Easter March 27, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Alleluia, Christ has risen! The lord has risen indeed, Alleluia!
Happy Easter everyone! A beautiful Oregon spring day, rain showers today and sun showers on their way for Easter Week, harbingers of the summertime glory that is to come.
Easter. The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Alleluia! I don’t know about you, but it feels like has been Lent for a long time. Reading the paper, watching the news, or closer to home, just driving around town, seeing our poverty leaking out on the streets, or even closer, in our own homes, so much anger, resentment, pain, real suffering… It has been Lent for a very long time… The illusion, the American illusion that all is right with the world, that all must be right with the world, the American illusion that personally and as a nation we are, we must be on top of the world… that illusion is tattered in the winds of time and the unrelenting progress of reality. I so often feel like we live in a Lenten world; in a Good Friday and Holy Saturday world, where suffering is the specialty of the house, where death happens, tombs stay full and the dead stay dead. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here! And that’s the end of the story.
But sometimes… sometimes when you come to that tomb, when you come to what you assume to be the end of a story, to what you think is the end of your story, sometimes something is different. Sometimes things aren’t always what you think, aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes the story isn’t actually over.
Take Mary Magdalene. Talk about living in a Good Friday world; her whole life was that. No one ends up in prostitution because everything is hunky-dory. Poverty, deprivation and desperation lead people to that life. But then she, as outcast as you can get, right there with collaborationist tax collectors and lepers, she is taken in by this Jesus, a rabbi, the Son of God. She is welcomed to His table, invited into His inner circle. Another chance, or maybe a first chance, maybe the first chance anyone had ever given her in her entire life. What a dream! A way out was laid before here. And then Good Friday happened. The Cross happened. And her savior, her really real savior, this man Jesus, He, her dream come true, Word made Flesh was dashed on the hard wood of the cross.
So there she was, at the tomb, doing what so many women find themselves doing, some job, some dirty, smelly, wretched job that no one wants to do but someone has to do. So often work like this is left to women, another strike against the patriarchy. She shows up at that tomb, so clearly an end to a story, what will be the end of each of our stories, she shows up and… it’s empty.
The story had a bad enough ending, death on a cross, but now, even His body was gone! An unmarked grave, a body never recovered; no finality. What a world. What a world! What a terrible ending to the story.
But it was not the end of the story. Resurrection happened. Alleluia!
What the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us, what the empty tomb teaches us, what the Resurrection teaches us is that all of this, all of this that we see, that we smell and hear and feel, all the conclusions we come to, all the final answers we have arrived at, all that we think we understand about God, the world and everything… it is not the end of the story. Defeat, suffering, death, even an empty tomb, they are not the end of the story.
All of that happens. Pain happens. Suffering happens. Death happens, all the time, it will happen to me, to you, to everyone, maybe it is happening to you right now, but what this story tells us, what the Cross teaches, what the Passion and Resurrection, what the whole Christian story reveals to us is that pain, that suffering, that even death itself stops here, at cross. The story, our story, your story doesn’t end in sickness unto death, not in Christ, not after the Resurrection, not in our Easter world. This, all of it, all that you think you know, all that you think it is, it is not the end of the story.
Now obviously pain, suffering and death happen. Of course they happen. They will always happen. I’m not Buddhist; I don’t think that suffering is simply an illusion, but with the Cross, in the wake of the Resurrection, in the loving embrace of the Risen Lord pain, suffering, even death exist, but they have no power over us. How? Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. In the mystery of His Body and Blood, He teaches, He shows, He is the truth that all of it, the pain, the suffering, even death itself, it is not the end of the story. And I am not talking about heaven.
Do you know the words that St. Julian of Norwich said, “All will be well, all will be well, every manner of thing will be well?” What if you grokked that? What if you for certain knew that that was absolutely true? That no matter what the diagnosis is, no matter what the marriage counselor recommends, no matter the nightmares you have from all that stuff that happened to you, what if you also knew that “all will be well, all will be well, every manner of thing will be well?” Can you imagine? Can you imagine being free of fear, like really free of fear? Fear that we all feel. Fear of feeling pain, fear of feeling suffering and anguish, fear of death? What if you weren’t afraid of death, like in a sober, mature, self-actualized way? You’d be invincible. Knowing that you will feel it all, Jesus doesn’t offer a rose garden, but not dreading it? Doing what needs doing without fear of the consequences? Well, you might be scared, Jesus was, Peter was, all the saints are, but still they went forth. Isn’t that perfect freedom? Isn’t that salvation?
Again, I am not saying that you will not die. You will. I am not saying that you won’t suffer, that you won’t feel pain and loss, you will. We all will, we all do. But what I am saying is that in Jesus Christ, in surrendering yourself to the Risen Lord, in emptying ourselves, in becoming obedient as Jesus did, you will be free, not of suffering and death but of the FEAR of suffering and death in all its forms.
Jesus defeated death, like actually defeated death. Resurrection happened. And we hold out that hope of the resurrection, in the end, but not in a way that you could put in your date book. Jesus though, in His Passion and following glory of the resurrection, put the power of death, the power of the fear of death to flight, vanquished it, for us, for you. That’s why we shout, Alleluia! So, “Alleluia!”
Knowing that, knowing Jesus and the saving grace He offers… it is not an easy gift to receive. It takes a lot of work to get there. A lot of study, a lot of prayer, a lot of failures and starting over, a lot of faith, a lot of practice. We get a taste of the Resurrection today, Easter; the rest of the year is the work of making it stick, of brining it from our heads into our hearts, and from our hearts to our hands were we offer that grace back to the world. This is a great gift we are given, a pearl of great price, and not without cost.
That’s kind of a lot for an Easter morning. Particularly if you are not here most Sundays; particularly if this is a make-your-mom-happy kind of morning. (Bless you for that if it is). It is kind of a lot but then, Jesus is kind of a lot. His story is kind of a lot. Truly though, our stories are a lot, our lives can be kind of a lot, kind of a lot to face, even on a glorious Easter morning like this.
There is so little that we really understand about the world. Any of it. Like 90-something% of the mass of the universe is unaccounted for if any of our physics equations are to balance. That’s humbling. There is so little that we actually know about anyone else, even the people we most closely share our lives with. You have no idea what is going on in someone else’s head or heart. You can learn something new about anyone every day. That’s humbling. There is so little that we actually know about ourselves, our true selves, the made in the image of God true self right in the core of your being. “Know they self” has been a longing since before Plato, way before, and we don’t. Talk about humbling. But this, all of this, our ignorance even, that’s not all there is. Like pain and suffering and even death, that is not the end of the story.
There is an obscure little line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge that Martin Smith has as part of his Easter experience. Martin was once the superior of the monastic order Windy and I worked for. It goes:
“If a man should pass through Paradise in a dream,
and have a flower presented to him as a pledge
that his soul had really been there,
and if he found that flower in his hand
when he awoke – Ay, and what then?”
I’ll quote from an Easter sermon Fr. Martin wrote 20 years ago, picking it up at the end of that poetic fragment… “It seems to me that this is what the empty tomb is like for us. Paradise, the paradise of God, of eternity, of peace, is a dream. But one morning a group of women and men woke up in a garden and found in their hand the flower from Paradise, the sign that we dream what is there, what is waiting for us, what is absolutely real. The empty tomb, the folded cloths, these are the flower we wake to find in our hand each Easter.” That’s good, isn’t it?
All of this. All that you know and think you know. All the pain and pleasure, suffering and joy, life and death, it is all so very real, and it is not the end of the story. There is always resurrection. Happy Easter everyone. AMEN