Easter Sunday, April 01, 2018 Doug Norris
(Isaiah 25 , John 20:10-18)
This is a startling day. Easter. It is the hinge on which the whole package moves. Everything we know about Jesus up to this day is about the course of his life as a human : his birth and his work and his learning and his teaching and his trouble and his joy and of course the deep trouble of this week, and his death and this is exactly what pins him to us as a fellow pilgrim. In everything up to this day he is walking so much of what we walk and he is doing it with a power and a grace and a wisdom that make us say ‘I want some of that…’ Can part of me, even part of the time, live like that? Then I will be OK. If I can know some of what he knew and see some of his light most of the time then I will be OK on this pilgrimage we share. That’s what we find right up to this day.
And everything we know about Jesus after this day is a mystical presence. In a little while the world will see me no more but you will see me. I am in you, you are in me… After Easter he is elusive and seen in glimpses and visions, a mystery of faith. So we are poised here, today – Easter – all this behind us and all this ahead of us.
Permit me to tell a brief story. In the fall, during my sabbatical, I traveled to Kentucky to spend a few days at the Gethsemani Abbey. Enroute I spent a night in Louisville. Lovely place, right on the banks of the Ohio River. I went to the Louisville Slugger baseball bat museum, had my picture taken with a wax statue of Colonel Sanders, walked around for a while. I walked across a bridge that spans the Ohio River, about half a kilometer. Like many bridges it spans two worlds. On the downtown side of the bridge life was very swank – tall granite office towers, upscale restaurants with riverside patios, statues of horses that have won the Derby, hotel doormen with nice uniforms. Once you walk across the bridge, it changes. Over there the bank of the river is swampy, you see a beat up transmission shop with old cars rusting in the back yard, some strip malls, a Hooters pub.
But this story is about the sidewalk on the bridge. At one end of the bridge there is a note spray painted on the sidewalk : Walk this way. And an arrow points for you to go further on, onto the bridge. Every so often there is another arrow, then another, then a painted note : almost there, a little further. And then right when you are near the middle of the river, a set of words appears in the same spray paint letters. A word every 10 feet or so : Stand – Here – And – Say – Something – Meaningful. To the river, to the cars, to the fish and the birds – stand here and say something meaningful.
I take this as an instruction for a day such as this. Stand here and say something meaningful. You’d better get Easter right. This is the frank message from St Paul. It’s in 1 Corinthians 15. If you mess this up, if you end up with a faith that has no resurrection, what’s the point? If Christ is not risen then our faith is in vain and we are of all people most to be pitied…
I am a big fan of the human Jesus. I am susceptible to believing that we can know about him, and that the way he was in the world can make its way through my thick skull and in bursts, in moments here and there, shape how I am in the world. Who he was in those days has something to do with what my true identity as a human is – our true identity – we can see in his humanity our shot at holiness. So I want to know all about those days. That said, I am learning also to trust the mystery that his profound humanity was inseperable from his utter holiness. Body and spirit, always one. His God-intoxicated life, as Marcus Borg once put it. Our God-intoxicated lives… In the half-light, through my years of looking, wondering, I think maybe I have seen Jesus.
In the half-light of the morning – in fact while it was still dark – Mary Magdalene risked a trip to the tomb where Jesus had been placed. This is passed over fairly lightly in the Bible – which simply says ‘She went to the tomb’. But for a woman to move around in the city alone, in the night, at a time of unrest, moving past Roman guards and camped troops who would be more likely to harass her than to protect her, this was a furtive trip. Likely she was staying on the east side of city, perhaps where they had rested the night before, in the garden of Gethsemane, or up the hill in Bethany. The tomb of Jesus was most likely on the other side of the city. So in the half-light she stumbled the journey to him.
Why did she go? And why alone? Some of the gospels say that she went with others, other women, in the morning, with spices to anoint him. This is very plausible. More respectable. But I think it misses the drama that John understands. Were they maybe embarrassed that a woman had so impulsively rushed to him? There is an intimacy and intensity here that they perhaps did not want to acknowledge. Is there a whiff of scandal here ? Oh, the humanity of it. Jesus, loved passionately by this woman, who cannot stay away even from his grave…
(song – ‘Could We Start Again Please)
In the half-light of the day that was just emerging, she did not see clearly. Her sight was blurred by her tears, as she leaned into the tomb. John says two angels were there, and one spoke to her : Woman, why are you weeping?
Let me pause , and propose a speculative version of how this story might have gone. A feisty Mary.
Why am I weeping? What kind of angel are you?? Did you fail angel school??
I am weeping because in the half-light of the terrible day that is emerging I will now be alone. Something radiant has been extinguished and I weep for it. For him. Angels ought to weep…
In my speculative version of this story, Mary talks back : Why are you not weeping? Have you not been paying attention? If we are watching in the world – and it is so easy not to – so easy to be anesthetized to all that goes on – if we are watching in the world, how can we not be weeping? There are two traps available – that we distract ourselves and imagine, because we can, for a long time, that all is well, that there is no trouble. The other trap, of course, is that we get mired in the trouble, and see no way out. Neither of these knows about Easter…
Here’s something I see. I want to try out this idea. It is the unfinished character of this resurrection. Here’s my clue : Mary apparently goes to hold him and he says no, you can’t hold me any more, I really am not here in that way any longer. I am ascending to the Father.
Jesus is neither only here nor only there – he is halfway home, he is poised on the bridge. Mary cannot hold him – not any longer, but neither is she alone.
She can only be told (first apostle!) go tell the others. Tell them what ? Tell them it is Easter. Tell them that just when it looks like it ends, it starts again. Tell them – sing to them ! They cut me down and I leap up high, I am the life that will never ever die… Dance, then, wherever you may be !
This was unexpected – what do we do now? Could we start again, please ?
Halfway home. Isaiah said to the exiles : Just when it looks like it is over, I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth.
We are always on the bridge, with Jesus, living in between these two worlds, and always our weeping, which has its day, is met by the half light of the new day, and it is enough… We rise again.