Abbey 2012 Easter Sunday
A woman comes to the tomb. She comes to mourn for her friend. She comes to look at death. She comes, alone, to weep. He is no more, her friend. All she can do is come to place of death, to the house of death. She comes to be by his body. For that is all there should be left of her friend, his dead, cold body.
But she is surprised. The place of death has been broken into. The door of the house has been pushed aside. She came to mourn. She thought he was gone forever. But she finds something strange: a tomb but no body in it. She thinks, it has been stolen, it has been taken away. She is right, it has been stolen. But it was not stolen by death. Death did not walk away with this body.
Mary Magdalene sees the stone removed from the tomb but she does not really see what has happened. See does not see God’s work. It is God who stole the body. He was the one who came during the night and stole the body to bring it home, to his home. God was the thief in the night. He came and brought the body of his Son home to himself. But something happened when God came for his Son’s body. He could not bring the clothes of death along with the body. Instead he gave his son new clothes. He clothed him with light, with beauty and a life that never ends. The cloths that bound his body and the cloth covering has face, yes God folded them up neatly and left them behind. Perhaps someone would see them and believe.
We left here last Sunday, the Sunday of Jesus’ passion, putting the body of Jesus in the tomb. We went away astounded that an innocent man was executed so quickly. Today we gather to hear that the story is not over. We are listening to a story that says death is not the way our lives end. Yes, Jesus died. Yes, we will die. But that is not the end. We cannot roll the stone in front of the tomb and say it is over. Today’s celebration tells us that God is not finished with us. All the forces of darkness and evil do not have the last word. God has the last word. Mary comes to the tomb thinking it is the same with Jesus as for all others she ever knew. Love has died. Not so she will find out. The story of Jesus ends in life; it ends in a total change of the human person.
Today God says that innocent victims do not die in vain. God is saying that the human person cannot just disappear into the earth. We are of such value that our lives have an eternal value. When God comes to roll away he stone in front of house that holds his dead Son, he is sending a message loud and clear: Once a human being is born that human being is no longer destined for death. We can be like Mary Magdalene, looking for death and mourning for it. But God is saying that death is only a moment of change, a true Passover. It is a time to take off the clothes of the body and put on new ones. God is still working while we are lying in the tomb. Today God shows us what he is doing: his son becomes the first born of the dead.
The gospel writer says it is the first day of the week. It is a new day, like the first day of creation. A new age has begun. Indeed it has. Death has been defeated. The human story is being rewritten from this moment on or the real story is being written. St. Paul reminds us clearly today: think of what is above, not on what is on earth. To think of what is on earth is to think of death as a final goal. We must not think like people think in the old world. That world is gone. We cannot think in terms of violence, in terms of a power that crushes and abuses, in terms of getting ahead at someone else’s expense. We cannot think of isolation. Above all, we can no longer think in terms of myself, ourselves as the center around which everything must move. Instead we must think along the lines of the new world that resurrection brings: a world where solidarity reigns, where diversity is not seen as “other” and different” but as human richness and beauty; we are asked to think of a world where truth guides and communion is the heart of love. Remember what Mary saw: the stone was removed, taken away. Do we believe that? Do we believe that the enemy has been robbed of his kingdom, his door is open—never to be shut again?
Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, they too notice the clothes of the dead man. He didn’t take them with him. Peter was like Mary Magdalene, he looked but made no connection; least of all did he recognize God’s handiwork. The disciple whom Jesus loved: He looked at them and he believed. He recognized that something wonderful had happened to Jesus. Jesus could no longer wear his old clothes. He left them behind. Was it his being loved by Jesus that enabled him to believe?
It is a small thing to see the dead man’s burial clothes folded up. But in the sign of the old clothes lying there, the early followers of Jesus saw the sign of resurrection. The wonderful mystery of our faith in the resurrection is that we can become a sign, a witness like Peter says in his Acts sermon. We can bear witness to this new age precisely because we have put on resurrection clothes: we give witness to it, when we share with others without complaint, when the blessings we have received are poured out into the laps of others; when our words of greeting have a warm and open heart behind them, when the love we have embraces all; when we look at our bother and sister and see their gifts as gifts that lift up the community. We know we are in a new time when we look into the eyes of our neighbor and see that fear is no longer there, when we stand with others in their suffering and pain and not against them; when we let go of the hurts that others have done to us. When we do all of this, then we are becoming a sign that the resurrection is real.
The world does not need an empty tomb or burial cloths to know Jesus is risen. The world has you and me to see, to look at. And when it looks at you and me, can it see a stone rolled back showing the powerlessness of death and violence? When the world looks at you and me, does it see a new body, transformed and changed? When it listens to you and me, does it hear a word that speaks of peace? When it looks at you and me does it see that the clothes I wear, the life I live, flow from an energy and love so powerful that it radiates a light that allows for no shadow?
We can and must bear witness to that new world the beloved disciple, Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene saw a long time ago on the First Day: the stone has been removed; the burial clothes are folded up, left aside! When we are bearing witness to that truth, then Easter is not a long time ago but still alive and coming alive in the world today.
Christ is risen, alleluia!
He is truly Risen, Alleluia.