Easter Sunday Sermon 2010
For the last month or so, every Wednesday night, a group of us have gathered here to hear a member of another faith talk about their belief system. And from each one, we’ve taken a little something – like going with the flow (Taoism), taking a day each week to rest and renew (Judaism), appreciating the many aspects of God (Hinduism), looking more for our commonalities than our differences (Islam), reaching inside to find the compassion and love that resides within each one of us (Buddhism).
It sometimes happens when you learn about other things; you gain a new appreciation for your own thing, whatever that is. During Lent, I’ve come to appreciate more the particular way in which we as Christians experience the Divine. Because, in no other religion that we studied does God come directly to people. No other wisdom figures – not Confucius, not Mohammed, not Buddha – claim (as Jesus claimed, and as his followers continue to claim) that they actually ARE God. They might offer a path toward a more loving, more compassionate, more thoughtful, more just or more grounded way of being. But as Christians, we are unique because our God comes right toward us to live among us in the person of Jesus.
It’s unique to us, and so we have reason to treasure this, but it’s also hard to understand, hard even for those who knew him best to understand it. This is why Mary, when she sees Jesus, tries to grab him. But she cannot. This because Jesus is fully divine – fully a god-person. That’s why she calls him a new name. When she sees Jesus and thinks she knows him, she calls him “Teacher” but later she tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” With those words she says she recognizes he is more than teacher, healer, friend. He is a godperson.
Of course, he did have an earthly life, and these are some of the facts we have about that life: he was born into poverty and danger, at the age of 30 he became a wandering preacher and healer, whose radical message of love and inclusivity was so threatening to the powers that be that church and state worked together to have him killed. Which, they did in the most horrible possible way.
And then, what happened next? The details are sketchy and difficult to corrobatorate from gospel to gospel. In every gospel, people are always running back and forth from the tomb, trying breathlessly to explain something that cannot be explained to people who cant or wont believe them. I guess there’s a reason we don’t have Easter pageants, the way we do Christmas pageants. (hat tip Frederick Buechner) How would you act out all that confusion?
In spite of the chaos of the narratives, we do know this. The disciples (who had known Jesus as their friend, their companion on the road and around the dinner table, as a healer and teller of parables they only half understood) those disciples saw Jesus again after he died and understood something for the first time. He was not just a man. He was God, too. He was not just God, he was a man, too. And they saw him, this Godperson, even after they thought he had died.
Now. You know what your grandmother looked like, even if she died before you born, because you have a picture of her. A photo feels like a kind of immortality. Don’t they (whoever “they” are) always warn us that the picture our college roommate posts on Facebook will live forever? The science fiction show Caprica, takes that idea to the extreme, and characters do live after death when all the computer images and information about them is collected and collated in a parallel, virtual reality and those computer characters – called avatars - are now people brought to life.
So we can imagine, perhaps, that we know things about immortality that Jesus’ friends did not. After all, we have the pictures. But Facebook is just a snapshot of your life; in Caprica there is something very wrong – hollow and cold – about the computer avatars; and even that photo of grandma has got an expression on her face that no one ever saw on her in real life. Jesus, when he rose, was real. Real and alive.
Which is even more amazing, more mindblowing and incredible when you consider how he died. Rita Nakashima Brock says that “the Roman Empire used crucifixion against non-citizens, the under-classes, and slaves, and it was regarded as so shameful that even families of victims would not speak of it. The victim was left hanging naked and exposed to the elements. Bodies were left to rot and be eaten as carrion until nothing was left to bury, with no place for a memorial to preserve a person’s identity.
Crucifixion was designed to destroy an entire existence, so that even the names of the crucified were erased from memory. But the early Christians broke the silence about the shame and terror that crucifixion instilled. They spoke explicitly about Jesus crucifixion, the torture that preceded it, and his death.”
But that’s not all. Jesus died quickly and with dignity, speaking words of forgiveness and promise even from the cross. His friends removed him intact and buried him properly. They encountered the risen Christ in a garden, along the shore, breaking bread, and telling them to go home to Galilee. These loving details proclaim that those who thought they were in control had no power to erase Jesus from memory, to deny his humanity, or to end his work for justice, healing, love and peace. (previous 3 paragraphs adapted from this article)
The last words of today’s gospel have a potency that far exceeds simple declaration. When “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” she was really saying, “The empire has tried to destroy Jesus and our memories of him, they have not; Rome has tried to frighten us into silence, they cannot; those in power want to end this movement and think that they have done so by eradicating its leader and they will not.”
He’s more than our teacher. God came to us and met us where we are and as we are. God suffered like we do and loved like we do. And the most powerful thing we can do is to speak of it, as Mary did, to say “I have seen the Lord.”
Those words can never be taken from us, no power on earth or in heaven -- not political authorities or church authorities or even death -- can destroy them. Wherever Jesus’ words of truth, healing, love and justice are spoken, the risen Christ is there. Christ is there whenever we speak against violence done in his name. Christ is there when grown children, abused long ago by priests and denied justice by a corrupt church system, refuse to be silenced. Christ is there in you, with you whenever you say those simple, those incredible words: “I have seen the Lord.”
When might you say them? When have you experienced the risen Christ in your life? When have you experienced a moment of truth, of healing, of love or of justice that spoke so loudly that it could not be silenced? Maybe in nature, with friends, listening to music, or in another time when your mind and all within you was quiet. Might even have been in church. When you feel that, hear the voice of the angel in your ear whisper, don’t be afraid. And then, proclaim it: I have seen the Lord!