A sermon for Easter Day
Acts 10:3443, or Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8
Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect. In the 1st century death was much closer to home. It was not unusual for what we call graves to be at home or in homes. It was also customary for family members to prepare bodies for burial. This is still customary today in some parts of the world; it’s a traditional and religious rite that complicated stopping the spread of Ebola. So it is not unusual for Jesus’ family and friends to tend to his body. They will have spices, and a linen shroud. They know that after three days well there may not be a stench, but the tomb is likely to be unpleasant. These ladies are witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, they know how their beloved’s body looks ~ they know it will be unpleasant. Death is common, a family experience. Burial is common a ~ family responsibility. Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect.
I know what to expect. My dad’s a retired doctor. In high school I worked weekends and two summers in the local hospital, primarily in the Emergency Room. I was on teams that drilled holes in skulls to relieve pressure on the brain, that worked at a vigorous pace to save young lives smashed in traffic accidents. I was present when kids my age died. I was present when children died. In seminary my CPE time was at the Veterans Hospital in Atlanta. I’ve served as a volunteer chaplain in every hospital in every city I’ve served. I know hospitals. I know ICU units. I know what to expect. Part of a lung has been removed, the incision will not be three little laparoscopic spots, there are chest tubes, oxygen tubes and multiple IV’s. I know what to expect.
Mary, Mary and Salome don’t talk about how they are going to go about their responsibilities. They are concerned about the stone that traditionally seals a tomb’s entrance. In another Gospel Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener they know or should know someone will be there, why else the mistaken identity?
To get to G’s room, you go down the hall, and turn left. For three days, at every left hand turn, my first physical motion was to the right.
Mary, Mary and Salome know the stone can be moved, their concern is a distraction. I know my left from my right, right is a distraction.
The human brain is remarkable. It has developed ways to protect us from all kinds of danger, physical and emotion, actual, and possible. It’s why we reflexively react so quickly to quick shadows or flashes at the very edge of our peripheral vision, or jump at sudden noises. Neuroscience is learning that our experiences actually build brain structures. Danger and risk create structures rapidly, contributing to our survival as a species. Happy and joy create structure, far more slowly. And all these structures can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s why children are afraid of lions and tigers and bears, without being taught. A stone, and mistaken direction are brains trying to protect us.
Mary, Mary and Salome don’t see what they expect, what they fear. The stone is moved away, the tomb is open. And Jesus isn’t there; who is there, seems to be an angelic being with the astounding message that Jesus, once dead, is raised, and that he expects the disciples to meet him in Galilee. And yes, fear is an element of their response, but so is amazement. They came expecting death, what they experience is life, and hope beyond expression.
After correcting myself, I made my way around the nurses’ station and looked the short distance across the ICU to far corner to the open door, of a darkened room. With every step the soft light reflecting off the back wall the combine light of LED’s and displays of numerous devices add a gentle muted illumination. With every step her face grows clearer and clearer. Quietly I exhale. Slowly, softly one considered step at a time I allow myself to move into her presence. What I see is her sweet face, relaxed, her hair loving brushed, and soft breaths.
Even knowing what I know, I ‘m not sure what I expected; what I see, is my daughter precious, full of life. What I see is a smile break across her face as her eyes open and she recognizes me. There is no fear like amazement. There is relief, there is life, there is hope.
And that is why we are here today. We all know life is full of dark, dismal abysses. Death, in all its many guises is ever present. It’s why we turn right, or flee the unexpected. We here today to have written in our hearts the light that is not over whelmed by the dark, the dazzling which triumphs over the dismal, the divine relation that bridges the abyss. And like our Eucharistic sacrament, it is far more than a celebratory memorial. This is a reliving, this is a divine rewriting on our hearts and in our minds that the love of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus is always present. Sometimes it is manifest as a displaced stone and a mysterious young man, sometimes it is manifest in a softly illumined smile, and sometimes, who knows, save its always there, the prevailing joy the triumphal hope for all forever and that sings Alleluia.