Sunday, April 17, 2022
By: David May, Rector
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Last night, the liturgy for the Great Vigil of Easter began in the parking lot. The service began by lighting the Christmas tree that had stood here in the church at Christmas time. At Christmas, that tree had been adorned with ornaments the children of the parish had made representing God’s Story: creation, the fall, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Sarah hoping against hope for a baby, and Moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. We burned that tree last night that exploded into a roaring pillar of fire to kindle the first light of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and to light the new Paschal Candle burning right there.
It used to be odd, a novel thing to have church in the parking lot. But after the two plus years we’ve been through, it felt pretty normal. Remember, we celebrated Easter morning last year in that same parking lot with pods of people in lawn chairs inside squares we’d painted on the gravel so we could be spaced out safely.
At the Vigil service last we night, we were back in the parking lot again. But then we travelled behind the light of the new Paschal candle like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, like our own wanderings in the wilderness these past two plus years, along the sidewalk and beneath the bell tower and up the stairs into the dark narthex and travelling on into the dim nave and came together in this church in our pews, gathered around this Holy Table beneath that mighty Cross for Easter; like we are now.
Maybe we haven’t arrived at the actual Promised Land, but it’s pretty close – we’re finally home together on this Easter morning!
So before anything else – to be together like this for the first Easter morning in this church in three years, having travelled so far together to be here now, I want to say, ‘Thank You, God!’ You can say it too or you could just give this preacher and Amen!
And what you may sense in your own spirit now in this coming home to this place on Easter morning is only a foretaste of the coming to our everlasting home in Jesus that lies ahead of us at the end of our days as the hope and promise of his resurrection.
Today we remember that hope as we hear the story of Mary Magdalene who discovered Jesus empty tomb and her confusion and grief til at last a mysterious stranger called her by name – ‘Mary’ – he said, and she knew he was alive and something more than alive – he was the source of all life. ‘I have seen the Lord,’ she told the other. And she knew that at the end of our days there is light and love and living. And that when we are someday lost in the wilderness of death, the Good Shepherd will come and find us and call us by name too, and carry us past death home to the heaven of God’s heart.
And if that were all there were to say about the hope that Easter day tries to give us, that would be everything. But it’s not.
The truth is, for most folks, I suspect, our hope that death is only a gate to heaven is not the hope we think about on most days. Most of our daily hoping is simpler, human stuff. We hope for things that sound like this: I hope my kids won’t experience pain and rejection today. I hope I can pay the bills this month. I hope my father will someday not be so rough on me. I hope that there’s somebody out there who’ll have a kind word for me today. I hope the pain from my arthritis won’t slow me down to much today and make me bitter. I hope I won’t embarrass myself today. I hope I’ll feel at home in my own skin someday and not feel so awkward and self-conscious all the time.
I think that’s probably where most of us live, most of the time. Simple hopes.
The ancient Christian words that try to describe what happened that day long ago speak to our eternal hope that past death there is light and life but also speak to our simple, daily hopes. In the Nicene Creed, we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Now what I’m about to say sometimes gets people cranky, but stay with me for a minute. We do not say in the Creed that we believe in the immortality of the soul. We don’t. And here’s why. The immortality of the soul means that the soul not only will exist for ever, but has existed for ever. But only God has existed for ever. Only God is God. And we humans are creatures, bodies made alive and living by God. We are not spirits trapped in bodies. The only way we know ourselves, and the only way God knows us is in our bodies. That’s how he made us to be. Barbara Brown Taylor has said that our bodies are the address of our souls.
Our bodies are sacramental expressions of all of who we are, and all of who we are is what shall be raised up in heaven.
Think about that face of yours that you’ve seen a million times in a mirror and that is till sort of mysterious to you so that sometimes you see yourself in the mirror and think ‘that’s me?!’. That is what is raised. Or those old scrapes and cuffed up places on your elbows and knees—those are raised too. Those feet that have walked you around this world (and deserve a lot more respect than they normally get!), they are raised. Those hands of yours that have both been instruments of comforting caresses, but also instruments of punishment. Those hands are raised up and redeemed too. Those eyes of yours, which beheld a baby in your arms, but also saw horrible things you can’t seem to un-see. Your very eyes are raised up and redeemed.
And not just the body we can see and feel, but also those deeper unseen parts of who you are—that heart of yours that sometimes loved inexpressibly well and sometimes withheld a love you meant to give, but didn’t—that is raised up too. That deep well of our being that we call our soul that knows the sound of the voice of the Good Shepherd but sometimes played deaf, that is raised.
All of who you are, all that makes you you, that never was before you were born, but by Christ will be raised, and redeemed, and carried in the arms of the Good Shepherd into a green pasture by the heart of God.
We believe in the resurrection of the body—that place you live in and have your being: your home—that you that God created for you to be you in is what is raised to a perfect living—warts, wounds, wonders, all of it. Remember, the Lord himself bore the wounds of the Cross beyond the grave. That is what is raised.
The tomb was empty—because all of who Jesus was, was raised up by the Father. And so, it is his promise, shall all of you be raised. Amen! Alleluia!