From the Bishop: Easter 2018
Easter Day – Year B
And Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was [him.]
– From the Gospel According to St. John
I know that you carry a lot of extra stuff with you into the church on Easter morning. Some of it can seen: fancy dresses, new shoes, great hats, cards and gifts and candy, the skeptical friend or relative, a check for the church … a posy. But the biggies – the stuff we carry here with us today that is really substantial – are all the invisible things that we bring here with us.
Like any great holy day: Christmas, a wedding anniversary or a birthday – we greet this day and come to this place with a ton of memories. I remember dazzling Easter outfits to celebrate this day, including my first ever necktie – a snazzy red, white & blue striped clip-on – that was part of an ensemble Johnny Whitaker peddled to his young fans in about 1971. I remember dying eggs, and how those tiny grey and brown tablets would dissolve into brilliant, shimmering glasses of pure color, a rainbow on the kitchen counter, that made the house smell like vinegar for a whole day. I remember long Easter egg hunts both in and out-of-doors and how I used to beg my mom to give me hints about where to look, because she and dad hid the eggs too well. One year in response to my pleas she told me to “go blow your nose” about ten times, before I realized that that was the hint! The egg was in the bathroom tissue box.
My memories beyond childhood shift to church and the dinner table. I remember serving the altar as a high school kid and always feeling welcome in that work even though I was prone to asking snotty questions of the priests and to wearing bright purple sneakers that poked out from under my acolyte robes. I remember my first Easter in college – and having to find a phone book and call all around town to figure out where an Episcopal church might be and at what time they might be worshipping on Sunday morning.
I remember seminary, and gathering around our apartment table to which each of our best friends brought the Easter dish from home that they missed the most. Nathan brought “butterhorn” rolls from Maine and Lisa brought chicken curry from Dallas and Sara brought a lamb-shaped cake from Chicago covered with coconut for white fur and adorned with a single red jellybean for a great bulging eye. We all come this day with such memories. A potent brew from the past that we carry with us all the time. Memories of which we are particularly cognizant on a holy day like this.
We shoulder a lot of hope on Easter too – lugging it into this place and to all the different gatherings to which we may travel later on today. Our hopes run the gamut. For some of us, it’s all we dare to imagine that we’ll get through the day without some calamity rearing up in the hours ahead. Some of us will be happy if the new Easter pants don’t get ripped in the churchyard after the service, if Uncle John can just restrain himself from drinking so much wine at dinner that he starts insulting everybody, if the weather holds so that the drive back west on Interstate 80 isn’t awful. Some of us hope for more than just averting disaster. Maybe Tom will make the connection in Pittsburgh and make it to brunch after all. Maybe the weather will stay nice and the yard will dry out and the kids will be able to run around outside a little bit. Maybe dad will feel well enough to come to the table and sit with us…
Maybe the sermon won’t be too long!
We shoulder a lot of hope on a day like this – we lug it around this place and everywhere we’ll go.
The other thing we carry around this Easter morning is pain. In these last few days around here, a boy took his own life and a beloved father died after a long illness. A wife filed for divorce and an old friend lost her car insurance. A dad is fighting cancer every day and a daughter has a bad cold. A business is failing, and a beloved teen is seriously messing up in school. And that’s just the stuff I happen to know about.
The truth is that it’s a rare human life that’s not touched by some kind of sadness or hurt at any given moment. If you have friends and if you are serious about trying to love others in your life, then you will be heartsick and blue on many days. Even Easter mornings.
We carry a lot of extra stuff with us into the church on Easter morning. Some visible. Some invisible. But we’ve definitely got our hands full.
We can only imagine that on that very first Easter Day – the one we heard about in this morning’s Gospel reading – Mary and Peter and the others, came to that tomb with their hands full too. They may have been carrying burial ointments and spices to prepare Jesus’ body which they’d been unable to do in their haste to get him into the grave before sunset on Friday night. They may have been carrying memories: of Passover celebrations from better times … of traveling, eating and serving on the road with their friend … of all the wise things he said and did in their short time together. They were certainly bearing some extraordinary pain. At the death of their friend. At the scary and tortured way in which he died. At their own failure to stand by him at the end: falling asleep in the Garden, denying him at the palace, even the awful knowledge that one of their own inner circle had betrayed him to the authorities.
And hope? Maybe. A little. Maybe they hoped the guards would leave them alone as they prepared Jesus’ body? Maybe the hoped the Sanhedrin would be satisfied with destroying Jesus, and would let his followers be? Maybe they hoped their old jobs would still be open when they returned to their homes? We can only imagine all that those disciples carried on that first Easter Day.
It’s a weird thing that happens when Mary meets the risen Jesus on that first Easter morn. I don’t know if you noticed what happened when we read that part of the story this morning? Mary is crying at the empty tomb and wondering whether someone has stolen Jesus body. And then, the story says:
She turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. And Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” And supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” And she turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni?”
How can this be? Mary was one of his best friends. She’d known him for years. You know what it’s like when somebody you love has just died – not recognize them if they rose from the dead and spoke to you? Good Lord that’s what we dream of in such moments. That’s what we yearn for with every fiber of our being.
Partly Mary is surely overwrought and overburdened. Her load is too great and she is too saddened and too frazzled to she what’s happened. But more that that: Mary does not recognize Jesus because he is changed. Jesus has been transformed somehow by the experience of living and dying and rising from the dead. Jesus is not the man he was! Like a reticent church-goer who gets talked into going on a mission trip and comes back a whole different woman. Like a gravely ill man who fights his way out of the hospital and back to health only to discover that all his priorities are different now … the risen Jesus is changed. He is not easy to recognize. And that is still true today.
He’s here beloved! Right here in our midst in this little old church on this Easter Day. But like Mary we come here carrying to much stuff that we may be too burdened and frazzled to know him when we see him. With so many preoccupations and expectations and pains and burdens and regrets and “should haves” and shame. And so much sadness. And so many hopes and dreams and expectations grounded in nothing but fantasy, maybe we’re distracted from the amazing truth: he is risen. He is alive. And he is present in this particular holy and transforming moment. He is with us in this right now.
Some years ago I heard an Episcopal priest preach about resurrection at the Washington National Cathedral. Father Andrew Wyatt said in part that belief in the resurrection happens by faith:
Not what is asserted against reason as an act of will, but what lifts us into just and compassionate strength when reason can take us no further…
This is the realm of hope. Not what is wished for to escape our sullen despair, but what is affirmed as even now becoming true before we perceive it…
This is the realm of love. Not what is bartered in the marketplace of personal desire, but the promotion and protection of each other far beyond mere justice … whose cost to our self is not even notice in our good will and active delight in all God’s cherished and fragile creatures.
Christ is risen. And he can be present for us, and ours lives can be changed way beyond our hopes and dreams, if we but have the eyes of faith to look for him here.
He is risen when we gather in church parish halls every Sunday, welcoming strangers like long lost brothers and sisters, with coffee and treats and an earnest desire to connect with each other and support one another in a way that will make life better.
He is risen in our schools & workplaces when we make amends with someone we’ve hurt: when we summon the grace and courage to face our fault and say we’re sorry and set aside our self righteousness and petty need to always be right and always look good.
He is risen at our bedsides, when we have the faith to pray. When we remember to credit thank God for the great blessings of our lives. And perhaps even more, when we somehow find it in our hearts to pray in the worst moments of our lives.
He is risen when we can smile and laugh with a dying loved one at their sick bed. He is risen when we shout “Alleluia” on a funeral day.
He is risen when we come to the altar rail every Sunday. When we kneel down, and bow our heads, and dare to hope that plain old bread and plain old wine really could be transformed in this place … really could become for us food with power to nourish us like nothing we’ve tasted before, giving us forgiveness of our sins, strength in our weakness and everlasting salvation.
He is risen right here and right now. And he is calling you by name. Mary, Debbie, Sarah and Michael. Anne and John and Andy and Doug. Kurt and Melissa and Teresa and Dan. Chase and Joe and Rosanne and Ethel.
He is calling us by name every one, inviting us to let go of everything that keeps us from knowing him, and loving him, and being with him today and every day. He’s calling us by name and inviting us to see what happens when we look through the eyes of faith, and join our voices with angels and archangels and saints and martyrs and all the company of heaven, shouting out the news for which we long … for which we live: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
+ Bishop Barker