April 16, 2017--Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday Meditation
The Rev. Andrew Philip Long
After all the activities and festivities of Holy Week and Easter, two priests decided to go to Hawaii on vacation. They were determined to make this a real vacation, so they left their cellphones and computers at home, recorded away messages on their office phones, and had the mail held at the post office. The two priests also decided that they were not going to wear anything on vacation that would identify them as clergy: no clerical collars, no black shirts and suits, no robes…nothing that would mark them as priests.
As soon as the plane landed in Hawaii, the two priests headed for a store and bought some really outrageous shorts, shirts, sandals, hats, and sunglasses. Surely, in these wild clothes, no one would recognize them.
The next morning the priests donned their loud tourist garb and headed to the beach with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. A short time later, one of the priests looked up from his book and noticed a very beautiful woman walking down the beach. Now being godly men, the priests did their best to keep their eyes on their books. But as the woman passed in front of the two men, she looked at each, smiled, and said, “Good morning, Father…Good morning, Father” and continued down the beach. The priests were stunned. “How in the world did she know we are priests?” one asked the other.
The next day the priests went back to the store and bought even more outrageous outfits. Surely, they thought to themselves, no one will recognize us now. They headed back to the beach, drink in one hand and a book in the other.
Sure enough, a short time later, one of the priests looked up from his book and noticed the same beautiful woman walking down the beach. And again, both men kept their eyes on their books. But as the woman passed in front of the two, she looked at each, smiled, then said, “Good morning, Father…Good morning, Father.”
One of the priests couldn’t stand it any longer, so getting up from his chair he chased after the woman and called out, “Just a minute, young lady.” “Yes, father,” the woman said turning to the priest. “My friend and I are priests and proud of it, but dressed as we are, how do you know we are priests?” Lifting the bouncy hat from her head and removing her sunglasses, the woman smiled and said, “Father, its me, Sister Kathleen.”
On this day of days, on this day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, on this day when salvation becomes ours to claim; on this day of baptisms and confirmations and celebration and song and prayer; on this day of memories and family and bright light and beautiful flowers…how will people know that we are disciples of the risen Christ? When our worship comes to a close inside these hallow walls today, and we enter back into God’s world, how will people know that we have heard the most miraculous news? When the buzz and hum of Easter settles, and it will, how will the world know that we have been set free from sin and death? Will it be in what we wear, how we look, or some other external characteristic, or will it be in what we say and do, by how we show love, and by how we commit ourselves to ministries of compassion and justice? I think the answer to that is quite simple.
The answer, however, was not so simple for Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. These women thought they knew the end of the Jesus story. At great expense, they collected spices and ointments so they could go and perform one final act of compassion for their teacher and friend. Early on the first day of the week, the women walked quietly to the place where Jesus had been buried. On the way to the tomb they had wondered who would roll away the stone at it’s entrance. When they arrived, they were amazed to see that the large stone door had already been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a man robed in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been laid. They were terrified! But the man said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
The women thought they knew the end of the Jesus story. They were there when Jesus rode into Jerusalem; they were there when he flipped over the tables in the temple; they were in the background as Jesus ate in the upper room; they were there when Jesus was sentenced to death, and they were there as he walked out of the city with a cross on his back. Huddled together, they watched as Jesus wrestled in the throes of death, and they watched as he died, as Jospeh of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body from the cross and buried him in a garden tomb. The women thought they knew the end of the Jesus story. Death; they thought death was the end of the Jesus story. And because they thought death was the end, thy went to the tomb to care for Christ’s body, mourn their significant loss, then get on with life.
But when the man told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that death was not the end of the story, the woman were gripped by fear and terror, amazed and not in a good way. All of their expectations and assumptions were shattered. Everything they knew had suddenly evaporated into thin air. All they could do was flee from the tomb, ignoring what the man had said to them. They told no one about what they had seen or heard. Silent, filled with fear, wide-eyed in terror—this is how folks knew the two Marys and Salome. The community recognized the women as followers of Jesus, not by what they did or said, but by the eery silence that held them hostage after seeing the empty tomb.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, just like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, we watched and waited and listened from the time Jesus entered Jerusalem until the moment he took his final breath on the cross. We were there when he cleansed the temple and we sat at table with him where he shared his body and blood. We watched a kangaroo court sentence him to death, and we watched as Pilate condemned Jesus to death and released the criminal Barabas. Just like the Marys and Salome, we thought we knew the end of the Jesus story; we thought that Jesus was just another revolutionary who clashed with the empire and lost. We may have even, at great expense, gathered everything necessary to honor Jesus one final time, ready to get on with life as usual. And just like the Marys and Salome, here we are this morning and Jesus is not there, he is not in the tomb, our assumptions were wrong, our expectations have been misguided.
We have a choice today: we can go away from the tomb as the women did, or we can finish this story in our own way. We can either go away from the empty tomb in fear, or we can go away with songs and celebration and a totally new commitment to the way of Jesus Christ. Right at the point where the women fall silent, we have an opportunity and sacred duty of speaking up, speaking out, standing up, and living out the good news of this day. Where the women were known by fear, wide eyes, and amazement, we can be recognized as followers of Jesus who are different: who live and love differently, who interpret world events and history differently, who treat neighbors and enemies and innocent and vulnerable lives differently. On this most sacred and miraculous day, we have a chance to end the story of Jesus in a totally new and glorious way and be known as people of faith, hope, and love. Instead of being silently afraid we can be people of God who boldly proclaim that our Lord and Savior got up today and trampled down death and darkness.
How will you end this story? How will the world recognize you as a follower of Jesus? Will you allow this story to end with fear and terror and silence, or will you end this story with courage and boldness, confident that you are free in Christ? Will you leave this place today and go back to life as normal, or will you be committed again to the mercy, compassion, and justice in Christ’s name? Will you let today slip by as just another holiday and just another church service, or will you proclaim that Christ is risen by lifting up the lowly, by befriending the friendless, and loving the unlovable? Will you allow this story to fully enter your life and guide each step you take—will you allow it to open your ears and your heart and your mind? Will you allow death to end this story and define you, or will you allow life, the life of Jesus Christ, to define your way and your truth?
Friends, Jesus Christ is risen! We cannot hear the good news of this day and be anything but changed. Jesus Christ is risen! We are forgiven—we have been set free! Jesus Christ is risen! We do not have to be afraid—we can go and tell everyone we meet that Christ is going ahead of us into the Galilees of everyday life. Jesus Christ is risen! There is no longer any distance between you and me and the Lord! Jesus Christ is risen! All has been reconciled and made right! As you go today and return to the life given to you by God, be changed by this story. Be changed and end this story with life, abundant life. Friends, Jesus Christ is risen! This is the good news which we have received, in which we stand, and by which we are saved: “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!” The Lord is risen! Amen.