Published by Ronald Steed,
Sermon for Easter(Year B), April 4 2021
St. James, Poquetanuck; Grace, Yantic
You stand before the empty tomb. Peter and John have breathlessly entered it, and left for home, confused and bewildered… Jesus’ body is gone… only his burial clothes, stained with his blood, remain inside. And you are left, alone and weeping… not knowing what to do.
It has been an awful week… so dark… as bad as it could possibly be. This man you have followed for three years all over Judah… who healed so many… who stirred your heart with his word and presence… was murdered senselessly on Friday. You helped to lay him in this tomb, and there was no doubt he was dead… It was not the first time you have seen a dead person. But THIS person… this lovely person who claimed to be Israel’s Messiah is gone. And who follows a dead Messiah? No one.
And yet, here you are … you came in the dark, for a reason you cannot fathom. It felt like a compulsion, like you just HAD to get up and go to that tomb. Why? What were you going to do there? And now…. adding to the darkness of the week, his body is gone. What will you do?
You bend over to look inside, just to search out the corners one more time and make SURE it really IS empty in there… and there are two black people, sitting on the ledge where his body had been. Whether they are men or women, both or neither is hard to tell… they look androgynous and unemotional… how did they get in there? You’ve been standing there the whole time! "Why are you weeping?" one of them asks with an accent you can’t identify. You mumble something about Jesus’ missing body, when… you have the sudden sense that someone is behind you.
Turning, there is a young man standing there … maybe 17 or 18 and stunningly beautiful. You don’t know him… and yet… you might… there’s something about him… its in the eyes…where have you seen this young man before? Maybe he’s the gardener you think. "Why are you weeping?", he asks, "Who are you looking for?" You mumble incoherently…
And then… and then he speaks your name… it’s like hearing your name for the first time. The sound of it hits you like a bolt of lightening… as you stare into his eyes, with your name ringing in your ears and echoed back at you from inside the tomb… you know…. you know those eyes… you know those sparkling eyes and that smile. And you run into his embrace… your arms around him, and his around you.
In the tight embrace of this man, you are filled… filled to overflowing with more love than you have ever thought possible… its is way more than an emotion…it fills your mind and body and soul… your entire being tingles and vibrates with it. It is an impossible ocean of love… enough to fill the hill top… the whole City of Jerusalem…. all the people of Judah… all the people of all the nations of the world… all the skies of the Earth. The love you feel is enough for the sun, the planets, and all the stars… it fills all of creation. It is more love than you have ever felt… more than you can contain… it can’t BE contained. You feel like your heart is going to burst.
Mixed with this love, is suffering too… although it IS a single emotion that you feel, you can’t help but to feel that it is this amalgam of both love and suffering, as though this man has taken into himself, all the suffering of all the people everywhere. It is as though the water of a great river-of-suffering has been swallowed up in an ocean of love. The waters won’t separate now that they are mixed. YOU are having a GOD moment, and it is almost too much love to bear.
And at the same time you feel the enormity of this love, more than enough for all of creation… you ALSO feel this love focused on YOU… on you particularly… on you as his beloved child… just as you are, with all your endearments and all your shameful parts mixed together. There is no holding back from him… nothing about you is not loved completely and totally and without hesitation. And it is not JUST that you are loved as his child… you are also celebrated… lifted up as a glittering jewel of his own making. He is so proud of what he made… so in love with you… This is God having a moment of YOU, and God just delights in it.
In your mind’s eye, there is only brilliant white light… and in his embrace, you let your self go and just slip into the light. Whether this lasts 15 seconds or 15 minutes or 15 years is impossible to tell. Time has stopped…There is no YOU any more… there are just the two of you merged into one… the lover and the beloved; one and the same.
And all of this is a gift. You could never deserve what you are being given… it is all grace.
Your awareness begins to shift… you feel the coarse fabric of his shirt…feel the soft rise and fall of his breathing… you feel like there is a YOU again. You feel his body begin to release his embrace, but you hold on tight. He chuckles… "it’s ok… it’s ok to let go." "There is plenty more where that came from… more than enough for you and for everyone. It is my gift to the whole world. And we have work to do together. You and I are going to spread this love everywhere and to everybody, and we’re going to find others who will help us. We are going to heal the world with it, and form beloved communities with it. And I want you to start with our friends hiding in the upper room. Go tell them what you have seen. Tell them the good news."
A half-hour later, you burst into the upper room, astounding your friends who are gathered there. "I have seen the Lord!" you say… and so it begins.
Friends, whether you have had the gift of love like this already or whether you will have it in your lifetime, I cannot say… many have. But I AM certain that you WILL have it, either in this life or in the next. AND, I am certain that ALL of you have had a foretaste of it. There is no place you can go where this love is not also there. There is no one you will meet who does not have the spark of this flaming love within them waiting to be kindled, even if they don’t know it or scoff at the idea of it. There is no river-of-suffering that you will experience or encounter that will not flow into the great ocean of this love. There is no sin that you or others will commit that hasn’t been already nailed to the cross and put to death. I know that it doesn’t seem that way sometimes, maybe most of the time. I know that we are in dark times, and that darkness is real. I know that suffering and sin and heartbreak are real and present all around us, and they hurt, badly. I know that it seems like the world is still ruled by darkness and the dark one. Christ’s resurrection has not solved this problem for us yet, as much as we might wish it had.
But Christ’s light shines in the darkness, and the dark does not overcome it; the victory is already won. Something was set loose from that tomb 2000 years ago. It was more love than we can possibly imagine, and it WILL find a way to fill every heart. And it will find that way through people like you and me. The church has work to do, and no matter what form that church takes today or in the future in its service to God, whether in beautiful church buildings or rundown storefronts or in homes, or in the streets, its call is to bear witness to this light and this love. Be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth in this world. Speak the good news and act on it. Let the whole world see and know, that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by the one through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord, the risen one.
Alleluia, The Lord is risen…