Easter C - April 4, 2010
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
Why do we seek the wells of salvation, the water that will never leave us thirsty, in a graveyard? Why do we torture ourselves hanging on to that which was and that which might have been, when up ahead of us beckons the risen Christ, calling us forth into new life?
I've talked a lot this Lent about letting go of that which does not nourish me, of that which does not give me life.
On Easter morning we visit the tomb where we laid to rest the broken body of the One we thought would save us. This One is dead, can no longer save us, but still we return. Where else would we go? Perhaps we just want to honor this One who meant so much to us, who touched our lives so powerfully. Perhaps in our deep grief we have that desperate hope that we will find that the past few days have been only a bad dream.
And this is a good thing -- honoring our grieving. We anoint the dead body with sweet-smelling spices, because bodies matter. We attend to the tombs of those who have gone before us to say, "I have not forgotten you. The effects of your life did not cease when you breathed your last."
And sometimes it is in graveyards that we find peace -- that we are able to reconnect with the spirits of those who have gone before us in ways we can't do so in the noisy hustle of everyday life.
But we do not actually find our loved ones in graveyards.
We must not seek the living among the dead.
Yes, living water will spring up anywhere -- this morning we recalled that God fed the Israelites in the desert with water from the rock.
But we are called out into life.
There's an old hymn that goes: "We serve a risen Savior -- [S]he's in the world today." We serve a risen Savior. And Christ is in the world today.
We are Christ's body in the world. The body that was broken on Good Friday has been re-membered in us, the Church universal.
Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,We are the Body of Christ in the world -- co-creating God's vision of peace and justice for all.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
Christ has no body now but yours
At Cambridge Welcoming's Good Friday service, the cross on the altar was draped with black mesh, which reminded me of nothing so much as a widow's veil. And so if Christ is the one who is mourning, then it is Christ's bride -- the Church, that is to say, us -- who is wounded.
So often we cannot find our way out of these graveyards, and Christ mourns for us. Mourns for Her lost sheep who cannot hear Her calling their name, who cannot see Her light beckoning them on, who cannot feel that sweet tug of Spirit leading them through the garden.
The angels proclaim, "Do you not remember? You were told that this is what would happen. There would be death, but there would also be resurrection." Yet how often are we like the eleven and the rest, thinking this merely an idle tale?
We are called to be witnesses to resurrection.
On the first day of the week, in the deep dawn, the women came to the tomb, and they found that that which was to keep it safe from all who would defile the memory laid there had been rolled away, and the One whom they came to honor was gone. And the light of the Word of God came upon them, and they bowed their faces to the ground, and words filtered into their understanding through their fear -- "Why do you seek the living among the dead? The One you seek is not here but has been raised. Remember? You were told that this would happen. You knew." And the women remembered. And they told those others who were mourning Jesus. They proclaimed the Good News to those who most needed to hear it. And they were not believed. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.
Even when we are not believed, sometimes our words have an effect -- sometimes they still move people to resurrection despite their dismissal of us.
We are called to proclaim resurrection truth.
Which means we have to know the resurrection ourselves.
When we are in the graveyard we have to be able to recognize the presence of those light-bearers -- those whom we in no way expected to encounter. We have to be able to receive their message. We have to be able to move through our deep grief, to cast back into the waters of our memory and dig out some of the buried truths that we know -- for our grief is true and real and valid, but it is not the only truth we know.
Last year, Tiffany exhorted us to "practice resurrection." She talked about how resurrection is not resuscitation, is not just breathing life back into the old, but is rather a radical transformation.
I've talked a lot in Lent about how it's scary and difficult to let go of our old ways, but that God calls us to do so because God has such newer and greater things for us.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, "I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating." No more shall anyone have cause to weep or be distressed. No one shall die in infancy -- all will live to healthy old age. People shall live in the dwellings they build, shall eat of what they have planted -- no longer will people be sharecroppers, feeding someone else's luxury while living in scarcity themselves. People shall enjoy the work of their hands. This new Creation does not mean the end of labor -- but it means the end of labor that is not fulfilling.
The apostle Paul says, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:19). If we thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government, to become a new king like all our earthly rulers only better, we are so so mistaken. We saw this King of the Jews nailed to a tree like so many other rebels against the Roman Empire before and since. We heard the taunts and jeers directed at this One as death drew closer through the pain and anguish. We saw the disciples huddled in the distance, scared to be associated with this One. We felt the midday darkness descend and the veil of the Temple rent in half. This was not a triumphal earthly revolution, but it was an overthrow all the same. God has not come to make the best out of broken systems, but to effect radical transformation -- like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.
According to Wikipedia, there are two main types of metamorphosis in insects -- a gradual kind where the youngster is a smaller, less-developed, form of the adult; and a complete kind where the youngster is wholly transformed. Wikipedia cheerfully informs me that insects which undergo this complete metamorphosis "pass through a larval stage, then enter an inactive state called pupa, or chrysalis, and finally emerge as adults. [...] Whilst inside the pupa, the insect will excrete digestive juices, to destroy much of the larva's body, leaving a few cells intact. The remaining cells will begin the growth of the adult, using the nutrients from the broken down larva." That is some radical, radical change.
And perhaps this is some of what the anguish of Good Friday, and the quiet fearful waiting of Holy Saturday, are about.
All that we had before is turned into pulp -- but from those nutrients grows something new, something more mature, something with capabilities its predecessor never dreamed of.
Two weeks ago, on Lent 5, I commented that: In Trina Paulus' book Hope for the Flowers, we learn that in order to become a butterfly, "You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."
On Easter Sunday we are confronted with an empty tomb. All that we thought we had known and loved is gone. But there is something new in its place. For we are never abandoned, we are never forsaken.
We return today to Psalm 118, which we read some of last week, on Palm Sunday. Both Sundays we are exhorted:
O give thanks to God, for God is good; God's steadfast love endures forever!Know, believe, and proclaim, that God's love endures forever -- endures even through death.
Let Israel say, "God's steadfast love endures forever."
Paul tells us that for as all die in Adam and Eve, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22).
The resurrection truth is for ALL people.
The resurrection is for you, and for me -- for all who are gathered here this moment and for all who are not.
Receive again this message of Easter hope. Receive it, and believe it, and stake your life on it.
Live the resurrection -- being a witness for all who need it.