The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Easter Day—Year A (video link)
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
After the sabbath, when it was getting on toward dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to see the grave. When last we met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, they had watched their beloved die; they’d watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take his body off the cross and wrap it in a linen cloth and lay it in a tomb. The men had left—it was the day of Preparation—but the women had lingered. But sabbath obligations eventually drew them away. Though their bodies were occupied doing other things, their minds and their hearts and their spirits were still sitting vigil at that tomb. You know how it is when a loss has rocked you, you may be going about your normal routines, but your heart, your mind, your spirit is most definitely somewhere else.
So, it is no surprise that as that dawn was breaking, they were beating a path right back to that place where their beloved Lord lay dead. It’s interesting, but there are two words in greek used to describe this place of burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, they lay Jesus in a tomb, a sepulchre, a tangible place to preserve the memory of the one who lay there. But the women go to see the place where the body was buried. For them, this isn’t so much about memory; they are not that far along in their journey of grief; for them, this is about loss.
And they didn’t go just to look at that grave; this wasn’t any old kind of seeing, but this was the seeing that you do with your heart, the kind of seeing you do when you are attentive to something, when you want to consider something at the deepest level, when you are trying to discern the meaning of your experience.
But lo and behold, when they arrived, there was a great earthquake, a great shaking. I’ve always thought that earthquake was necessary to get that stone to start rolling, but in Matthew’s gospel, the angel’s got the rolling-the-stone-away part covered. This great shaking is set loose by the energy that is moving across the realms—the veil between heaven and earth can be so very, very thin. This shaking comes when that divine realm we call heaven has a word to speak to the realm where we live and move and have our being.
And this shaking isn’t just about those realms opening to one another, but there is something else at work here. Maybe it was necessary to shake the women out of their grief; maybe it’s necessary to shake us out of whatever blinders we have on this morning.
For some of us, we, like those women, may well be in a place of grief and loss, yearning to hope and fearing to do so at the same time.
For others of us, the blinders are more subtle—we know the end of this story; we know that Jesus will rise, and so resurrection becomes one more milestone to mark, but it doesn’t really touch us and turn our world upside down. So, we need a great shaking to shake us out of the familiar and reorient out heart to what is actually unfolding before our eyes.
Well, that angel rolls away the stone with an appearance like lightning and clothes that are white as snow. The response of the guards is terror and then to shake like crazy, same word as the shaking that angel’s descending from heaven set loose. But their shaking doesn’t wake them up; it deadens them. In their fear, they lose their capacity to see with new eyes.
And then, that angel sets about doing what angels always do. What is it that the angels always say? That’s right, “Fear not!” “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” And this word for looking is different than the seeing that drew the women to the grave—this looking is about seeking, searching, desiring, longing to find. That angel knows that what drew those women to that tomb, and draws us here today, is a deep, deep longing to find that which we’ve lost. The angel names that longing, but then shatters all of our expectations.
With our hearts shaken open, words fall into them that seem too good to be true—“I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” And yet a third greek word pops up for see—this one is to discern clearly, to perceive with the mind, to experience, to know. This isn’t about proving that he’s gone from the burial chamber; this is about experiencing that he’s alive, this is about knowing with all of our hearts that Love has come again.
“Come and know this,” the angel says, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, there you will experience him, there you will know the reality of resurrection.’”
So, the women left the tomb quickly with a good bit of terror and great joy and they ran to bring these tidings to the disciples. They hardly get down the path when Jesus meets them with joy, and they came up to him, and they held on tight to his feet, and they kissed his hand, as you do when joy meets joy and overflows.
Jesus tells the women the same thing that angel said, “Do not be afraid; go and proclaim to my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”
“Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of resurrection. Go and share the news. Tell everyone to go Galilee. Go to that place where your life is lived, go to that place where you make your living, that place where you dwell with your families, that place where you gather with friends, go to that place that is as ordinary as ordinary can be. Tell everyone to go there, and there they will see me.”
We come here today to taste joy and taste resurrection in the beauty of the flowers and the glorious music, we come to taste joy and resurrection in the freshly baked bread and the sweet wine, we come to taste joy and resurrection in the irrepressible, uncontainable, bouncing-off-the-walls joy of children.
We come here today to see the place that holds our loss, trying to sort through the pieces, and that seeing turns into seeking and yearning, and that seeking turns into experiencing and knowing with all our hearts what our rational minds struggle to take in—you can’t seal this life away. Love has come again. Life has swallowed up death.
Resurrection isn’t a myth but is ground of our being. And just as that tomb couldn’t contain the Risen Christ, this wondrous morning won’t contain him either. We taste it here, but we will experience it and know it as he meets us in our Galilees. So, the shaking happens here; we throw off our graveclothes here, but resurrection is waiting on down the path to greet us with joy; resurrection is calling out to us not to be afraid of this new life; resurrection is promising to meet us as we go back to our lives this afternoon and tomorrow morning and the day after that.
Let your eyes be opened ever wider to the ground that is shifting beneath your feet, and let your hearts be opened wider still.
Let your sorting turn to seeking turn to knowing. Then go, tell your brothers, tell your sisters, you won’t find him in the tomb, but you will see him in your Galilee where resurrection is waiting to greet you with joy. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 16, 2017