barbara Brown Taylor says as a young girl she would put one in her hair or attach it to her sweater and wear it to school to scare away those girls who were prettier and more popular than her as a kind of retribution for their cruelty to her for being plain and nondescript. They were horrible to look at, she says, “with their huge empty eye sockets and their six sharp little claws.”[4]


But when you look at them close enough, you realize you are holding a miracle of resurrection in your hand. They look dead but they are not. They look like the insect itself but in reality they’re only the shell of the original living creature. Taylor writes that even though she might find one of their shells and wear it to school, if she paid attention at night before she fell asleep, she could hear the cicada singing one of their night songs in the trees just outside her bedroom window. The slit in the back of the shell was proof positive the cicada had escaped and all that was left was the empty shell that had previously housed the living creature.


Sounds like an Easter Jerusalem tomb me, with nothing inside but emptiness and absence, at least in terms of Jesus…and a whispered promise. It’s a matter of intentional observation when we look and see nothing. There’s always “something” to look at, but when the mind takes it all in and claims there’s “nothing,” it means there was once “something.” Mary saw and her mind told her the space that once held the body of Jesus was now empty and all that was left were the clothes he was buried in.


Taylor goes on to claim the resurrection was the only event in Jesus’ life that was entirely between him and God. No witnesses … no one to testify what happened behind that rolled in stone. The next morning, they came in ones and twos at first, then a crowd who gathered at the tomb and wondered. But, everyone arrived after the fact. One saw two angels, two of them saw clothes; most of them saw nothing at all because they were still asleep.


Using the bugs of the forest, we can see that the resurrection, the empty tomb was the cicada shell, slit nicely down the back. That which had once inhabited the shell was gone. Jesus had outgrown the shell – now considered too small for his work in the world.


You see “nothing,” but really it means that there is “something.” There’s something there that we can’t quite figure out how to hold onto…but it’s there nonetheless, this miracle AMONG US. That’s the mystery of the resurrection @ Easter – something that we’re exactly certain of and…..not quite sure of all at once. What was it there in the tomb? Linens, angels, a gardener, Jesus? Yet, like that cicada shell, there IS something afoot, something at play…something to look at.


If you’ve been “around church” during Lent…or followed what we’ve been writing, reading, and studying, you know that we’ve been exploring the Lenten journey as a journey in and through whatever wilderness is our life. A weekly song that we sang, by Michael Card, contains this line, “wandering in the wilderness is the best way to be found.”

So now, this Easter, perhaps EVEN WE can be found by God. The Resurrected Christ takes refugee and finds a home right WITHIN US…perhaps in the empty space that we have or make in our own life. Perhaps it’s RIGHT HERE that the resurrection will take root, because it has to take root SOMEWHERE to be worth its weight. That IS (at least part of) the miracle of the resurrection that it takes root right within us, those who trust in, believe in, and live our life in and through the resurrected Christ.


[1] Thanks to Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church, Missouri, for his April 4, 2010 sermon connecting this story and the Barbara Brown Taylor content.

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