Easter Sunday – John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43; Face to Face with Resurrection –
We experience resurrection through face to face relations.
I sat here in the chancel after worship this past Thursday and Friday. I wanted to greet people with the peace of Christ as usual when we leave. But those nights ended in subdued silence. I felt distanced, separated, sad solitude. Eyes closed … I imagined Jesus’ betrayal, how alone, alienated he must have felt. During worship I’d seen a woman back in our sanctuary for the first time after many months of long illness and recovery. I wanted to say hi and hug her. Eyes closed through lingering silence … I heard familiar rustling paper and foot falls, a distinctive cane on the stone floor … all passing by with nothing said, no eye contact, no connection. I couldn’t wait to greet you all again. Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Earlier this week I was working on what to say this morning. As I felt the weight, the one to whom I am belovedly related for life, whose blessed face I see every morning, offered some light-hearted advice. “Just say something about bunnies and chocolate!” I don’t remember that part of the Bible. Unless … maybe Jesus actually blessed and broke a chocolate bunny at table with his disciples that day! I’m grateful for her smiling eyes, her uplifting levity when I needed it.
We experience resurrection through face to face relations.
We had a memorial service here on Maundy Thursday. Family members imagined their beloved mother and grandmother meeting her husband again beyond the pearly gates. With a familiar warm smile, they’d greet one another and settle into their favorite chairs to chat about the day. Friends, who knows details of life after our last breath? If anyone seems pretty certain about what happens, especially who gets in or doesn’t … maybe we should pose another question or six or sixty-two! Amid our questions common to humans across all ages, I believe Jesus taught and encouraged living faith centered on two resurrection promises we can trust. Two ways in our human relationships we know the central biblical promise: God is with us. We belong to God.
- When we exhale our final sigh, life and love we’ve shared does not cease. The night before he died, Jesus imagined with his disciples a home—vast enough to include all people, as personal as all the places they’d met and ate and slept on their journey … all the favorite places we’ve known and shared daily routines of life. Jesus promises death as we know it is not the end. New life comes again. Somehow these beloved and imperfect relationships we share continue in the eternity of the Holy One’s loving embrace. Using our sacred imagination, it’s good to envision how that might look face to face again, and feel the comfort, peace, loving connection and inspiration it brings.
- And when Jesus talks about eternal life, he really tries to empower living faith here and now. That’s what all of his parables and miracles and meals are about. The worst will seem to happen in life—to our health, our jobs, our relationships. We will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come to face a tomb. Yet God raises our spirits from caverns of despair. That’s the good news felt by so many people Jesus healed, and forgave, and simply related with when others deemed them outcasts and unclean, enemies and condemned. That’s the good news the disciples received and passed on face to face, as they shard all that divine love can do and dare.
Here’s a bit of good humor received by e-mail this week. One glorious Sunday in early Spring a pastor decides he just has to play golf. He calls in sick, gets the Associate Pastor to preach, finds a course 40 miles away. No one from church. All alone on the first tee. Glorious. Except to St. Peter. He leans over to Jesus and complains, “He’s not going to get away with this, is he?” Just then the pastor hit a beautiful drive … soaring (I know nothing about this!) … 400 yards … hole in one! St. Peter turns to see Jesus smile. “Ahh,” he realizes, “who’s he going to tell?”
Gospel writers differ in resurrection details they tell us—what happens to whom, when, and what Jesus says. Yet a common theme of relationship runs through it all. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus sends them all back to Galilee, back to where they began; back to familiar homes and normal routines. There the risen Christ promises to meet them. In Luke, the risen Christ gets a little more intimate, joining two disciples as they walk toward Emmaus. They talk and try to make sense of everything they’ve experienced. Finally when Jesus breaks bread over dinner they recognize him. John, the latest gospel written, gets yet more intimate in this touching encounter with Mary. By contrast, Peter, the ever eager bumbling one and the beloved one compete in a comedic footrace. They stumble into the empty tomb, look and believe! Though what exactly they believe remains a bit unclear, until the Risen Christ comes to them still locked in that upstairs room. For John, believing is all about knowing, experiencing, giving our hearts. He writes his gospel, he says, so that in believing we may share life in Christ. And that’s exactly what Mary really exemplifies.
Mary lingers after others leave. Wondering. Working it all out. Weeping. That’s when Jesus asks her: “whom are you looking for?” It echoes exactly Jesus’ very first words in the gospel, except then it was “what are you looking for?” I wonder, is it precisely Mary’s longing to make human connection which enables her to see, to receive, to go and share with others face to face, her experience of resurrection? Eventually, in Acts, even lovable imperfect Peter, so much like us, expresses the power and promise of new life he has witnessed.
We come to experience resurrection through face to face relations. Because, you see, sometimes like humor from our beloved or an email received or more poignant intimate encounters with whom we thought our life had ended, precisely in those relationships of grace we receive new life. And you see, they really become meaningful, powerful, settling into our hearts, guiding our lives when we’re able to share them with others in turn.
Dear friends, maybe on this Easter, we come here together … with God … and we remember a beloved one who was still among us at this time last year. Maybe we bear with us the burden of conflicts in our family, among friends, even at a church. Maybe we still struggle with some secret – an addiction, a choice with its consequences that drains and confines our life like closing us into a tomb. Maybe our hearts feel the weight of someone we love with these struggles. Or maybe it’s the caustic division in our nation.
Don’t we see? These Easter stories are about so much more than what happened with Jesus long ago. They’re about our lives—our hopes and fears and struggles and longings. I believe Richard Rohr is right. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the holy pattern, the sacred promise revealed, effective, fulfilled in our lives. More than a scheme to get us beyond Pearly Gates, this real salvation, this healing and hope, this salve for our souls … it’s a vocation we live every day. Following Jesus, bearing the mystery of death in all our endings and limitations and even more, trusting, seeking, celebrating resurrection in all our new beginnings.[i]
You see, the meaning of the cross on Calvary comes from everything before in Nazareth, Syria, Samaria, and Galilee. All the ways Jesus embodied Divine Grace and Love in healing, preaching and teaching, eating with outcasts, simply relating with those others in society who were lost, least, lonely, and lifeless on their way. As we discussed Rohr’s book this past week, we saw in our lives how the real miracle of Easter isn’t just what happened to Jesus a long time ago in a land far away. The miracle is how so many people since have been transformed by the power of God’s love for their lives. Everyone from the first disciples at the tomb through all the ways the good news spread in the church over the centuries, to you and me here today. That’s the miracle!
That’s the longing he felt when I visited him in hospital this week. As a veteran I expect he’s seen and known many who’ve seen some pretty tough times. He’s faced his own pretty rough road in health over the last half year. A social worker came in as we talked. He urged that he just wants to be at church, “to be with my Lord on Easter.” I admire his determination, the deepest orientation of his heart. That’s the longing the Holy One wants to fill and guide all our human lives. And our greatest promise is that Jesus is with us everywhere, even when it feels like we’re alienated, separated, alone in a tomb. Everywhere we become witnesses to all that he did, when we live his way of compassion, the truth of grace and forgiveness, his life of sacrificial love in all of our relationships, each and every day. We experience resurrection through face to face relations.
We celebrate the risen Christ on this first day of the week, as all of the gospels say. Except in Jesus time, Sunday wasn’t so much a holy day. It was more like Monday, when all the normal patterns of life, a new week, begins again. That’s when, that’s where, that’s how the risen Christ comes to us. That’s the gospel promise. So go bear witness to how God’s love brings new life. Witness to our children by loving them through all their beauties and insecurities, their mixed decisions and imperfection. Witness to our brother in Texas who’s not quite sure why he comes to church. All of us of all ages, witness to our friends by spreading joy, offering support as needed. Witness to work colleagues by exuding patience and offering encouragement. Witness to all people seeking the common good amid problems and challenges of our world.
I can’t wait to greet you all again. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] See Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2003), 179-181.