Sunday, March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday, 24-B: The joy of seeing

Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 

En el nombre de Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen, indeed!)

Isn’t it wonderful to have our Alleluias back? I loved it last Sunday when one leaked out of us a little early at our Eucharist.

It’s OK – in fact, it’s wonderful that an Alleluia is always right at the rim of our cup ready to spill out! 

We know that the Easter story begins in sorrow. Our walk through Holy Week has reminded us of this in body and spirit.

John’s gospel also begins the Easter story there – in sorrow. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, but the gospel writer doesn’t say why. She sees that the huge rock covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away and runs to fetch Peter and John ( presumably the writer of this gospel). By the excitement in her words, we hear Mary’s fear that someone may have stolen his body. They’ve lost him again.

John is the only gospel writer to ensure the presence of two men at the empty tomb in the Easter story. Men would be qualified as legal witnesses of the empty tomb. Mary’s proclamation would be easily dismissed as she was just a woman and therefore had no standing as a witness. John further affirms the cultural hierarchy by having Peter, who outranks John, go in to the tomb first.

John says the two men saw the wrappings that had been on Jesus’ body were now sitting on the floor. The wrapping that had been on his head was rolled up into a bundle in a place by itself. Why these details? Perhaps they were meant to prove that Jesus’ body had not been stolen. As one of our Bible-studiers said, “Who takes the time to unwrap a dead body you plan to steal?” Good point.

Seeing the empty tomb, John believed. He wasn’t just seeing with his eyes. He was perceiving in his heart and soul though he admits they didn’t understand it yet. There’s often a delay between knowledge in the spirit and understanding in the mind. So… the two men went home. We all have to process grief in our own way.

“How do we make sense of this?” one of our Bible studiers asked. As a priest, I celebrate whenever we get to this state of mind, because that’s then we can “see” God. 

When we surrender to the realization that we can’t make sense of the Triune God, of Jesus, and his resurrection from the dead, we have entered a rare and amazing experience of the divine mystery. Our minds will never be able to understand it, but we all can enter that experience and know God in a deep, intimate, unity of our spirits.

Unlike the two men, Mary went back to the empty tomb and wept, allowing herself to grieve, to experience the sadness and devastating emptiness Jesus’ death had left in her. She did this at great risk to herself. Being found a follower of Jesus could have led to her own death.

Imagine the courage it took for Mary to take so many risks. Going to the tomb in the first place, then traveling back to fetch the men - who were hiding away in fear. Then leading them to the empty tomb. Then, staying there alone after they left, openly weeping for Jesus.

But from the darkness of that devastating emptiness heaven kindled a great light. Through two spirit-messengers heaven asks Mary why she is weeping. She answers them unaware they are angels from heaven, but fully aware that her answer could get her executed. We can almost hear the echoes of Jesus’ teaching: for those who lose their lives for my sake will save it. (Mt 16:25)

Sure enough, Jesus himself appears to Mary, though she doesn’t recognize him until he says her name… echoes of Jesus' teaching: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. (Jn 10)

Upon hearing Jesus say her name, Mary knew… It wasn’t just what she was seeing with her eyes, but what she knew deep in her heart and soul. It was the unity of her spirit to Jesus. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, loved him, and ran up to embrace him – a huge no-no in that culture.

Don’t hold on to me Jesus says, which sounds strange at first. Stranger still is that the Greek translates this as: do not connect one thing to another, do not kindle this fire because I have not yet ascended…

It’s less strange when we consider the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Scripture tells us that their relationship began when Jesus healed Mary from seven demons. Remembering that numbers in Scripture are symbolic, the number seven represents natural and divine completeness, perfection. Jesus made Mary spiritually perfect.

That was the start of their relationship. Now it comes full circle.

When Mary recognizes the resurrected Jesus, she “sees” him, with that deep, intimate seeing in unity of spirit, and she begins to connect the dots, and Jesus tells her to wait. Don’t connect those dots just yet. First, go tell your siblings in Christ, as our bishop so accurately says, that I am ascending to my Father (which, btw, is plural here and literally means father and mother). There is more to come. Be patient, trust me, and do as I say.

The gospel story for today ends there, but we know that what is to come is beyond anyone’s imagining. Jesus has transformed death into resurrected life in him through his unbound, selfless love for us. Jesus’ love for us broke the final barrier of fear for us: death, and he broke it wide open. Standing in this new doorway of his making, the doorway to resurrection life in him, Jesus invites us to come to him. Then he sends us into the world to love one another as he loves us.

Love. It all comes down to that. God’s irrational, unfathomable love for us. Jesus’ patient, healing, and sacrificial love for us. The Spirit’s steadfast and ever-present love for us. It all comes down to love: the eternal love of God who dwells in us and we in Them.

Wherever we are on our own spiritual journeys into “seeing” Jesus as perfectly as Mary did, now is our time to love as Jesus loved us: with patient, healing, sacrificial love. Love that often seems irrational to the world’s eyes, especially when it butts up against self-serving power or revenge. Love that is steadfast even when attacked or rejected.

In her poem, “Messenger”, Mary Oliver says, “My work is loving the world… Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work… which is mostly rejoicing… telling them over and over, how it is that we live forever.” 

 Joyful Easter, everyone! May we remember the lavish love of God we have and have to give, and may we give it to others as lavishly as God has given it to us. Alleluia!

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