PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest
email recipients of "First Impressions," the deacon
candidates and their wives of the Dallas diocese.
It is Easter, the end of another
long Lent. But it isn’t the end. Lent stirs up anticipation for
Easter and we have arrived. Where and how do we find ourselves? Is
it a new beginning for us? No matter how many times we have
celebrated Easter it is not the same old feast; it is another fresh
start. It’s like when we have a computer problem and we are advised,
"Turn off your computer and restart." We turn it off and start it
again, and there are our icons and apps – they look fresh and they
work! It’s a crude and limping example, but Christ has done that for
us, rebooted us. We were stuck and now we have been given a fresh
start, we are not locked in the old "program" – everything can be
new for us. In biblical terms, we are a "new creation." Today St.
Paul uses another metaphor to describe us: we are "a fresh batch of
dough." The "old yeast" has been cleared out and we celebrate our
feast "with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
find preaching on Easter difficult. But it shouldn’t be, should it?
It is the heart of our faith, as Paul says, "And if Christ has not
been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (I
Cor. 1517). It is not that I don’t believe in the resurrection, it
is that I’m not sure what to say again about it! Today’s gospel
passage offers a challenge to the preacher. It may be Easter Sunday,
but the narrative at this point in John is not about an experience
of the risen Christ. There’s no apparition, no encounter with the
We preachers have been here
before. It is Easter Sunday and we have a simple, though
un-provable, message to proclaim, "Christ is risen!" It is what we
already believe, isn’t it? What can we find new to say about the
core belief of our faith? Should we come up with an analogy – the
new flowers outside the church, the butterfly emerging from the
cocoon – that seem to support our faith?
In the northern hemisphere the
earth is abounding with new life. It happens every year, we expect
it. But the resurrection is all together different. We expect new
life in Spring. No one expected the resurrection. Mary did not go to
the tomb to visit, or wait for the risen Christ to appear to her.
She went to the tomb of her dead master and friend perhaps to anoint
the body, or just to weep. With Mary we make the journey to the
Don’t try to fill in today’s
gospel story. The passage immediately following has Mary waiting at
the tomb and there the risen Christ appears to her. But that’s not
today’s story. In fact, the next verse (v. 10), not included in
today’s selection, says, "With this the disciples went back home."
They were left with what they had seen, the empty tomb – and
questions. What happened to Jesus’ body?
Let’s spend this moment at the
empty tomb, because that is where today’s passage has us. What and
where are the empty tombs for us? Does the empty tomb remind us of
the places and situations in our lives which have proved lifeless
and left us empty inside? – Relationships that have died, or dried
up; pursuits and ambitions that have proven vain and wasted;
misplaced confidences in what was shallow and fruitless; nostalgic
attempts to re-create the warm and good feelings we had when we were
children coming to church on Easter Sunday? Where do we find
ourselves then, at an empty tomb with past memories, wondering what
steps to take next? Do we shrug with disappointment, or shall we,
with the beloved disciple look with eyes of faith, even with the
confusion of this moment? Can we let go of what was, even if at this
time there is not even a hint of what will take its place?
What we have at this point is an
empty tomb and puzzled disciples. John says that they, "did not yet
understand the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead." How
could they have understood the Scriptures? And what Scriptures would
have prepared them for what had happened, the collapse of his
ministry, his terrible suffering and his death?
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on
the first day of the week, early in the morning, "while it was still
dark." In John’s Gospel darkness suggests an absence of faith – not
seeing. It’s a dawning of a new day, but for Mary and the disciples,
it is still dark. Mary rushes back to tell Peter and John of her
discovery. They raced to the tomb with the urgency Mary’s report had
stirred up. There are no heavenly messengers waiting there for them
when they arrive, just the empty tomb and the burial cloths, with
the head cloth rolled up in a separate place.
Is Mary correct? Have thieves
stolen the body? But if they had, why would they roll up the head
cloth; were they just very neat thieves? Mary can’t be right, it
wasn’t an act of theft done by neat robbers. Something else has
happened. It is the beloved disciple who sees what Peter and Mary
saw, but believes. The story definitely tilts in favor of this
disciple. He doesn’t understand what happened, but he believes.
Later, the other disciples will come to believe when they encounter
the risen Christ. But it is unusual in the Gospels for a person to
believe without such evidence. We are like the beloved disciple. We
have Jesus’ empty tomb in Jerusalem, and we believe.
Later, John, with the other
disciples, will encounter the risen Christ. Then they will come to
understand the Scriptures about Jesus’ suffering and rising from the
dead. Maybe that is how we come to see the risen Christ. Without
seeing him we believe Christ is alive and with us. We meet him when
we worship with others who are witnesses to his life; we have our
eyes opened to the risen Christ when the words of Scripture touch
our hearts; we come to know him in the breaking of the bread and the
pouring of the cup. We also meet him where he has told us he can be
found – in the needy, outcast, stranger, imprisoned, exiled and
abused. Not scientific proof to be sure, but to us beloved
disciples, who come to pray together, we are given the sight that
feeds our faith and reassures us that Christ is risen indeed!
I heard an expression recently
that was new to me: "C&E Catholics." It’s those people who on
Christmas and Easter fill our churches and then seem to disappear. I
wonder what empty tombs in their lives they are peeering into? Where
do they go for meaning and direction? Are they too busy with crowded
weekend activities? (My nephew’s baseball coach schedules practice
for 10 AM on Sundays. I guess the presumption is that most of the
kids don’t go to church; if they do, they have to squeeze worship in
at another time.) How shall we welcome these twice-a-year folk
today? Shall we witness our belief in the risen Christ by our
hospitality and joy? That would be a good start!
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