Easter Sunday Sermon
Three years ago this May, I spent three weeks traveling and studying in the Holy Land. Every day was packed full with visiting places throughout Israel, my classmates and I had adventures to the tune of singing Christmas carols in the caves where Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, drinking from Jacob’s well where Jesus talked with the Syrophoenician woman, swimming in the Sea of Galilee, renewing our baptismal vows in the Jordan River, taking time to walk across the barren hills of the Judean wilderness, and walking the stations of the Via Dolorosa, the way through Jerusalem Jesus is believed to have walked on the way to his crucifixion. On one of our action packed days we experienced an unplanned stop at the border wall separating the Israelis and the Palestinians. The guards went through our tour bus, checking all of our passports, asking a few of the group to get out and check through personal items. We waited there for a while, with the bus facing the wall and seeing the increasing line of people waiting to pass through the border check point. It was sad to see such obvious division between people who have so much in common.
Last summer I journeyed to Germany and took the time to visit the Berlin Wall, that infamous wall of separation between what used to be West Germany and East Germany. Even in pastoral Ireland, when I visited there, the landscape is littered with stone walls, crisscrossing the rolling green hills. Everywhere I go it seems, there are walls. I lived in Texas. And everyday I heard questions and worries about the wall and the border between the USA and Mexico. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter where we are in the world, we as humans are great at building walls. Stone, brick, concrete. It doesn't matter, we know how to build walls to keep each other out.
When I think of the gospel passage this morning, I see many differences between Jesus and ourselves, however one stands out to me in large letters. Jesus is not stopped by being entrapped behind stone walls. No tomb will contain Jesus. No walls can contain Jesus. No stone will stop a messenger of the Lord. God has done a marvelous work in Jesus. Jesus has overcome death. If even death cannot stop Jesus, nothing can stop Jesus. Not walls, not those we perceive as strong, not massive armies, not the rich and powerful. Jesus has already overturned the foundations of society. The foundation stones of society cannot stop the gospel, cannot stop Jesus.
Along with physical walls, there are, of course, emotional walls holding us back. Letting someone else inside your personal walls is a tell-tale sign of personal connection. All these walls stop us from sharing the community and unity for which Jesus stands. However, when we share our stories of Jesus, when we share our stories of what it is to be human, when we share what our lives are like, those walls come down. We are able to break on through to the other side. We are able to experience a bit of the joy and new life which Jesus wants to share with us.
It is a scary proposition, to live without walls. To break down the walls already in place, with decades of tradition, justifications miles long, and defenses to defy the most powerful forces. Yet, Even though we are afraid, there is no stopping the power of the gospel. There is no stopping Jesus. When walls come down there is plenty of debris and dust and confusion and cleaning up and readjusting to the new way of living. In the freedom of the gospel, that is the work of loving other people. Tearing down the walls and reaching out to those on the other side.
Do Not Be Afraid
Certainly, there is plenty to be afraid of in our current world. War, terrorism, unemployment, hunger, poverty, losing your home, losing your loved ones, losing your life. The list could go on and on for a long time. In the gospel passage, we hear, along with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the instruction, Do not be afraid, we hear it not once, but twice. Once from the angel of the Lord who meets the women at the tomb and, again, from Jesus when they meet him on the way to tell the disciples. The women’s receptivity to what the angel tells them and their ability not to be struck dumb by fear stands in stark contrast to the guards who are watching the tomb who shake at the appearance of the angel and become “like dead men.” (The Bene Gesserit mothers from the scifi series Dune were right, fear is the mind-killer, fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.) Fear literally held those guards back from experiencing Jesus.
Yet, we are told, Do not be afraid. Do not let fear hold you back. Do not let any wall, tomb, fence, hold you back. Trust in God. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection goes in so many directions. God has already started a marvelous work in the world. God is about to do a marvelous work in us.
When you are given a mission (and we have been)(you'll hear more about that in a minute) do not hold back. The women are giving a job to do. I would totally understand if they are afraid of telling the disciples about what they experienced at the tomb. Who was going to believe them? In Jewish law, you had to have three women to equal the testimony of one man, so already their witness is in the underdog category. And then to think of the actual message. Jesus is not dead, even though they all already know he has been crucified. Jesus “has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him!” Those poor women, the men were going to think they were crazy.
However, they listen to the angel and Jesus. They do not let fear hold them back. Immediately, they worship Jesus, there on the spot. Worship and fear cannot go together. True worship wipes out fear and unites us in community. Then they go and tell the disciples the good news. They tell the disciples about the resurrection. The benefits of following Jesus are worth the vulnerability, worth the moment of being thought crazy. Biologically, fear is a natural reaction, and while the protective parts of the brain have kept us alive for so long, fear has no place here.
In the middle of the Eucharistic prayer, everyone in the rooms says something together. We call it the Memorial Acclamation. In today's service, in Eucharistic Prayer B, the Memorial Acclamation goes like this: We remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, We await his coming in glory. Basically, the Memorial Acclamation is the encapsulated version of what it means to be a Christian. We are people who remember Jesus' death. We proclaim his resurrection, (that is part of our mission). And we wait. It does not speak about fear. Christian life is standing up to fear - not letting it stop us.
When angels, messengers of the Lord, come to tell us things, the first thing they say is always, Do not be afraid. Many have ruminated on this and said that obvious angels must be scary looking. However, there is a part of me that wonders whether the reason they say do not be afraid first is because they know what is coming. They warn us ahead of time. What is coming may be scary, they say, do not be afraid. In this instance, with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, what they are told next is fear inducing. What they are told to do was going to take courage. But what they are told is oh so important! And by no means to be stopped by fear. They were given a mission. A mission from God.
Do you remember playing hide and seek as a child? Or playing hide and seek with your child? Do you remember trying to be silent, waiting, filled with expectancy…waiting to find or be found. I remember many a game of hide and seek growing up at the Cathedral in Bethlehem, trying to squeeze myself into a particular little cabinet under a counter in an alcove near the offices that contained the office fridge, microwave, and coffee pot. Amid the coffee filters, Styrofoam cups, and napkins, I would wait breathlessly. Feeling suddenly very alone in a small space in a huge building. And when it was my turn to count and seek, wandering those hallways, searching for my siblings, friends, cousins, neighbors, expectantly going and searching, knowing that strung around the building, like a string of pearls, were other children already waiting for me.
Jesus does the same thing. He waits for us, throughout the world. Both the angel and Jesus himself tell the women to tell the disciples to go find Jesus elsewhere. The women are given a mission, Go! He was not in the tomb, he was waiting for them in Galilee. Go! They say. Go find Jesus! He is not here. Funny enough, the women find Jesus even before they get to Galilee. Jesus wasn’t just waiting there for the disciples, he was also there near the tomb. We are given the same mission. Go! Jesus is waiting for us everywhere. He has gone before us and will meet us out there.
Now, you may still question where you will Jesus hiding out in the world. I tell you, Jesus is there. Jesus is here, in the midst of the community present. In the people sitting next to you, in front of you, and yea, even behind you. Jesus is here, in the Eucharist, in the act of giving thanks for all the blessings that we have received from God. Jesus is in Galilee as well, out among the people, among the needy, the poor, the outcasts, the every day ordinary folk. Jesus is out there, at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, at the grocery store. Jesus is on the journey with us, as a pilgrim, wherever we go, we cannot be out of God's reach. Jesus in your heart, waiting for you to find him.
There is always that emotional moment in the game of hide and seek. When the seeker finds and the hider is found. There is joy, there is laughter, there is the knowledge that you are not alone. That is the way it is when you find Jesus, out there in the world waiting for you. When we go looking for Jesus, we will find him. After all, that is the beauty of hide and seek, you already know that you will always find, because you know they are waiting for you. You already know what is waiting for you too, and you will always find Jesus.