Eight years ago, my wife, three month-old daughter, and I travelled to New Mexico to celebrate my paternal grandmother’s 90th birthday. My dad decided to make a big deal out of it, so he invited every family member he could think of—brother and nephews and nieces and cousins and all their spouses and ex-spouses, children and step-children. There were people there whom I don’t think I’d ever met, though some of them swore they’d played with me when I was a child. I’d say I didn’t know at least half of them, if not more.
What struck me about that gathering was that I was a member of an amazingly dynamic multidysfunctional family system. Further, I suddenly realized that the only person there who maintained a good, healthy, and loving relationship with every single other person present was, in fact, my saintly 90 year-old grandmother. And when that dawned on me, I was dumbfounded. I spent the rest of that weekend watching how she showed love to each of them, some of whom were pretty sketchy characters in my book (and I in theirs, no doubt).
A couple of the more bizarre examples should suffice, though you’ll have to forgive me for not thinking in advance of printing a family chart in the bulletin: At this party was my father’s brother Clifford, the elder son of my grandmother. He was there with his second wife, Billie, and his ex-wife, Mary, also came. Mary brought along her grandson Andreas, but his father, my only first cousin on that side, Stephen, was noticeably absent. Mary’s daughter from her first marriage, Janice, my step-cousin (who, by the way, was estranged from her mother) explained that Stephen and his girlfriend had broken up before she discovered that she was pregnant. Mary then invited the ex-girlfriend to move in with her, and did not tell her own son that he was about to be a father! Eventually, he found out, but not from his mother! When the boy was born, the ex-girlfriend gave him her last name, so while he had a Humphrey father, he had almost no contact with him!
At the party itself, here were all sorts of avoidances: Mary was steering clear of Janice, but when they accidentally bumped into each other, Mary said, “I remember you,” and moved along. My own mother avoided my father’s second wife, and so forth. You probably have your own, even more colorful examples.
The thing that amazed me, though, was that as this hurricane of broken relationships swirled around the room, at the eye of the hurricane sat my grandmother, embracing and kissing and laughing with everyone. Her family reunion was glorious, because she, not we, made it so.
But what does my grandmother’s family reunion have to do with Jesus’ resurrection? Well, this is Easter Sunday, and many of us have family and friends from out of town, or you are visiting here from out of town, or perhaps some of us live here and don’t go much to church, except maybe on Christmas and Easter. If that’s true of you, you’re probably expecting something of a hint that you should come more often. I would certainly like it. But then again, I’m more churchy than most people.
Whether you’re the churchy type or not, today, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, is for many a day of family reunions. And when you look at your family, even if it’s not as bizarre as my own family of origin, you probably have had your share of family drama hurricanes in your own lives. Perhaps you are battening down the hatches in preparation for more later on today over Easter Brunch or Dinner! (I should add by way of full disclosure that even if you are deeply committed to and involved in church, this certainly doesn’t mean you’ll be drama-free as a result. Heck, most people here could testify to exactly the opposite, because most churches function—and dysfunction—just like families do.)
So today is a day of family reunions, and if you find yourself in a swirl of sturm and drang today, don’t sweat it. Such is life. Remember that every hurricane has its calm eye, and that with a good Doppler radar system, you can navigate safely into it, and abide in it, as it were.
For Christians, that Doppler radar system is the Gospel, found in the Scriptures and in its faithful proclamation in word and deed. The eye of the hurricane, of course, is God, and at the heart of the Christian mystery of God is the Risen Lord, who comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
My grandmother was the eye of the hurricane for my family, and thus an icon of God’s love in Christ for my particular family. If he is not so already, Jesus can be the eye of the hurricane for you, as he has been for me, and for many in my family, and for many of us present today. And for those who had once abided in that eye but drifted back into the stormy waters, we are invited here today through Word and Sacrament to re-center ourselves on the Risen Lord and his power. He was the One who calmed the seas and the raging storms, who walked on water, and who conquered death and Hell for us. By his resurrection, Jesus weathered the worst storm the powers of Hell could churns up against him, and assures us that he will be and is with us in and through the worst storms that Hell churns up against us.
So whether your family reunion today is a hurricane or turns out to be one of smooth sailing, may we here and now, in this ark of the Church, enjoy a pleasure cruise, and with it, partake in the heavenly banquet, the Supper of the Lamb, a foretaste of the eternal family reunion to come, when all storm shall be no more.