Early in the Morning…, Easter Day (B) -1997
March 30, 1997
Early in the morning the women disciples of Jesus are on their way to the tomb when suddenly they realize they are going to encounter what we moderns might call a technical difficulty. Who will roll away the stone? It’s a big stone, it’s a big problem. But they continue on anyway. Rocks may be a problem but it’s one that these capable women can handle.
What happens next, however is beyond them. The stone is already moved, but that is just the beginning. As the women move past the solvable difficulty of the stone, they moved into an experience that even their close companionship with Jesus has not prepared them for. He’s not there, but someone else is, and this person is just not natural and his words are not normal, comforting or reasonable and the “young man” has the temerity to say, “Don’t be afraid.” It’s the women who have the normal reaction, they are terrified and don’t say anything to anyone.
All the normal boundaries have been crossed, things are not following standard operating procedures for planet Earth. He is risen. Resurrection is not natural.
Resurrection is a real stumbling block for many people. So much so that we’ve hedged the celebration of Easter around with a secure wall of bunnies, chicks, eggs and baskets so that if we don’t listen too closely to the words on Easter Sunday we can skate right past that old, unnatural offender: Resurrection. For most folks a kind-of-cruise control Easter experience is just fine. Sit back and relax and enjoy the ride, not too deep, not too meaningful, but definitely predictable. All too often predictable becomes immoveable. We don’t know how to find the meaning. We settle for bunnies and talk about crocuses and “new life.”
Martin Smith, Prior of the Society of St. John, an Episcopal monastic order, has stated that the crisis of our age differs from that in the biblical times. In the New Testament era the crisis was around death and the shortness of life, in our era the crisis is around meaninglessness. We have littered our public consciousness with one-dimensional images and symbols, obscuring or burying those things which speak to our depths and challenge us to higher ground. The meaninglessness is soul stealing and creates its own inertia, its own self-referencing, so that meaning- fullness in the bizarre reversal that this banality invites, seems itself laughable and ultimately even more deeply meaningless. Being more nihilistic than thou is very hip in our popular culture. We don’t dare venture towards meaning for fear that we will appear the fool.
In the entombment of meaninglessness we kill other species on the planet, we enslave sister and brother humans and create injustice upon injustice to feed the instruments of our banality, the addictions, and consumer goods, and the chaos of our media. We despoil the very ground that feeds us, we murder the futures of our children. The culture of meaninglessness may be banal but it is neither innocent or harmless. It is deadly.
But life can change radically in a moment. And here is our point of meeting with the women at the tomb. They thought they knew what they were headed for, they had regular sorts of obstacles to deal with, to keep them busy in the face of their overwhelming sense of loss and meaninglessness.
Mystery, entering into the unknown, is the sacred ground upon which we can meet God, as the Risen Christ, and this is definitely a Mystery. Mystery is not mystification or an attempt to confuse. Mystery is not religious mumbo-jumbo trying to hide the man behind the curtain, mystery is not an escape from the proof demands of hard-science. Mystery is a different order of knowing and trying to apply the methodology of empiricism to mystery is to head in the wrong direction. Mystery has a logic, an order of being and knowing that supersedes the limitations of empiricism. Mystery is not surrounded, bordered, or limited by facts, but by God. We begin to know and to be known. We find ourselves, our life, hidden as it were, and then revealed, with Christ in God. The ground of mystery, letting go of what we think we know in order to discover what is meaningful and from who does meaning come and how is meaning translated into power to live justly and compassionately. Mystery ultimately clarifies.
Entering into the mysteries of God, God’s love in creation, liberation, incarnation, resurrection and ascension is to definitely go beyond the realm of our limitations created by our need for empirical “fact.”
At the end of Mark’s reading it says the women told no one. Well, clearly they ultimately spoke. We have two thousand years now of people reflecting on the women’s story and their own stories of how God radically entered and changed their lives. On the beach at the sea of Galilee, on the road to Emmaus, to Damascus, from New York to California, we can meet the Risen Christ. The resurrection affirms this that even if we can not meet the embodied Christ, bound in time to the first century BCE, we can meet the inspirited Christ anytime, anywhere, in our embodied, historical lives.
We do not have to believe it first, however. The women at the tomb surely didn’t believe it at first! And you may have noticed that the ushers and greeters did not hand out purity of faith and doctrine questionnaires when you entered the church. The encounter with God does not have as a prerequisite that we have made any assent to an abstract theological proposition prior to our experience of God. But we do have to be intentional in our search.
If you want to meet someone you have to go towards them. The Book of Common Prayer offers a very good road to walk in order to meet the Risen Christ. It is found on page 304 in the Baptismal Covenant. In the promises we make we say that we will continue in the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. In short this translates into reading scripture on a regular basis; meeting with other Christians, preferably not all just like you, and talking about how God is moving in your life, and in theirs. In the breaking of bread, or, going to Communion, remember it’s the place that Jesus says “If you show, I’ll show up.” If you don’t know how to find your way into mystery, this is the best place to start. And finally, the prayers. If you want someone to talk to you, you need to talk to them, it’s a two- way conversation. Prayer is a conversation with God.
The tomb was not the end, but the portal of the resurrection. The women didn’t have to move the stone and neither do you. You simply have to walk forward, enter the mystery, and God will meet you. As Christians the death-trance of meaninglessness is not our defining experience, the Risen Christ is. As the writer of Ephesians said, “Awake, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you!” Amen.
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