Sermon for Easter
March 27, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
Death stinks. Not just the pain of grief, and not just the existential problem of obliteration, nor the theological problem of the apparent overruling of a life-giving God by lesser forces. Every death involves certain practical problems, too, especially in a populated area. Like the problem my priest friend was trying to solve yesterday. He was down in his basement with an air duct disassembled, trying to suck out a dead mouse with a shop vac. Not bad for Holy Saturday.
In sacred art, scenes of the Resurrection invariably have Jesus looking sharp, draped in an immaculate robe of red and/or white. And if you believe he could rise from the dead, then you probably believe he could have conjured up whatever clothing he deemed appropriate for the occasion. But that’s not the way I picture it. He had been stripped of his garments immediately before he was nailed to the cross, and he left his burial shroud in the tomb, where it belonged, so I imagine he looked around and threw on the first clothes he could find. He may have just forgiven all humanity, triumphed over death and the grave, and won for us everlasting life, but he was still fully human, maybe at this point a little more fully human than the rest of us, but still who he was, a worker who was brought up solving practical problems. The Son of God was still Joseph’s son.
So anyway, that’s my best guess as to why Mary Magdalene, who knew him so well, mistook him for the gardener. And she found out, like all of us do, that when you meet the risen Christ, he gives you a job to do. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Since she did, we call her Apostle to the Apostles, the one who set in motion the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, the joy that continues to drive the Church.
I wonder, though, if they were entirely happy to hear the news. They were certainly sad that Jesus had died, but they knew they had let Jesus down in his darkest hour. And they had hidden themselves away because they were afraid that being identified as his followers could earn them the same fate as had befallen Jesus. The Romans had more than three crosses, you know. A lot more. It would have been so much easier to change their clothes and go back quietly to Galilee, go back to the familiar rhythms of work and home, to fade back into anonymity. And there was ample precedent. There were a lot of itinerant teachers in those days, and that’s what their followers always did when the teachers stopped teaching, for one reason or another. And indeed, even though they did listen to Mary Magdalene and come to the empty tomb, and they did believe that Jesus had risen, at least some of them did return to Galilee, and to fishing, and Jesus met them there, on the shore.
He met them because they weren’t done. Meeting the risen Christ is the beginning, not the end. And he had a new job for them to do, a new set of clothes for them to try on. The unprecedented vocation of apostolic ministry. The responsibility to care for people, to show them and teach them that God is love, and that God’s love is so powerful that it forgives all our sins and overcomes death itself. A big job, but a joyful and fulfilling one, and one that anyone can do. Loving people and telling them God is good, all the time, is not the exclusive domain of the clergy. It’s just what you do when you’ve met the risen Jesus, even if you might have mistaken him for someone else.
Often this means solving practical problems. As Jesus said, the poor are still with us. The world is still a broken place, still traumatized by fear and greed. The stink of death still haunts the wind. But Jesus did something about it, and as his followers, so can we. Whenever we respond to the needs of the world with generosity and grace, we stand with Jesus and the saints as apostles sharing the love of God with the world, even when that involves firing up the shop vac. For Christ has redeemed the whole universe— he fills all things just the way they are, including us, our whole beings, even the parts of ourselves that feel less than holy. He sanctified a cross and a tomb, the tools of suffering and death, so he can certainly sanctify us. And he does, now and always. Happy Easter.
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