Easter 2019 - "Let Us Not Mock God With Metaphor"
This is it folks. The Day of Days. The Moment we've been waiting for...
We dressed up and came ready to party, am I right? I mean I feel that way, don't you? It's Easter Sunday, people, and I'm wearing my bow tie.
In our Presbyterian tradition, we get all giddy with our liturgy even in the worship services where we don't do all the formal things. And so that's why when I say, JESUS IS RISEN, you will respond by saying HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Visitors be like... Man, these Presbys are flat crazy. Why yes... yes we are.
Just so we're clear... just so we're clear... We are celebrating the impossible. That's why we get all crazy. We are celebrating the impossible. Because it's impossible that someone would die, be buried for three days and then rise again. Impossible.
And that's the Big Question for so many people---including some of us who just lost our minds shouting. "The Resurrection really happened right?"
Or we could pose the question like this: If there was a movie camera set up outside the tomb, what would it have recorded?
How would you imagine it? Did he walk out? Was there nothing but a bright light? What?
The Gospels tell the story from different perspectives, which leaves us with a lot of possibilities. In two of the accounts, there is one angelic being, in one account there are two. Matthew records an earthquake and the guards falling on the ground like they were dead.
But there are two constants in every account: The stone in front of the tomb is rolled away. And Jesus ain't there.
But still... This is the sticking point for a lot of people. Maybe even for some of us who are here today: The whole thing is mysterious, wonderful, amazing and... sometimes very hard to understand.
Because Resurrection is impossible, right?
I want to be clear here... for my part, I believe that the Resurrection really happened.
And I believe this with a kind of fierce joy---the kind reserved for the most incredible kinds of belief, the kinds that thrill you--like the moment before you jump off the high dive at a pool or a really, really big rock on the side of a lake. You don't know exactly what's at the bottom, but you leap anyway out of faith.
I once read John Updike's poem Seven Stanzas At Easter and it lit me up with that kind of thrill.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Something struck me when I re-read this poem and talked about it with my wife Merideth. We were pondering the materiality, the earthiness of this moment. The very physical impossibility of it. And Merideth said something so profound.
She said that Jesus wasn't raised from the dead because God had to. God wanted to raise Jesus from the dead to show us that the impossible was possible. That death doesn't get the last word. That this is not the end...
You see, God desired the Resurrection to show us that matter, matters. We matter to God because we've been created lovingly by God. And God never... ever... gives up on what God lovingly creates.
So that leads me to this: What if... What if... Resurrection wasn't just something that happened? What if Resurrection was something that keeps happening? What if the Resurrection of Jesus was the moment when God said, "That's one... the first one... of many"? And what if there are signs and symbols of Resurrection all around us all the time?
And here's where the rubber meets the road with my talk today: What if the signs of Resurrection that are all around us all of the time... what if they are meant for us to see and to believe?
Here's what I want us to know today: Resurrection is real, and God is still in the Resurrection business.
Our conversation partner today comes from the Gospel of John chapter 20 verses 11-18. Let me set the scene:
In this version of the Resurrection story, John places Mary Magdalene at the tomb early in the morning where she discovers the stone of the tomb rolled away. Without looking inside, she rushes back to the disciples and finds Peter and John, who immediately set off in a foot race to the tomb.
Theologian John Dominic Crossan calls this the Apostolic Olympiad. At any rate, they both look inside and see that the tomb is empty except for the burial clothes that Jesus had been wrapped in when he was placed there earlier.
They run off back to the other disciples and leave Mary there weeping:
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
What John is trying to say here is this: There's a difference between SEEING and RECOGNIZING the Resurrection.
Mary saw Jesus but didn't recognize him until he called her by name.
I just need to put this in here. Mary is the first preacher in the Early Church. She was called, ordained and commissioned to deliver a sermon. All of these churches that still refuse to allow women a voice from the pulpit or a place at the table in church leadership needs to read this story closely, can I get a witness?
So here's a question that I need to ask. How often do we see and not recognize Resurrection?
How often are we so focused on our own junk, our own busyness, our own grief, our own mess that we miss the moments where God is breathing new life into moments where all hope seemed lost... Where God is raising up what was left for dead in our lives, in our past, even in us...?
How often do we see, but not recognize?
And what changes for us when we finally do? When we finally begin to wake up to the knowledge that God is still in the resurrection business, what happens that makes that realer than real?
I believe it's when we feel known.
And when we are called.
Let me explain.
It's not a coincidence that Mary fails to recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. Up until then, the sight of him, even the sound of his voice fail to bring any signs of recognition for her. When he speaks her name, however, her eyes are opened.
One of the most essential needs of human beings is to be known. When we feel known by those we love it speaks to us on a deep, deep level.
When you realize that your beloved understands you completely and wholly, it's a feeling that is hard to describe. When you receive the perfect, most thoughtful gift, you feel it within your very bones.
And when you realize that there is something/someone out there in the Universe that seems to be reaching out to you, seems to be showing you that what you thought was dead in your life was only mostly dead...
When the tragedy of a loved one's death brings your family closer...
When you find love again after a horrible, contentious divorce that left you feeling left for dead...
When you lose your job and then discover new things about your own resilience that you never knew existed...
When you realize that you are sick--maybe even sick to death... but you discover peace that you never thought possible, and love you never imagined...
I mean I could go on and on here---but it's in those moments when you open your eyes to see just how personal, and physical, and gritty and real it all is and you realize that the eternal, universal, Resurrected Christ is speaking your name. Because you are known.
But you are also called.
Just like Mary, you are called then to bear witness to the Resurrection you've recognized. Listen, you can't go back to your old life when you've had your eyes opened. You can't return to the way things were. That's why Jesus tells Mary not to hang on to him.
No, you are called to move forward into the world because when you realize that you are known, you also begin to see that you have been called, ordained and commissioned to be witnesses.
You may not know everything about all of this. You may still struggle with believing that it really happened. But one thing that you will never be able to say once you hear Jesus calling your name is that it isn't real for you.
My prayer for you today is that you will open your eyes to the signs of Resurrection all around you. I pray that you won't just see the signs, but that you will recognize them for what they are: love letters to you writ large in the world.
Notre Dame cathedral - video of fire, and of people singing Ave Maria. Then photo of cross and altar.
Daniel Berrigan - Resurrection is the "hope that hopes on."
I pray that you leave this place today with a new sense of Christ's presence in, through and all around you. I pray that you hear your name, and know that you are called.
Resurrection is real. And God is still in the Resurrection business.