Sunday, April 13, 2014

Resurrection Sunday. An Easter Homily for 4.20.14

Resurrection Sunday
Easter Homily for 4.22.14
John 20:1-9 
Year A
(revised from a homily first posted 4.8.12)

Darkness covers the land; early morning still waits for the sun to show itself. Perhaps, the morning birds have just began their songs.

We see a lone figure, a woman, walking on a dusty path, and through the murk she worries: "Who will move the stone from the grave tomb so I can anoint my friend?

When she arrives at the tomb she is brought up short -- the stone has been moved for her! She moves to go inside and discovers, to her horror, that someone has stolen the body!

The text reads: 
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him."
That was the cause of great concern, so much so that St. John tells us:
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Someone must have stolen the body; they had to have stolen the body because he's gone and everyone knows: Dead is Dead.

I don't have to tell you, death is the great bringer of fear and dread, do I? Death means the end of sunrises and family and smiles and nature, and knowing, especially knowing. Death is, well, the end of all. Death is the thing that brings us to our knees. Death overcomes all hope and eventually makes us cower, cornered in fear and loathing. Everyone knows this! To both the ancients who wrote and read these words, and to we post-moderns as well, nothing could be more sure than death.

And so it was with Jesus. His followers had hoped that he was the promised one of Israel, but they now knew this was impossible. They now knew, beyond any doubt, that Jesus of Nazareth had been politically executed by the Romans, and he was not Messiah, for how could one follow a dead Messiah? Jesus was dead, beyond all doubt dead. And to them the dream, the miracle and messages, were just as dead as their leader...

And yet...Something is not quite right.

The burial clothes weren't quite right. The cloth covering the face was setting by itself. And why would a body-thief bother to take them off at all?  (N.T. Wright)

St. John writes:
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.The New Living Translations interprets these verses 8-9 like this:Then the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed -- for until then they hadn't realized that the Scriptures said he would rise from the dead.
From these small clues, the other disciple (who is John) believed that Jesus had risen from the dead! So he begins to shout it out loud and rejoice? Well, no. Verse ten tells us, 
"Then [Peter & John] went home." 
 Say what? They went home? How could this be? But, really, this makes sense.  Even though John believed (and maybe Peter, too, although we aren't told),  he is quiet in what he believes. Remember, dead is dead, and who would believe him?
JOHN: "Jesus is alive!" OTHERS: "Really! How do you know?" JOHN: "The grave clothes we arranged funny." OTHERS: "Oh. OK, sure John. You'll be alright..." 
Our text actually ends with verse nine, but I want us to wander a little farther into the story. Let's hear what John has to tell us about Mary, for you see, Mary didn't go home:
Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. "Why are you crying?" the angels asked her."Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him." She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize him. "Why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?" She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him. "Mary!" Jesus said.She turned toward him and exclaimed, "Teacher!"
 Mary is crying because, well...that is what you do at tomb where they've laid a friend, especially when some fiend has stolen his body. When I think of all the tombs of all the ages and all the tears and all the broken hearts, I am undone; I really am overwhelmed.

But, suddenly, Mary looks in and sees men at the foot of where Jesus was lying in death's repose. They ask: 
"Why are your crying?"
Why am I crying? I can almost see Mary's incredulous look: 
They've taken the dead body of my LORD, and I can't find him."
Suddenly she glances over her shoulder and sees the gardener, who asks her:
 "Who are you looking for?" Mary says: "If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him."
To which the gardener replies, 
and immediately, at the voicing of her name, she recognizes the sound. It's Jesus' voice. It's Jesus' sound! He's alive! 

Oh Brothers and Sisters, can this be true?
Can death, that great bringer of fear and dread, really have been defeated? Were we premature to say that we are at the end of sunrises and family and smiles and nature and especially knowing? Have we fallen to our knees too soon, doing death's bidding by cowering in fear and loathing before we have heard the rest of the story? 

Here, then, is the message: Death does not have the final word! Empire and evil cannot hold the fear of death over our heads, causing us to corner-cower and do their bidding. Jesus, who is the Jewish Messiah, by the power of the HOLY Spirit, has broken the power of death. Jesus who is the one and only Son stands victorious over the bonds of sin and death. 

Oh, Brothers and Sisters, have you too heard the one who knows your name? Have you too heard that voice calling you that speaks true-truth through the ages, finally coming to you with the subtle whispers of hope? 

Can you hear his words? "
"Death, where is your sting?" "Grave, where is your victory?"

Brothers and Sisters, this is a day of rejoicing; this is the day to weep, but not as those who have no hope! This is the day to sing and praise and be thankful, for the LORD is alive, and because of that everything has changed, everything is made new.