The Sunday of the Resurrection: March 27, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In earlier times in the church, and still today in the Orthodox Church, we would say this to each other every time we meet during the next 50 days of Easter. Instead of Hello, how are you? It would be Alleluia! Christ is risen! Wonderful way to stay in the good news.
But here’s what I’m secretly saying inside:
Alleluia! Lent is over! Lent is over indeed! Alleluia!
Oh, yes, I like Lent, the 40 days of discipline that lead up to Easter. If you’ve been here at St Michael’s over the last month or so you know there has been a lot going on here in Lent. I like Lent because it makes us focus on what’s important, helps us pare away the distractions and take seriously what’s going on in our life with God and other people.
But actually, it’s the grownup part of me that likes Lent. The part that encourages hard work and earning your stripes and thinks running endurance races is good for you.
But there’s another part of me, the part that wants the goodies now without having to wait for them, the part that wants the free grace, the part that just wants to say YES! The kid part. That part is sooooooo glad Lent is over. Soooooo glad it’s Easter! Alleluia! Lent is over!
Wow, some of you are thinking. Clergy have a distorted view of reality. But stay with me here. Because I think all of us have these two sides to us, in different quantities perhaps, depending on who we are. The side that says eat your vegetables and the side that says have dessert first. The part that can endure suffering and the part that just wants to party. And in proper moderation both sides are good. But on days like Easter, I think we should kick the Lent part to the curb.
And I have scriptural backing for this idea in our gospels. In every story of the resurrection, there are some who get the good news and some who don’t. Some seem to embrace the glory of the new reality of Easter and some hang back, still stuck in Lent. The gospel stories of the empty tomb really aren’t so much about the tomb – they’re more about the reactions of those who encounter it. And in their reactions is the tale of all of us gathered here today.
It is always fascinating, the way these stories are told. In every version of the tale, in every one of the four gospels, women are right up front. Women who understand and receive the news of the resurrection when their male counterparts do not; women who are given the charge to go and spread the good news while their male counterparts are silent. For a church that built its hierarchy over thousands of years on the assumption of male superiority, it is a remarkable thing.
But I think in reality, grown women and men have equal difficulty accepting astonishingly good news. Maybe if we were to set these stories today, we would have the early messengers of the resurrection be children – children who are able still to wonder, who can receive and rejoice with abandon. Who don’t go back to their worries as soon as they leave that garden.
So how is it told in today’s gospel? First to the tomb is Mary Magdalene, who sees the stone removed and runs to tell Peter and ‘the other disciple, the one Jesus loved’ (John, we presume). The two of them race each other, vying to get there first, and they go into the tomb and see the burial cloths and no body. And wondering, they return to their homes, find the rest of the twelve disciples, and huddle in a room behind a locked door. Jesus has to break in on them later to get them to come out.
But Mary Magdalene has returned after the other disciples, and once they leave, she is left there weeping. She is lost in her grief, heartbroken at the death of her dearly beloved, further heartbroken by the bizarre disappearance of his body and the desecration of his tomb. And when she looks in the tomb, she sees angels, who speak to her. And then she turns and sees a man who calls her by name, and she sees that it is Jesus. She throws herself at him at joy, but he tells her to let go, and to go share the news. And she does.
Two very different ways of experiencing the empty tomb. One strives to be first to get there, sees the physical evidence, and pulls back, afraid and confused. The other, wracked with grief, experiences angels and sees and engages with the risen Christ, and goes running off to share the news with everyone.
Now, to be fair, both of these types get the good news eventually. Peter and John and Mary Magdalene all go on from here to become leaders of the church, convinced of the truth of the risen Christ and encountering him several more times before the ascension. Their paths are different, but they all come to faith in the resurrection, faith handed down through the centuries to us gathered here today.
But their initial reaction is telling. And I wonder if we might each recognize something of ourselves in these two.
Because we’ve all shown up to the empty tomb, to church on Easter Sunday. Some of us maybe raced to get here early and get a seat, while others of us noodled in a little more slowly. What do we see here? We may just see the physical shell of the church, a beautiful church all bright with color, brass instruments, flowers, lovely dresses – all signs that it is Easter, a wonderful morning for us to enjoy. And maybe it feels like a reprieve and a respite from the rest of the world, which right now is looking pretty terrible to us grownups. More terrorist attacks, more to be anxious about in our presidential elections, worries over our own illnesses and those of people we love, mourning family members and friends who have died, uncertainty about the future …and when we leave here, buoyed up perhaps by the pageantry and the music, that other set of circumstances will reclaim us and our attention and it could all be just as it was before. We could go right back into Lent.
But something else might happen instead. Maybe we know we’re in desperate need. Maybe we’re here because our worlds are falling apart and we don’t know where else to turn. Maybe we’re only expecting to see that physical shell of a church service – but instead we’re seeing angels. Instead, we look up and suddenly there is Jesus. Jesus looking at you, and calling you by name. What would happen then – would we want to just go back home and lock the door? Or would we want to go and share it with others?
There are angels here, all around. There are angels up there in those windows, and over there, in those. There are angels singing up there in that gallery. There are angels, in fact, sitting all around you, good and faithful people, messengers of God – angels – people who love and serve and care for others and make a difference in this world. There are angels here that you cannot see – but you might just feel the brush of their wings.
And even better than angels, the risen Christ is here. You might not recognize him right away. You might think he’s just the gardener, or a banker, or a teacher, or a super, or a 3rd grader, but there is Jesus. Jesus, smiling at you in love and recognition, and calling you by name. And something in yourself might hear it, and all of a sudden you have tears from somewhere, deep peace, incredible joy – your way of recognizing Jesus, your heart’s way of leaping at the sound of his voice. You might hear in the words of communion, take, eat, this is my body; go in peace to love and serve the Lord; Jesus’ voice meeting you here and sending you out to share the good news with others.
This is Easter. It is not just an interruption in your daily Lent. This is time to rejoice – to shake off all that focus on yourself and what’s not right about you, or your life; to lose the anxiety; offer up the grief; suspend the ironic disbelief; and just to embrace joy. You might feel it welling up inside; you might feel all empty inside. But either way, you can choose to celebrate. Even if it means you’re only playacting. Act as if it is true. Act until it becomes true. Because God is calling you by name. God is welcoming you in a whole new way, in this community, to this life, to this springtime. Nothing can separate you from God’s love – nothing can make you go back to Lent. Easter and resurrection are here.
In a little while we’re going to invite all the children to come up and bring a flower to put into the wire mesh cross that’s standing here waiting. Watch them when it happens. Watch their faces, excited or bashful or wondering, as they come forward, some of them racing to be first, some of them hanging back and uncertain. Watch what they make of the cross with their flowers. It will be beautiful.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!