A Sermon for 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunrise
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Early in the day standing in the garden just outside the old city of Jerusalem, it is easy to imagine this morning. The world is hushed as the sunlight streams through the tree branches. All kinds of birds gloriously sing. Little flowers open their petals as if to proclaim their own alleluias. Of course, it’s impossible to be there alone these days what with the millions of pilgrims who make the trek to the Holy Land each year. The good news is that this treasure of the Garden Tomb is less crowded than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside the old city walls where Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians have built a massive structure over what they claim to be the sites. Not so in the garden – there’s none of that holy bling there. Just an authentic sense of a quiet spot only a stone’s throw from a rocky hill that literally looks like the shape of a human skull. Archeologists claim that was the site, the Place of the Skull, where Rome would have crucified insurrectionist as it was along a main thoroughfare out of the city and right over the spot previously used for religious stonings.
The day I was there last year with my pilgrim group, the garden was just beginning to bloom as the sun pierced the crisp morning air. I wandered around the garden trying to catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ standing among the fronds of palm trees or sitting among the greenery of what I think were eucalyptus bushes. . . . According to the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene slipped out of the Upper Room before dawn that first day after the Passover Sabbath was over. Presumably overwhelmed yet with grief, can you see her fumbling her in way in the dark along a narrow path. Down the steps near Caiaphas’s house where Jesus would have been held the long night before his crucifixion. Through Zion’s Gate and all the way from the southwest side of the city to just north of the Damascus Gate. Winding west of the Temple mount across the very same path today called the Via Dolorosa where they would have made him carry the heavy beam for his cross. It must have been a risky trek what with the city all a buzz from the swift action of Rome at the urgings of the religious leaders.
The gospel of John doesn’t explain why Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early on that next day, as some of the other gospels tell of spices to be bought for a proper burial anointing. John just says she went. She certainly got in a good workout that morning as she ran back to find Peter and another disciple before racing once again to the empty tomb. Peter and the other disciple are going to be the ones to go in first, into this cave in a garden very near to where their Teacher had been brutally killed by the state just a handful of hours before. The gospel of John makes a big deal about them seeing the linen cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ broken body at his burial. The cloth for his face even receives special mention, as if to note that no one would have raided the tomb to take away a dead body but stopped first to neatly roll up the cloth from his head and carefully place it alone in the tomb where his skull might have laid. No, the gospel wants us to know that his dead body hadn’t been stolen. Something miraculous had taken place. Like lying there in the absolute silence of death, when suddenly the breath of God returned to his lungs. Infused again in every cell with the force of life, almost how the buds of tree branches arouse from their winter’s sleep at the first hint of the warming spring sun. He found himself to be alive again and whether he unbound himself or if God made it happen some other way, it was like that day Jesus proclaimed about Lazarus: “Unbind him and let him go!” (John 11:44). Again in the wee hours before that dawn, he stood up.
I know it’s a tale many minds find difficult to fathom. You might too if in your day to day life you’ve not experienced such resurrection – such moments after the blows of life when you find yourself somehow, miraculously, again standing up. Maybe that’s why the gospel of John gives so much attention to the lingering Mary Magdalene. Peter and the other disciple are reported as leaving pretty quickly after they went into the empty tomb. But Mary of Magdala stood there weeping in the garden. If in fact it was the exact spot, then right there near the same spot I stood to take the photo of the tomb that is on the bulletin cover for today. We don’t know why she wept – if they were tears of anger. Tears of sorrow. Perhaps even tears with a hint of hope, wanting to be filled with great joy. When pressed on it, she simply says: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). When she turns to see who she believes to be the gardener, she makes the outlandish statement that if he knows where the body is, then just tell her and on the adrenaline in her own body, she’ll carry him away alone. Oh Mary! The Risen Christ must have been a little bit tickled at her impossible, impassioned plan. I wish we would been told if he giggled at her first before he finally spoke her name: “Mary!” Then, as suddenly as the Breath of Life must have returned to his body, joy flooded over hers. “My Teacher!” she exclaims. For even here in this empty tomb he is showing her the truth he’s been trying to tell them all along the way.
It doesn’t make rational sense – our logical minds can’t figure it all out. Which really is part of the gift. For in the world all around us, in those we love, and even in ourselves; Life happens again. It’s the underlying truth of it all for us simply to behold. To see. To trust. To wash over any doubt within until we’re left in total awe. The mystery of a Love that never will let death be the final word. Only Life. Life. Wonderful new Life. . . . In gratitude for such an amazing gift, from Mary Magdalene’s first thanksgiving through all the ages and even unto our own; let us join in the long line of great rejoicing. Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen!
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