Wednesday, April 7, 2010

[18.1] Easter Wednesday reflection - "It's spring, even at night."

Weeks ago, Keith invited me to offer the Reflection at Rest and Bread on this date.  It took until late this afternoon for this sermon to finish coming together, but as I've been writing catchup sermons in recent weeks, I've come to appreciate that a sermon I write today I couldn't have written last week or last month, that things happen that inform my engagement with a particular text, and that sermons don't have to be posted on the exact Sunday their lectionary is for.  My friend Scott said a while ago (IIRC), that a foxtrot is still beautiful even when it's to waltz music -- that I don't have to keep exactly to the lectionary calendar.  (Though this is one of the daily lectionary readings for today -- which is why I picked it in the first place.)
John 20:1-18

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken Jesus out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid the body.”  3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  5That disciple bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but did not go in.  6Then Simon Peter came, following the other disciple, and went into the tomb.  Peter saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.  10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “They have taken away my Jesus, and I do not know where they have laid the body.”  14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  Supposing this person to be the gardener, she said, “Please, if you have carried Jesus away, tell me where you have laid the body, and I will take it away.”  16Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Parent.  But go to my siblings and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Parent and your Parent, to my God and your God.’”  18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Christ”; and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

(NRSV, edited)
"Do not hold onto me."

Jesus calls Mary of Magdala by name, and she responds in recognition, and then the next words the risen Christ proclaims to her are: "Do not hold onto me."

The whole point of Easter is that even death cannot keep Christ from us -- that She loved us so much that She passed through even death to bring us through to salvation with Her.

Easter, more than of the other holy days, is about abundance.

We vigil through the night.  We hear again the story of how God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them -- the seas and the lands, the plants and the animals, the fish and the birds, humankind --  and proclaimed ALL of Creation GOOD.  We hear again the story of how the Israelites just freed from Egypt cried out "It would have been better for us to be slaves to the Egyptians than to die here in the wilderness," and in response God proclaimed "The captors whom you see today you will NEVER see again" and parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross through, never again to taste Egyptian slavery.  We hear again the story of the prophet Ezekiel's vision of dry bones growing sinew and flesh, moving once again with the breath of God -- of the whole house of Israel being brought up from the grave.  And after hearing all those stories, perhaps we commemorate the sacrament of baptism -- welcoming catechumens into the new and abundant life that is the Body of Christ.  And it is at that moment -- after we welcome the newly baptized into the Body of Christ that is the Church universal, that we declare, though it still be dark night on Holy Saturday, "Alleluia.  Christ is risen!"  (Audience: "Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia.")  We have increased the wholeness and fullness of the Body of Christ, and in that way we resurrect the Christ anew.  The dark of Lent is over and the light of Easter is come.  Having baptized this catechumen in a dark sanctuary, we now turn on all the lights -- for our light has come.

Some hours later, we greet the rising sun (with a "u") with alleluias for the risen Son (with an "o").

We co-opted a pagan celebration of spring for this holy day of ours [edit: or possibly we didn't].  We consume foods rich with fat and sugar -- those things that we have been lacking all Lent because in our forebears' time, here in the Northern Hemisphere, we wouldn't have had any this late in the winter -- fat and sugar in the shape of bunnies and eggs, more symbols of fertility.

The weary world rejoices that death does not last forever -- that life always triumphs over death, life abundant and life everlasting.

The One who has loved and led us returns, to love and lead us for all eternity.

And yet the Christ who has, in some traditions, literally been to Hell and back on our behalf, says, "Do not hold onto me."  I have work yet to do, work I cannot do if I stay here with you in the way that I was with you before.

I've talked a lot this Lent about letting go of things.  Things that do not feed us, that do not give us life.

I find it interesting that the Easter story is about letting go of our leaders, of our saviors.

I will soon be saying goodbye to my second pastor in less than six months.

It doesn't really make me feel any better to know that Mary had to say goodbye to someone who was so much more to her than Tiffany or Laura Ruth have been to me.

John is not especially helpful here.  We just hear that "Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Christ.' "  We don't read any more about Mary's mourning for the Jesus she has lost.

My best friend points out that Mary's loss -- the loss of the Jesus she had journeyed with for so long -- was made tolerable BECAUSE she had encountered the risen Christ.

Those who have touched us, who have changed our lives -- that effect doesn't end just because their physical presence departs from us.

I don't get to keep my pastors forever, but I can carry with me the things they have taught me, and I am indeed a new creation because of them (and because of lots of other people as well, of course).

We are an Easter people -- forever transformed by our experience of the resurrection.  And so we are called to be an Easter people not just on Sunday, not just in church, but every day and every where -- to carry that new life to the world, to carry into a wounded weeping world the assurance that new life DOES come ... and to carry that assurance into our own wounded weeping souls as well.

There's a poem I read today -- "Black Dress" by Laura Kasischke (from Gardening in the Dark) -- and here is part of what it says:
When Herod sat down at the dinner table, the roasted
bird flew from the platter crying, "Christ lives! He is alive!"
It's spring, even at night.

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