Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Christ Episcopal Church
March 27, 2016
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
I was enjoying dinner with a university colleague when I received a text message from a friend asking me to come to Children’s Hospital. She was in the neo-natal ICU section with her newborn daughter who was suffering a terrible infection. Upon entering the room, I found a sweet baby girl hooked up to oxygen, tethered to an IV, with a finger monitor taking her pulse. She was uncomfortable, sleepy, and crying. And I saw this, too: a mother who had next to no sleep, holding her daughter closely as she moved gently back and forth, rocking her child, humming a melody, and then whispering in her ear that soon all would be well – a mother holding this precious life as if she were holding the whole world in her arms, coaxing this fragile life into health and wholeness.
Set next to that warm and secure room, the Easter gospel narrates astonishing occurrences taking place outside, in a space that was anything but safe or comforting. Indeed, in John’s story, we are brought to the tomb – the place of death – and hear of Mary Magdalene who, at first, thinks the body of Jesus has been stolen. We hear of two disciples who discount her report; of burial shrouds abandoned; of two angelic, otherworldly figures; of mistaken identity – is this stranger a gardener? – and the moment of revelation when her name is called and she recognizes, in the midst of grief and death, the presence of unexpected and astonishing life but life strangely transformed.
Taken together, these scenes all seem to come from a world so different than our own, a world that may have more in common with fantasy than reality, in which the sky opens for celestial beings, in which women – normally silenced in public – are called to speak boldly, in which angelic figures appear and ask the most earthy of questions: Why are you weeping?
I wonder, then, if we, whose vision of life has been shaped so pervasively by modernity, that is, shaped by a view of life that is comfortable only with facts and their scientific verification, might we find this narrative too much for us; so alien to our experience that we are tempted to relegate this story to the mythology of the ancient world or the fertile imagination of an overly-enthusiastic gospel writer. Perhaps, then, we are tempted to pass by this gospel and thus find ourselves at a safe distance from empty tombs, angels, and the dead raised to life. Perhaps, then, we are tempted to pass by this gospel story, finding ourselves at a safe distance from the Creator of heaven and earth who just might do something unexpected in your life and mine, who just might coax your life and mine into greater health and wholeness, who might raise up what appears to be cast down or of little value within us and this world, who might be interested in transforming what you and I may experience as lifeless or life-threatening in our relationships with each other and this world filled with beauty and, as we know so well, with terror.
It would be so much easier to relegate such power to the past for if we do so everything could remain the same in the present, couldn’t it? We might enjoy a sip of bubbly at the Easter brunch, take a nap this afternoon, and get on with the same old thing, your attitudes and mine, your affections and mine fundamentally unchanged by what we hear and do in this place. If so, then I begin to wonder: was Karl Marx, the German philosopher, correct when he argued that religion can serve as a drug, a narcotic, that numbs us to the suffering of the world and makes us resistant to any thought of change?
It would be so much easier to imagine that the promise of resurrection awaits you and me only at death or on the Last Day, rather than ten minutes or ten days from now. But I ask you consider this: what if the God who raised Jesus into a new form of life might be interested in doing the same with you and me as we live and as we breathe in the present? What if this loving God were eager to draw you and me into God’s own desire to resurrect the earth from ecological degradation; eager to draw you and me into God’s reconciliation of persons, families, and nations in conflict; eager to heal a painful memory or an estranged relationship that feels like a sharp stone in that shoe you call your life? What if this compassionate God were eager to draw you and me more deeply into a community committed to the full flowering of human life as seen in the life of Jesus?
For you see, here is the truth of the matter: the One who was thought to be rendered powerless by the cross and silenced by tomb, has been raised into a new form of life and that new form is you, is me, his living body in the world today. That is, he has been raised into you and me through the water-washing of baptism and the silent outpouring of the Spirit who enables us to nurture health and wholeness in this fragile world; to hold each other, our relationships, and this conflict-prone world with love, with love, as if we were all mothers holding a precious though endangered life in our arms.
It seems to me, then, that this most solemn and joyful day of the year raises for you and me this question: How will that life-giving presence be revealed with greater illumination in your life and mine, revealed in our daily living, revealed today and tomorrow?
Or say it this way: Do you recognize that you yourself shine with the radiant light of the Lord’s resurrection and, that you, with your brothers and sisters here, have the power to coax the fragile life in others and this world into health and wholeness and thus participate in God’s own project to feed the hungry, heal the wounded, and raise what is dead into unexpected life?
If there is any truth in what I say, then what are we waiting for?