The Lord is Risen! Indeed.
In thy light, we see light, confesses the church of Christ. In thy light we see. Enchantment revealed. Humility found. Abandon unbound. “In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.”
Joanna, otherwise a stranger to us, has been included in the group of women who religiously approach the tomb. Our festival today affirms that religious practice, the detailed discipline of attention to the sacred, can be showered with light. They are keeping the Sabbath by waiting until the first day of the week. They are keeping tradition by anointing the body, with materials earlier prepared. They are keeping faith by facing death. By visiting the tomb, the flesh, the corpse. At early dawn…
In reverie I look back thirty two Easters and the days preceding them, and the dead rise up. Laurie, Edson, Stan, Mildred, Lucille. You will have your own names and faces and loved ones in mind. It is one thing to attend to religious practice, and another to do so, to visit the body, when you have loved the person. At early dawn…
At early dawn…Morning light is new light. Spring light is new light. Easter light is new light.
And along they come, toward us, along the practice road. Joanna, and others. You. You are here on Easter. Something, some lingering memory of a lingering memory, has brought you along. Religious practice—ask Joanna—can sometimes, suddenly, surprisingly, bring illumination. The great joy of Marsh Chapel is that our preaching is largely to those who are in between. Not religious enough to come to church, but religious enough to listen. Still within earshot. A paper, a bagel, a willingness in whimsy to enter a bit of religious practice from afar, by radio, by ipod, by internet, by computer. Come Easter, more than other Sundays, many have come here. The beauty of the Marsh pulpit: not preaching to the choir, but to the driver, the bagel muncher, the ipod user on a bicycle, the ecclesiastical expatriate, the atheist, the one harmed by the church, the musician attuned—seemingly—only to the music, the academic, the lonely at home.
Your bit of religious practice has brought you out into the light. How so? Just what are we doing here?
Joanna and the women, moving at dawn, through the mist, toward the tomb might say something to us. The seder meal affirms the covenant people’s mission to preserve and affirm a commitment to hope.
They might affirm what we find all around us, when we pause. (Pause, say, from—too much work, too much worry, too much talk, too much e-talk, too much food/sex/drink, too much fear). At dawn, through the mist, toward the tomb, they find joy, order, humor, hope, virtue, beauty, music. There is the sweet scent of a newborn child, silent in the arm. There is the orderly happiness of that rarest of arts, a well run meeting. There is touch of humor, the truth of mirth of courth. There is the native hue of resolution behind hope. There is the patterned simplicity of a well lived life. There is the beauty of dawn or sunset or both. There is music, beautiful music, invisible beauty, the ringing beauty of music. There are hints and allegations and forms of presence. You cannot be alive, humanly speaking, and miss them.
So thinking, with Joanna, you would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance (eecummings).
We are not really in a position to say what God can and cannot do, are we? The resurrection questions us.
Welcome to enchantment. After all the winter of disenchantment, welcome. See, what do you see? In a resurrection light, you see wonder, you see amazement, you see awe, you see enchantment.
In Spain, in the evening, during the paseo—Adios, Hola—an introduction is made and then, ‘encantado, encantado en conocerle’. Enchanted.
You listen to a child singing alone just before falling to sleep, and tell me you sense no enchantment? You watch a 9 year old, ball glove on, striding toward Fenway park, other hand in his Dad’s other hand, and tell me you sense no enchantment? You see Lake Lucille. You look down from the Matterhorn. You walk in mid December through a jewelry store. You come into a barn at dawn, with the milking in gear, and Louis Armstrong on the radio. You watch a daughter caring for her mother in the last month of life. You hear the hymns of Easter. And tell me you sense no enchantment? No wonder? No “thaumadzon”?
Oh, we hear the other tune, too. The natural horror of earthquake. The historical tragedy of warfare. The social failure of poverty. The resurrection follows but does not replace the cross. Enchantment comes with its measure of perplexity. As Ivan Karamazov tellingly put it, even one, just one suffering innocent defies explanation or defense. Ours will be a muted, a humble, enchantment, won by living through more than by thinking through.
Strange. The strongest people, the most radiant and generous, are often those who are living after and over against and nonetheless in spite of. I knew ‘Donald’ for several years, admiring and enjoying his radiant generosity, before over lunch I learned his early loss of his first wife. Emile Fackenheim said of his faith practice, post holocaust, that he lived so in order to deny Hitler posthumous victory.
Granted this is Easter. Still, you are here, listening. In the course of some religion, you may stumble upon something brighter still. Christ is calling you to faith. Christ is offering the gift of faith. Christ is the Living One, beckoning not directing but beckoning you to faith. His word has the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission
Luther: ‘When the heart clings to the word, feelings and reason must fail. Then in the course of time the will also clings to the Word, and with the will everything else, our desire and love, till we surrender ourselves entirely to the Gospel, are renewed and leave the old sin behind. Then there comes a different light, different feelings, different seeing, different hearing, acting, and speaking, and also a different outflow of good works…when the heart is holy, all the members become holy, and good works follow naturally.’ (Sermons, Easter, loc. cit.)
Resurrection light reveals enchantment.
The Lord is Risen! Indeed.
Inside the tomb, you see, in the shadow, as you see, there is much bowing and perplexity. In humility they find no body. (This is the only gospel to make sure that the word ‘body’ is used, and to our accepted reading, some manuscripts add ‘of Jesus’, to clarify both that the body is gone and whose body is gone.) In humility, as a matter of fact, we may as well admit to what we can see, as our eyes adjust to Luke’s tomb and text: the spices had been prepared, there are two men (not one angel) in dazzling apparel, A Great Question Rises: Why do you seek the living (singular—at title?) among the dead (plural)? Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James (and so of Jesus?) and Joanna and the other women (more women) are along, but the words seem to be an idle tale (‘nonsense’, ‘empty talk’), not believable (actually, the disciples ‘disbelieve’). Most notably, we may humbly mention, the last sentence was not included in the RSV text, and would not have been read just a few years ago. It (vs 12) is attached here, but only with cautions, for in truth it is probably a later addition. Added? Yes, added. Added to include Peter. A
dded? Yes, added. Added to fit with what will come later near Emmaus. Added? Yes, added. Added to record Peter’s ‘amazement’, which a few years ago was better translated ‘wondering’, which word has a tinge of perplexity, bewilderment, and uncertainty. (It has some eerily Johannine overtones: linens?).
Peter reappears, not quite believing, but willing to doubt his disbelief, wondering and amazed at…The Living One.
There is a humility about Peter in the Gospels that does not always appear in the life of the church. Peter, come lately, at least scurries, at least sees, at least wonders, at least shows some humility before what in any case is beyond us.
All the witnesses are convinced that they have encountered him in such a way that they were convinced that he was the living Lord, commissioning them to continued service.
‘If there is one thing the world needs now’, the Methodist preacher bellowed, ‘it is humility’. This in the course of a sermon titled, ‘World’s Greatest Sermon on Humility’. Which title was revised from the original, ‘Humility and How I Achieved It’. Religion particularly has difficulty with humility, as our age again has had to learn. And as for clergy, we remember Coffin’s coffinesque quip: ‘egotists with a theological alibi’.
Come Easter, we may meditate on the importance, the propriety, of humility before what in any case is beyond us.
In our world, stones do not move themselves, bodies do not disappear overnight. Even in the ancient world, and even among the fiercest of followers, the story of the tomb, about which Paul knows nothing, is deemed ‘an idle tale’.
Friends, we must speak plainly about what we know, even as we speak passionately about what we believe. Resurrection comes from the religion Joanna and others carry with them to the tomb. Resurrection comes from Judaism, and from a particular hope in Judaism, an apocalyptic hope. In the range of religious reality available, to Jesus and Paul and Luke and all, the cosmic apocalyptic hope of resurrection, when the dead would be redeemed from graves, was the nearest best idiom available to say this: Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?
Resurrection from the dead comes from Jewish apocalyptic. It explains, interprets and experience, namely the appearance of Jesus to his disciples. He showed himself. “Resurrection is a reflective interpretation of encounters with the Living One which had the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission.” (IBD, supplement, loc. cit.).
Paul records his ‘appearance’: to Peter, to the twelve, to 500, to James, to the apostles, and last to Paul (1 Cor 15).
For this sermon, resurrection is the preaching of the Easter Gospel, the sacrament of hearing and speaking, by which faith comes: had the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission
Resurrection Light uncovers humility.
The Lord is Risen! Indeed.
As George Buttrick, across the river years ago, said, ‘resurrection is the lifting of personal life into a new dimension of light and power…not.. retrogression from the vivid personal into the vague and abstract impersonal…the inner evidence is the structure of our personal life; the outer evidence, meeting the inner evidence as light meets the eye, is in Jesus Christ… faith…beckoning, always with freedom for our choosing and response…by hint and gleam, lest we be coerced’ (Sermons From A University Pulpit, 176).
He makes a telling point: ‘he showed himself to those who loved him’. Those who hear and receive the abandon, the self-abandon of faith ‘see’ Him. Not by historical inquiry, but by participation is the gospel known (Tillich).
A man driving across Ireland had car trouble. He emerged from behind the wheel and could see no one, only a horse. Suddenly the horse leaned over the fence and said, ‘Open the hood, and let me have a look’. ‘You are a talking horse?’. ‘Yes. Clean the gaskets and retry the ignition.’ The car purred, and off the man drove, terrified. He stopped in a bar to calm his nerves with a drink. ‘You look terrible said the barkeep. What happened to you?’ ‘You won’t believe it. My car broke down. Then a horse came to me and spoke, and fixed my car’. ‘Really? What color was the horse?’ ‘Black. Why?’ ‘Well, you were lucky. There is white horse over there, too. But he doesn’t know anything about car mechanics.’
Whimsy. God is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom. Freedom means this: Reality is the arena of God’s cosmic process of redemption.(What is going on around us is infused with the divine)
Wonderment, perplexity, amazement.
Humility, service, ministry.
Freedom is the Easter gospel laid bare. It is the freedom to live each day on tip toe, to live each day as if it were the last, to live each day with abandon, to live each day with self-forgetful freedom. Lost in wonder, love and praise! Lost in enchanment, humility, and Abandon….
Don’t we get lost in the woods with too much abandon?
We do get lost. It is our nature, east of Eden. We get lost in sex without love: lust. We get lost in consumption without nourishment: gluttony. We get lost in accumulation without investment: avarice. We get lost in rest without weariness, in happiness without struggle: sloth. We get lost in righteousness without restraint: anger. We get lost in desire without ration or respect: envy. And most regularly, we get lost in integrity without humility: pride. If you have never known lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy or pride you are not a sinner, you are outside the cloud of sin, and you need no repentance. (You may not be quite human either!)
Our seven sacramental moments in life are each and all meant to release us to self-abandon, self-giving, self-mockery. In Tillich’s phrase, to move from self-centered life to life of the centered self.
Our grandson was baptized at Christmas. He shrieked and squirmed. I was holding him. He always cries when I appear. “He does know people” was all Charlie’s Dad would say. Afterward, as he stumbled around the church, guided by non-relatives, I saw him in a baptized light, a new light, a resurrection light.
We had a Bishop who loved golf, and would include college students to fill a foursome. One day we finished and went to drink ice tea. A man from the foursome ahead of us shouted: “I left my putter on the eighth green. You were right behind us. Why didn’t you pick it up?” I wanted to say, you know, he is a Bishop, but I kept quiet. After a while the Bishop excused himself. He was gone a while, then came in the shop door with a putter and silently laid it on the man’s table. Afterward, thinking about cheeks and cloaks, I saw him in a new light, a confirmed light, a resurrection light.
Richard Neibuhr taught at Yale. I still assign, to my colleagues disgruntlement, his Christ and Culture. It is still unsurpassed. I am told that he was like Wesley a punctuality freak. One day a graduate student came late, and Neibuhr clicked his watch closed and glared at him. The silence was thunderous. But later that night, a knock came at the lowly students door. Professor Neibuhr simply said, “I apologize for treating you so harshly”. I remember that story and wish I were more generous. After hearing it, I saw teaching in a new light, a forgiven and pardoned and penitent light, a resurrection light.
Speaking of the classroom, in preaching class I have each of the students select and read or recite a poem. They can tell about their choice if they choose, choosing and choices being after all at the
heart of the preaching of the gospel. One woman gave hers, a Christopher Marlowe gem, and said she picked it because her fiancé had read it in asking for her hand in marriage. “And if these pleasures may thee move, come live with me and be my love”. Afterward, I saw that poem in a new light, a heteronomous and matrimonial light, a Resurrection Light.
Gary Bergh came through our School of Theology in the 1960’s. At various Episcopal whims and wishes he dutifully moved around from church to church, with his wife Linda, also a BUSTH grad. He preached the gospel and loved the people. He is one of the reasons I am here—here in ministry, here in Boston, here in the pulpit. About three months into a happy retirement he died. Just one of those middle of the night things. Except that for those who named him as a friend, his going was like the going of breath. You know, those of you who have and have lost friends. After his passing, I saw his service in a new light, an ordination light, a resurrection light.
Catherine Corrigan taught all our children fourth grade. She was a Boston native, and a nun for a long time, until Vatican II. She then traded her habit for a public school classroom. How she loved those kids. I think about her and I think is more radiantly alive dead than many people are alive. Cancer came upon her and took her, far too early. But after her funeral, I saw her in a new light, a last rite light, a resurrection light.
In a minute we will receive the Eucharist. What is Resurrection? For Peter Berger: “Faith in the resurrection if faith in a pivotal shift in the cosmic drama, not in a televisable occurrence in a Judean graveyard. “Christ is present, ‘in with and under’ the physical elements but without the empirical nature of these elements being miraculously changed”. (Questions of Faith, 188). What is Resurrection? For Paul Tillich: ‘participation not historical argument guarantees the reality of the event on which Christianity is based’. What is Resurrection? For Martin Luther (2:215): “If we preach only its history, it is an unprofitable sermon…when we preach to what end it serves it becomes profitable, wholesome and comforting”. (Sermons, Easter, loc. cit.) What is Resurrection? For Edmund Steimle: “A sermon that begins in the Bible, stays in the Bible, and ends in the Bible is UNBIBLICAL.” (Rice, Imagination and Interpretation, preface)
The Lord is Risen! Indeed.
Resurrection Light illumines abandon.
Let us pray.
In light of Resurrection, we pray, Lord grant us the revelation of enchantment, the uncovering of humility and the illumination of abandon.
Dean of Marsh Chapel.