Apr. 1, 2018 – Easter Day – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 1, 2018 in Easter, Feast Days, Sermons

The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day

April 1, 2018

“I have seen the Lord!” She said. The first to speak the good news of the resurrection did not tell us she’d seen the empty tomb, though that troubled her enough to tell about it not once, but three times. She did not tell us he was gone from it. She did not say Peter and the other disciple were with her and could back up her story, because they’d looked and then returned home. She said “I have seen the Lord!” Personal witness, personal experience, she told the undeniable truth seen with her own eyes, and the world has never been the same. When do we have the chance to proclaim good things that we have witnessed with such direct exuberance? “It’s a boy!” “It’s a girl!” “She said Yes!” “I got accepted!”

“I have seen the Lord!” She was that certain, that excited. This is the joy we feel together today, with Mary Magdalene, with the others who heard her shouts, and with Christians throughout the ages who have felt their hearts lift in such unbridled joy at the good news of the Lord’s Resurrection.

She knew him when he spoke her name; “Mary!” he said. At once we recall Jesus the Good Shepherd, calling his sheep by name, sheep who know him and follow the sound of his voice as they hear their names. This is the very message we tell the children to be baptized today; “Maddox Skyler Glasgow, We have seen the Lord!” “Jameson Timothy Michael McManus, We have seen the Lord!” We will baptize these two children of God today, and this whole community answers that charge to do all in our power to support these boys in their life in Christ, with a resounding “We will!” As they grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord they and their families will also know that there is a family of faith who stand in witness to their baptisms. We will be those who say to them, “I have seen the Lord!”—until they can claim that truth for themselves, proclaiming it to the next generation.

We revel in this joyful Easter acclamation today, and relish the fresh flowers, polished brass, bright dresses, and beautiful signs of resurrection all around us. Yet on Good Friday we left this room in sober silence after we all read the Passion gospel of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion and death. With breathtaking holiness we left the church darkened and absolutely bare save for an enormous wooden cross, and as we left we touched that cross, so heavy it took six men to carry it in and large enough to have been the one he was crucified on. Good Friday begins in the garden of Gethsemane, and it all ends in another garden in which a new tomb was prepared. God is in the garden with us, even when things don’t end well. If that sounds bizarrely incongruous consider what bookends Jesus’ life itself; he is born in a cave, then buried and resurrected from a cave! Yes, the best place for a stable in in Jesus’ day was a cave, providing stronger shelter and better protection from predators. Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, reminds us the traditional site honored as Jesus’ birthplace is not within the Church of the Nativity, but underneath it in a small cave below the altar.

The cave was where he was buried most likely no longer exists, and so we rely on the gospel accounts. They say it was in a garden, there was a great stone rolled into place, and that there were no witnesses to the resurrection itself. Those who came vary depending on which gospel account we read, but none of them saw it happen; they did see the risen Lord afterwards and knew it was real. So something happened in that cave, in the middle of death and complete darkness. Taylor goes into caves for the first time, facing her fear of them, and her guides give her opportunity to be safely in a cave ‘room’ by herself to reflect and experience such utter dark, such stillness. It closes in around her. Have you ever felt this? As she turns off her headlamp, she sees an impossible sparkling brilliance above her. There is a long fissure of tiny crystals in the rock, each one catching the meager light and throwing it back and forth. There are bits on the cave floor as well, and she marvels, picks up a tiny fiery piece that lights up in her hand and pockets it, then shuts off her light letting the darkness consume her.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine being there. It is a place with “the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…New life starts in the dark. Whether a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark” she muses sitting there. “After that I stop thinking. I simply sit in the sweet enveloping darkness, letting it erase me in the best possible way.” What is your still blacked-out cave time?  Where things can quietly begin. Even there, we are not beyond God’s transforming love. What have you known of new life transformed in the dark?

Once home she finds a small piece of dull gravel in the bottom of her bag and remembers the glittering crystal she picked up from the darkest part of that cave—surely this isn’t it! She holds it up to the sunlight—nothing. Still just gravel. “What in the world made me think this was a precious stone?” But the stone is not the problem, the light is, too much light in fact. When she takes it into the darkest room and shines a tiny penlight on it the stone ignites with that diamond-like brilliance, dazzling her once again! It is alive with light, but only in the dark. Back in the daylight it is again an ordinary bit of dull rock. What light was shining in your darkest hour? Already you have been the crystal reflecting God’s brightness to someone in their cave time, though you may not have known it. Are we more ready to see ourselves as dull rock than reflectors of the light of Christ?

She likens a cave to a labyrinth, one way in, one way out. It is an idea especially apt to me because of our new outdoor labyrinth here at St. Michael’s back yard garden, blessed by Bishop Rickel just last week, it’s center stone laid last night. It is for you to make pilgrimage—into the center. Pause. Rest. Pray. The way out is as you entered in, a slow deliberate walking prayer from start to finish. A journey with God without words. We have done that through Lent, traveling with our Lord these past weeks, and coming into the middle of that labyrinth at Holy Week, arriving at the sweet center just now. Today we turn around and see the journey out is new. Whether your metaphor is a labyrinth or a cave, God tugs us forward, outward into the light of the risen Christ.

Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple expect the body of their beloved friend in that tomb, as dead as the rock. When they see it empty they are unprepared. They  were so sure nothing so brilliant as the resurrection could have happened that two of the disciples simply – go home. Mary stays, weeping, her grief now doubled by what has apparently been ‘taken away.’ They all must let go of their ideas of the limits of Jesus in order to see the miracle which God has brought about in the risen Christ.

The realization of faith illuminated is something we must each find, and sometimes we need help in getting there, companions for going into the dark, and sometimes we need help in coming back out. This is why we practice our faith together as we do this morning, and all year long. We might come as couples, singles and families, and once here we feel how much we are the family of God together, the Body of Christ. This is what we do in baptizing Jameson and Skyler, and how we can say to them We have seen the Lord!’ This is what we do praying side by side and sharing the good news that God brings resurrection life out of darkness.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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