Easter: How do you encounter resurrection?

Whatever brought you to Holy Communion this morning, we are glad that you are here. Some of you are here because your parents made you come. That’s a good thing. It’s good to build up political capital at home. You might need it later. Some of you are here because a sibling asked you to accompany them. Some of you are here because it is Easter, and you are supposed to go to church on Easter, and perhaps you feel a little awkward. That’s okay. We’re glad you are here. If you need help navigating this ancient liturgy, someone nearby can help. Some of you are here to hear our choir sing, and maybe support a particular member of the choir. Thanks to you. Whatever brought you here today, welcome. We’re glad you are here. Happy Easter.

To all of you, I want to ask a question. How do you encounter the resurrection?

There are truths that the mind cannot discover, only encounter. Love, might be the most commonly understood one of those truths that the mind can’t discover. You can’t quantify love. One of the ways to make a dogmatic scientist, someone who only believes what can be proven, one of the ways to make such a scientist angry is to ask, “do you lover your family?” When they say yes, you respond with “prove it.”

I recently participated in a friendly debate about the existance of God at our program Theology on Tap. My colleague James is the assistant leader at the St. Louis Ethical Society, and he describes himself as an Evangelical Atheist. Now James has a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge, so I’ll confess at times in our friendly debate I felt a little overmatched. But in the question and answer session, one of our members asked him about “love” could he prove the existence of love, and he was stumped. I smiled with pride thinking, “She’s one of ours!”

There are books out there that attempt to establish a quasi-scientific case for the Resurrection of Jesus. They count the guards on the tomb, and analyze linen wrappings. You can watch History Channel “documentaries” which use lasers to show images on the shroud of Turin that supposedly wrapped the body of Jesus.

As a side note, I kind of hope someone someday brings charges in court against whoever decided to call that channel “The History Channel.” Now I don’t want anything terrible to happen to them. In my mind, the ideal sentence would be that inventor of the History Channel has to endow several chairs for actual history professors at universities, and then attend history lectures every week for the rest of their life. Please don’t get your history or your theology from cable television. I simply wonder is the Resurrection a fact that we should spend a lot of time and money trying to prove with data? Or is Resurrection a truth, like love, like many truths of faith, is resurrection more meaningful as an encounter.

In our Gospel this morning, Peter and another disciple start out running. You can almost feel the chill in the morning air as each of them passes the other. The disciple Jesus loved reaches the tomb first. He has a sense that something sacred is going on, so he pauses. Peter catches up, and rushes past. He enters the empty tomb, sees the linens cast aside. But he doesn’t understand. The facts don’t add up. The Beloved disciple believes, the text tells us, but the Gospel doesn’t really fill out what this guy believes. The boys rush home just as quickly as they came to the tomb.

We’re left with Mary Magdalene. Thank God for Mary Magdalene. When I get to heaven, she’s one of the first people I want to go meet. Mary has some of what our Jewish neighbors call “chutzpah.” Mary gets to the tomb early, the Bible tells us, while it was still dark, and she sticks around after the boys go home. John’s Gospel likes to play with light and dark. John is the Gospel where Nicodemus, a powerful Jewish leader comes to learn from Jesus under the cover of darkness. Our presiding Bishop likes to call Nicodemus “Nick at Night.” Jesus tells him to come out into the light. There’s an interplay in John between light and darkness, day and night, clarity and obscurity. So there’s no mistake that Mary comes in the darkness.

Mary comes to Jesus before it all makes sense. Mary deals with the chaos, and the danger of what has just happened. She responds with faith. John wants us to understand that there is real danger here. She’s going out there on her own. The other disciples are doing what is sensible. They’re hiding. After all, their leader has been killed. They are in real danger. Mary exhibits bravery here, foolishness maybe, going out in the dark. As you well know the dark is allegorical in the Bible. Darkness, in John’s Gospel, stands for the oppression these people are facing from the Roman and religious authorities. The darkness stands for the evil, the injustice, the chaos. Darkness isn’t safe. Mary takes brave steps on Easter morning.

And after she finds the tomb empty, after the boys have checked it out and rushed home. Mary sticks around. Mary isn’t leaving without an answer. The frustration brings her to tears, but she’s going to figure out how to respond. She comes early, and she stays.

And because Mary makes these choices. Because she steps out with bravery. Because she sticks around. Mary encounters the angels, and then she encounters Jesus. She doesn’t know it is him at first. Mary also could be a sensible woman. She sees someone, and supposes him to be the gardner. You can tell she’s working this thing over and over in her mind. She says, “tell me where you have laid him. I will take his body.” She thinks she has added up the facts: there is a gardner. Oh, the gardner must have moved him.

Then comes the encounter. Jesus says, “Mary.” All the logic falls away. My teacher, she exclaims. Resurrection. Just as bravely as she set out, she returns to the disciples and says to them, “I have seen the Lord.” Hers is the first proclamation that Jesus is risen. She is the first witness of the resurrection. Hers is the first encounter. And Mary’s encounter with the Resurrected Christ has and will continue to remake the world.

How do you encounter resurrection?

Our world needs more people like Mary Magdalene today. We face a world that is, in some ways, filled with John’s allegorical darkness. The political rhetoric this season seems particularly heated. The threats of violence are real. Economic tension is the new normal. Terrorism dominates the news. That’s a lot of darkness.

We need some brave women like Mary Magdalene. We need brave men too. People who are able to step into that darkness with faith.

Many of you know Julie Farrar who sings in our choir. Julie can’t be with us for Easter today because she has been in Dijon France on some business. France has been more than a bit tense after last week’s terror attacks. Julie wrote just a couple of days ago:

On this Good Friday evening as I arrived at the church, two armed soldiers were standing on the steps outside. The battle between love/hope and power/hate still rages on. But in the dim light of the sanctuary the music of Gregorian chants rose a couple of hundred feet into the vaulted arches and floated over the crowd as the congregation followed them past the multitude of stone columns, stopping at different stations in the church to listen to the songs of love and sacrifice that had been heard there for 800 years. By the time the service was over, it was fairly easy to believe “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” — Where charity and love is, there also is God.

Dare I say, Julie encountered resurrection, even on Good Friday. In our world, all may appear to be darkness. The facts may tell us that the world is filled with danger, all hope may seem lost. But hope has a way of breaking through. Light has a way of breaking through. God has a way of breaking through.

Faith is for times like ours. Faith is about taking those first steps out into the dark. Faith is about sticking with the mysteries, even when others shake their heads and go home. If faith isn’t easy for you, that’s okay. Can you be like Mary? Will you stick it out? When the encounter comes, you will be glad you did.

In the short term, Rome was able to silence the revolutionary Jesus of Nazareth. They shut him down. Terrorized his followers, and cast them into the darkness. But then Mary Magdalene took some brave steps into that darkness. She had an encounter. She told the other disciples. Together they made sure that the Good News was told throughout the world. It might seem dark. It might seem like all is lost. But world, they said, you can take some brave steps. Light is more powerful than dark. Love is more powerful than hate. Life is more powerful than death.

How do you encounter the resurrection?

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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