Tuesday, March 29, 2016

We Are Family - Easter Sunday 3/27/2016

Centering reflection

Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) is an American writer and theologian. He is the author of more than thirty published books and has been an important source of inspiration and learning for many readers. He has a perspective on Easter I find unique and a great way to start.

The Gospels are far from clear as to just what happened. It began in the dark. The stone had been rolled aside. Matthew alone speaks of an earthquake. In the tomb there were two white-clad figures or possibly just one. Mary Magdalen seems to have gotten there before anybody else. There was a man she thought at first was the gardener. Perhaps Mary the mother of James was with her and another woman named Joanna. One account says Peter came too with one of the other disciples. Elsewhere the suggestion is that there were only the women and that the disciples, who were somewhere else, didn't believe the women's story when they heard it. There was the sound of people running, of voices. Matthew speaks of "fear and great joy." Confusion was everywhere. There is no agreement even as to the role of Jesus himself. Did he appear at the tomb or only later? Where? To whom did he appear? What did he say? What did he do?
It is not a major production at all, and the minor attractions we have created around it—the bunnies and baskets and bonnets, the dyed eggs—have so little to do with what it's all about that they neither add much nor subtract much. It's not really even much of a story when you come right down to it, and that is of course the power of it. It doesn't have the ring of great drama. It has the ring of truth. I f the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster. Here there is no skill, no fanfare. They seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, incomplete as life itself. When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.
The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can't depict or domesticate emptiness. You can't make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn't move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. Even the great choruses of Handel's Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.
He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. If it is true, there is nothing left to say. If it is not true, there is nothing left to say. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. For some, neither has death. What is left now is the emptiness. There are those who, like Magdalen, will never stop searching it till they find his face. [1]

Easter Sunday Morning Starts with this emptiness but leads us to a new place a new way of being in this world and relating to one another and that will be explored in the sermon...


Ok I admit when I sat down to write this sermon I was not sure where it would go.  I like having some quotes in mind, stories to tell, other research at hand.  This time I am starting from the text and see where it leads me.
“Early in the morning while it was still dark Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.”  I am thinking that is brave. But after researching I see there is some merit to this.  Yet some reversal as well. 
We always have said that Jesus came to turn the whole social order and the world upside down.  He does away with tradition left and right while he walked on this earth and even in death.
According to Bible archeology website burial custom for the time of Jesus was that it was the;
“women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial. The body was washed, and hair and nails were cut. Then it was gently wiped with a mixture of spices and wrapped in linen strips of various sizes and widths. While this was happening, prayers from the Scriptures were chanted.
The body was wrapped in a shroud, but was otherwise uncovered.
Tombs were visited and watched for three days by family members and friends. On the third day after death, the body was examined. This was to make sure that the person was really dead, for accidental burial of someone still alive could happen.
At this stage the body would be treated by the women of the family with oils and perfumes.”[2]
Through this description we can see where the burial of Jesus is still turning things the wrong way out.  First it is Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus who “took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with spices, in linen clothes.” (John 19:40)  This was women’s work according to the tradition of the time and yet we have the men doing it.
Then tradition has it that the romans stood guard over the tomb.  Not the Family but the Government, the ruling class has taken on the role of what would have been for family and friends to do.
Then Mary, while it is not yet light enough to see where one is going heads to the tomb alone.  Women did not travel alone.  Nobody went out before light except those who had the lowest of jobs to sweep the streets, night watch or shepherds. Yet Mary sets of alone with no concern on how she would roll the tombstone back.
Mary runs back to the disciples and then we find Mary right behind the disciples back at the garden.  She is healthy no wonder she thought she could move the tomb stone by herself.
John traditionally holds the two disciples are Peter and the one who Jesus loved ran back to the garden.  The one out races Mary and Peter and sticks his head in the tomb and see the linens lying there and then peter walks in and sees the face cloth folded and then the other disciple walks in sees all this and believes.
I often thought this a great leap.  The beloved disciple only had but to look into the tomb and believe.  But what think this really says is he was paying attention and got what Jesus was teaching all along.  You see with the linens lying there and the face clothe all folded up neatly says this is no robbery.  Who would steal a body and take the time to unwrap it first?  It had to be something else.
Some think the next verse is a little contradictory but I do not see it as such.  It says they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.  Peter, I assume walked away understanding nothing, as usual.  The beloved disciple believed, he may not have made the scriptural reference as yet but he understood Jesus’ words and sayings.
Of course the men leave Mary standing there alone, in her grief, unaccompanied again!
Mary sticks her head inside the tomb and there are two angels seated at the head and the foot of where Jesus’ body should be.  Jesus is bracketed by angels.  Angels at his conception, birth and now at his resurrection.  This says that death is not that important.  It is important to us because we identify with human suffering – yet the resurrection, to me, points past the suffering.  I believe the narration points to that as well. For the Angels ask her “Women why are you crying?”  She answers; “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”  Isn’t that the definition of grief?  I mean when a love one dies we try to rationalize we try to stand firm in our faith but in that ultimate moment of extreme grief we are lost. Our loved one is gone and we really do not know where they are.  Mary is us at any moment of loss, confusion fear…the tomb is empty.  As empty as the hole in our heart when we lose someone we cherish.
Then Jesus repeats the question “Woman why are you crying.” I think this is made to emphasize this is not a time of grief, “The life lived is not to be grieved”[3] see my blog spot Sometimes Alleluia November 2015 for that sermon. Then Jesus asks; “who are you looking for?”  That is a strange question to be asking at a grave side.  I mean the question assumes you must be seeking someone living for the dead are easy to find.  But Mary, missing that it is Jesus is speaking to her, says just tell me where he is and I’ll get him.  So Mary is assuming this Gardener is somehow part of this conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus. Then he says to her, in a tone of voice that only she could recognize and it melts her heart and opens her eyes…Mary.  As Christ calls her by name she recognizes him.  How many times in our own lives when we look back we can see God’s hand at play but when we were in the moment we could not or refused to see God with us.  I wonder how often Mary looked back on that moment and wondered why she did not recognize Jesus Right away.
Jesus then says do not hold onto me, or another translation would be do not cling to me.  Jesus is saying to do not hold on to me as you once believed for I am something new, something different, and something beyond physical. One interpreter believes this is Jesus saying my Physical body has died and I am now a spiritual being.[4]  This is where Jesus moves form man to Christ.  There is a shift in his being and how he is perceived from here on out.  Then he proclaims to Mary “Go to my Brothers and Sisters and tell them I am going to my Abba and your Abba, to my God and your God!”(John 20:19)  This is important again because not all of Jesus followers, not all of his disciples were Jewish.  We traditionally think of the disciples as the twelve yet in the books of acts the numbers “range between 70 and 120 to a ‘growing Multitude’”.[5] Like we teach here about the last supper it was women, children servants those healed by Christ and those who will hear the 12 in their own tongue.  Jesus proclaims one loving accepting parent God for all and in that God we are all, every one of us, brothers and sisters.
The final Proclamation Mary Makes is “I have seen the Lord”.  Mary, a woman, who ventures out before dawn.  Mary who walks around independent of any man or any other companions.  Mary who is assuming she can roll back the stone.  Mary who keeps pace running with the men. Mary is the first to see the Lord and proclaim a resurrected Christ a new Jesus a new way of being in relation to one another in this world. A world where we are called to care for each other no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. A world where we as Brothers and Sisters in Christ proudly proclaim for all to hear…You are a part of God’s family!  This is what I hear in today’s Gospel and the message of the resurrection.  May we always get past the empty tomb moment and live in the experience of an all loving God, a true family of humanity, and the blessings that a relationship with Christ can bring into our lives.  Amen.

[1]. Frederick Buechner, Easter, October 13, 2009, accessed March 14, 2016, http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/easter.
[2]. Elizabeth Fletcher, Tombs, http://www.bible-archaeology.info/tombs.htm.
[3]. Joseph Shore-Goss, The life lived is not to be grieved, November, 2015, http://revjoeshore.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-life-lived-is-not-to-be-grieved.html.
[4]. anonymous, John 20:17, February, 2014, accessed March 14, 2016, http://www.whatjesusreallysaid.com/2014/02/do-not-hold-on-to-me-for-i-have-not-yet.html.
[5]. Nikhilesh Jasuja, Priya mMenon, and Carolyn, Apostle vs Disciple, March 8, 2016, accessed March 14, 2016, http://www.diffen.com/difference/Apostle_vs_Disciple.

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