Easter Day, April 16, 2017
Acts 10: 34-43, Psalm 118: 1-2,14-24, Colossians 3: 1-4, John 20: 1-18
Driving home the other day I was surprised that the lead story on NPR “All Things Considered” was not about the 59 cruise missiles we sent onto a runway in Syria, nor was it about the rising threat of North Korea. No, it was the story about the doctor being dragged out of his seat, then down the aisle, and off his United Flight. This thing went viral because we instantly knew how we’d feel if that were us. How else could you feel but terrible! But then a thought-experiment popped into my head: What if I’d been dragged off the plane, kicking and screaming, and the plane takes off without me, but then falls out of the sky at 30,000 feet and nothing’s left but small pieces? How would I feel then?
I imagine that as beat up as I am I would begin to reframe the whole experience. Now what was horrible and unjust all of a sudden becomes what? A great gift, blind luck, and act of God? I would feel survivor guilt and great sadness for all those who had died and I would drop the lawsuit.
But I could also imagine beginning a process of reframing my life: I’d take off the old frame that holds the picture of my life, and put on a new frame that changes how everything else looks in the picture: My life, vocation, family, my view of God, would now be different because of this bizarre new frame. That event with both its tragedy and good fortune would crack the carapace, the hard shell, of my well-planned and controlled life.
We’ve all been through events that rock our world and we know they are a nightmare for a time, but then, by grace, we feel ourselves awakening as out of a drugged sleep and seeing everything anew, as if for the first time.
I want to suggest that the disciples have this sort of experience, when they escape from the horror that kills the one they love.
On Friday Jesus is crucified by the Roman Empire. (Did you know that 71 years before Christ Rome crucified 6000 slaves who had fought in the rebellion of Spartacus?) This form of execution is really good at accomplishing two goals: maximum suffering for the victim and maximum exposure to the people.
Jesus, naked, hanging in the sun for all to see, dies a horrible death of suffocation and blood loss. His followers also experience the death of their hopes and dreams. This ragtag group of fishermen, tax-collectors, single women, along with the poor and sick, thought Jesus was going to restore God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and mercy. They were transformed by his teaching and through his practice of sharing meals with those on the margins—the poor and the outcasts, that society often shunned. In his presence they felt Israel’s God in their hearts and in their fellowship.
But by 6 PM on Good Friday they abandon all hope because they have been dragged off their plane they thought was taking them to God.
Mary Magdalene whom Jesus healed of 7 destructive spirits goes early to the cemetery to grieve in private. She has so much to cry about.
BUT THEN…BUT THEN….
What can we say about what happens over the next few hours and weeks?
Mary finds the tomb empty. She gets Peter and John who race ahead to look, then just as quickly leave.
Now alone Mary looks into the tomb herself and sees the burial cloths but not the body. Then she runs into a man, dressed like a gardener, with dirt under his fingernails, and Mary demands to know what he has done with her dead friend.
BUT THEN…one word breaks through the carapace of her grief and despair. She hears her name: “Mary”. Only one person in the world says her name with that inflection of tenderness, acceptance and understanding.
She wants to fall at his feet and hold onto him forever—but this isn’t just Jesus of Nazareth, this is now Jesus the Cosmic Christ who can’t be held in any one time and place because he is now in all times and places.
At his command she runs to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”
Well—we know the rest of the story, because that story is the only reason any of us are here today.
And we face the same question the disciples face when Mary gives her report.
The question is: “What do we make of this story?”
We may have no trouble understanding how this encounter with the resurrected—crucified Jesus changes Mary, because everything in her life is reframed—her past, present, and future, her view of God and Jesus and creation and how she thinks of herself are radically different.
The old frame of abuse, sin, self-loathing, death, and despair is ripped off and replaced with a new frame of the presence of the Risen Christ that fills her heart and her world with light and peace. She can no longer see the stars or a grain of sand in the same way.
She’s still a poor single woman who is part of a defenseless group of nobodies who may be arrested at any time, yet over time this new frame will change how she sees everything—even her vulnerability and uncertainty.
This new frame gives the Risen Christ permission to enter her very being and begin erasing her factory settings, the settings of her culture, religion, and view of herself and others, and begin installing the settings of Christ’s own heart.
But what about us?
I know from personal experience that it is quite possible to believe this happened to Mary without that belief changing us.
Even if Mary takes a selfie of her and Jesus outside the tomb and posts it on Facebook and Instagram and tweets it to all of us, we might click “Like” but it wouldn’t have any power to touch our lives: Because what changes lives is not just believing something happened long ago and far away to people we never met, but having it happen to us here and now.
It’s not hard for us to believe a handful of Jewish nobodies could say, “Resurrection was”.
But sometimes it seems hard to take those first steps into trusting that RESURRECTION IS.
Here’s the thing: The factory settings of our life begin to change into the settings in the heart of Christ when we hear the Risen Christ calling our name. Of course, we don’t hear it except in those moments we open or have opened by suffering, our broken hearts and listen.
As we experience RESURRECTION IS nothing can permanently shake us: not our sin, or fear, or anger or grief, or “anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The actor Samuel L. Jackson has made a fortune by saying four words for Capital One Bank: He asks: What’s in your wallet?
What Easter asks us is: What frame is holding your life?
We all have a frame around the picture of our life: maybe it’s the frame of credit cards, success, a good diet, and loving my family.
Maybe it’s a frame that the universe is nothing more than a random interaction of blind, idiot forces.
We gather this happy morning surrounded by the beauty of flowers, music, and a diverse gathering of sisters and brothers in Christ to celebrate the frame given to us so freely by Triune God: RESURRECTION IS because Christ is risen—the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!