An Easter App

The big news of the weekend – some would say the unquestionably good news of the weekend – is the release of the iPad, which went on sale at Apple computer stores yesterday.

Now, I realize that the regular congregation here at Saint Mark’s is more of letter-writing, land-line, rotary-phone, send-a-telegram group of people, who fondly remember party-lines and 6-cent stamps.  So I am counting on you folks who are not always here – you techies who, like me, gave up your land lines years ago, and can vaguely remember what a stamp looks like - to fill in the knowing laughter, and perhaps explain to your befuddled neighbor (who knows exactly when to kneel and when to stand, that’s how you can tell they are regulars here) what in iPad, an iPod, and an iPhone are.  You may also have to explain to them what an app is.

OK, I’ll try.  An app (short for application) is a feature of an electronic device that does something cool – like an alarm clock on your cell phone, or a calculator, or a GPS navigation feature, or a list of all the restaurants that serve Easter brunch within a block of where you are going to church.  You want to know where to go to eat after Mass?  There’s an app for that.

The story is told of an American man who was trapped in the rubble in the earthquake in Haiti who realized he had a First Aid and CPR app on his iPhone, which he used for instructions in treating his wounds, to stop the bleeding.  He also set the alarm on his iPhone to go off repeatedly so he would not fall asleep and go into shock. And he wrote letters to his family on some app or other, lest he should not survive, to tell them he loved them.  The man says that God gave him the tools he needed to survive, which I believe, but some will contend that it was only Steve Jobs.

All this i-excitement got me thinking about whether or not there is an app for Easter.  And I am an iPhone user, so I checked.

There is a Way of the Cross app that guides you through all 14 Stations of the Cross (99 cents).  There is a Good Friday app, which provides devotional material (99 cents).  There is an Easter Egg Painter app (Free) that “allows you to choose any color or size brush to paint a realistic Easter Egg….  When you are finished you can take a screenshot of the egg and send it to friends and family.”  There is the Easter Bunny Tracker app with an “interactive globe and radar map” to “add to the realism as you track the exact whereabouts of the Easter Bunny as he travels thousands of cities the night before Easter.”  It also allows you to “communicate with the Easter Bunny via text” (99 cents).

A search for a Resurrection app turns up nothing very useful – some video games, a Leo Tolstoy novel, something called “The Way to Heaven” which turns out to be a prayer that was revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden and “has 5 promises for those who recite this prayer for 12 years.”  It costs 99 cents, but there must be an app that helps you attain those five promises in less than 12 years, and it’s probably free.

All of which is to say that there is nothing meaningful in the way of an app for Easter.

What would a good Easter app do?

As the women who approached Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning worried about who would roll away the stone, they might have consoled each other with the assurance that there’s an app for that, though how it works would remain a mystery.

In fact, much of any real Easter app would remain shrouded in a bit of mystery.  It would take time to realize exactly what is going on.  There’d be confusion and uncertainty at first.  There’s be the questions about what happened to Jesus’ body, about who had taken it away and why.  There’d be a scramble to get the men and begin a search.

But then there would be some kind of alert – maybe a “He is Risen” ring tone – that would send Peter and another disciple toward the tomb to see it empty, and the linens lying there, but would leave them unsure, and send them back to their homes to re-think.

A real Easter app would work better for women than men, since the Gospel tells us that they were the first to the tomb, and the ones who were brave enough, even in their confusion, to stay there and try to do something.

And it would have a feature for those who weep, as Mary Magdalene did outside the tomb.  There would be consolation for lost, unhappy, troubled souls like hers, who thought they had found in Jesus some hope, but now began to believe that all that hope was lost, not only buried, but now stolen, too.

There’d be some way it calmed fears, as the angels calmed the fears of the women to whom they appeared, all dazzling.

And there’d be this clear message that turns the world more or less upside down: “Why do you look for the living among the dead.  He is not here, but has risen.”

Why do you look for the living among the dead?  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Is there an app for that?)

An Easter app would not only cause spring flowers to bloom, gentle rains to fall at night, and the sun to shine brightly in the daytime.  It would not only bring healing to those who suffer, and strength to those whose healing is not to be given in this life.  It would not only repair broken relationships, bring an end to grudges, and offer forgiveness to hurts inflicted long ago.  It would not only replace the gloom that so easily falls over our hearts, our souls, and all the world with joy…

…  I myself would like to believe that an Easter app would also bring a conviction about the importance of doing something to curb carbon emissions, working to bring an end to warfare, and claiming the right of every American to have affordable health care, but it turns out that’s a White House app!

A meaningful Easter app probably would have some sort of tracking device.  Not to enable us to follow the movements of the Easter Bunny, but to lead us to the graves of every beloved, parent, child, sibling, spouse, and friend.  It would allow us to weep as we made our way there.  But soon there’d be a dazzling light, and the warmth of the sun, and the voices of two men, who frighten us at first but quickly calm our fears, as we dry the tears from our grieving faces, and hear them ask us what they asked Mary Magdalene all those years ago: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

This Easter app would leave us confused, stunned, unsure of how to respond.  But then it would speak in a voice unheard before, but strangely known to us.  And it would say your name to you, and mine to me.  You would turn, and I would.  And the app would somehow help us see the risen Jesus standing there, knowing us, and known by us.  That’s what an Easter app would do.

About five months ago, I ditched my old cell phone and got an iPhone.  I had been planning the move for months, since it meant switching from my old perfectly good cell phone company to AT&T, about which the less said the better.  I was so excited to be amongst the glitterati of iPhone users.  I immediately downloaded an app that helps me keep track of where I park my car, another that is a pitch pipe, and another that makes Star Wars light saber noises when I move my phone around.

May I confess to you that my life has not been changed?

And I am willing to bet that as excited as they may be, all those new iPad owners this weekend will soon discover, that wonderful though it may be, the iPad has not really changed their lives either.

A real Easter app would do that.  It would change your life, by giving you strength where you have been weak, healing where you have been sick, hope where you have known only despair, light where you could see only darkness, forgiveness where you could not find it or give it, joy where you knew only sadness, love where you could taste only bitterness, and, yes, life where you could only find death.

But there is, in fact, no app for that. There is only Jesus.

And if any of us came to church this morning uncertain as to why, thinking perhaps that we are only here remembering something that happened a long time ago, but which, historically speaking, is a little hard to prove.  If we came here remembering that the church chose this time of year for Easter because it meshed nicely with Jewish and pagan customs, of which the bunnies and the eggs are also reminders…

… this morning poses a question for you: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Or were you only looking for an app, something a little cool to make today different?

Is it disappointing to discover that there is no app for Easter?  There is a sermon – which is not quite as cool as an app, and maybe about as useful

But there is no app for changing our lives, making all the things that are wrong right, all the things that are sick well, all the things that are dead restored to new life.

For that there is only Jesus.  And he is not to be found among the dead.  He is to be found among the living, which means here, with us, now. 

Only Jesus, risen from the grave, not among the dead, but among the living.  Calling my name and yours, hoping, expecting to be recognized, known and loved.

No, there is not app for that.  There is only Jesus, and he is not among the dead, he is risen, he is here.  Thanks be to God! 

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

Easter Day 2010

Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on April 4, 2010 .