My friends, we come to this Easter Sunday—the second one we are recording during this time of COVID 19, or “coronavirus”—a word that over a year ago was foreign to most of us—a second Easter, now, that we have been apart. And we ask, “What can we make of all of this—what should we make of all of this?
As I said in the bulletin of this past week, “Our Christian lives are all about, living and loving, dying and rising.” And of course, I was, as you know, not just speaking literally. Our Christian lives have always meant more, or should mean more than mundane actions, day to day, through our lifetimes. In order that, “living and loving” in our own personal lives can truly stand for something significant, we must, many times, “die to ourselves” as our Scriptures instruct, as Jesus, our brother demonstrated so well in his own precious years upon this earth. Our lives can never be just about us. If we are truthful with ourselves, we have seen in the recent past in Washington what selfishness looks like in human form. And we all have examples of what the opposite looks like too.
In our Scriptures today—the 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles has Peter proclaiming, “We are eyewitnesses to all that Jesus did!” In other words, his living, loving, and giving for others, even unto death and the hope of rising to new life one day! And why is this important?
Well, being that it is Easter, let’s take a look. Probably for most of us Christians who have lived a “few” years—decades even, the idea of the Resurrection has always been one of those items we take on faith, and as is the case with most stories that we have heard a number of times, after a while, we cease to think much about them or maybe even with thoughts that aren’t too profound. Usually, this happens with things that we can’t, as it were, “get our heads around.”
But say we did come at the Resurrection of Jesus just on a head level. There is enough in John’s gospel today—if we are really thinking, to let us know that something, “out of the ordinary” had happened.
We know that the Jewish “powers” at the time of Jesus’ death (the non-believers) were afraid that his followers who did believe in Jesus’ promise to, “rise again,” (even though they did not know what “rising” would look like) would steal his body and say that they had witnessed the Resurrection. The Jewish elites, not wanting that to happen, posted a Roman guard at the entrance to the tomb.
So, let’s look at the words of Scripture in the gospel from John today. We are told that Peter “observed the linen wrappings on the ground and saw the piece of cloth that had covered Jesus’ head lying not with the wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” Why, we might ask, is this detail necessary or important to include here?
Well, the truth is, if Jesus’ body had truly been stolen, would anyone stop to unwrap it and carry it around naked? And if all were happening naturally, the body would have already begun to decay. Additionally, why would the face covering have been laid in a different place and folded even? The exegetes “using their heads” have concluded that, these are signs that point to a resurrection, not a grave robbing!
Now, it’s important as well to remember that 2,000 years ago, people were not embalmed, but simply washed and wrapped in clean linen and buried by day’s end. Spices were often added for obvious reasons and that was why the Scriptures tell us that the women were going to the tomb—to add the spices that they couldn’t buy before Passover began—only to find, that their spices weren’t needed and that perhaps a manifestation that they had no way of comprehending—that of the Resurrection, had truly happened!
John’s gospel names Peter’s companion as, “the other disciple” who went into the tomb next as having, “seen and believed.” All of this, “the other disciple” whom we believe to be, John, the apostle and author of the gospel, saw with his mind first, made all the connections and responded from his heart, “Jesus is risen, and I believe it!”
And finally, the other viable proofs that we have come from those who personally saw Jesus after the Resurrection and that is why I always feel that it is necessary and important to read the complete account from John, including Mary of Magdala’s encounter with Jesus in the garden. If we were looking for proof—we have it here and it is also a foreshadowing of how we know that there is life after this life.
The Scripture, in the extended version, tells us that Mary encountered someone in the garden that she thought was a grounds keeper and that she only realized that it was truly Jesus when he said her name, “Mary”—the way only he would say it. In other words, Jesus was not recognizable to Mary in this new form. Whatever “resurrection” is, it clearly is different than being brought back to life, as was the case with Lazarus whom Jesus rose from the dead.
We recall that the same thing happens to the disciples on the way to Emmaus in another reading. Someone joins them along the road, whom they do not recognize and who goes on to explain all that has happened the last few days in Jerusalem. And then, it is only in the “breaking of the bread” that these disciples recognize Jesus—in an action that he often did with them.
So, why is it important for us to delve so deeply into these Easter Scriptures? The answer my friends is two-fold. First, Easter calls us to initially believe that what Jesus taught all those years ago is not just a nice, religious story, but a life-giving one that once we take out of our heads and lay on our hearts, can make all the difference in our lives and in the lives of others and in our world as we truly try to live and to love as Jesus did.
Now, many of us are prone to shy away from such a life saying that we could never be in our world as Jesus was in his and I believe Michael Gerson, in an opt-ed piece in the Washington Post on Good Friday, that I have shared, suggested otherwise.
He was connecting the horrors of Good Friday and the events leading up to it to what so many have experienced this past year in the wake of COVID 19. He pointed to the relation between families who lost loved ones and couldn’t be with them as they died due to the contagion—the loneliness of that for the patient and the family with the loneliness of Jesus in the garden the night before he died when all his apostles could do was sleep instead of being with him for support.
Michael Gerson basically told us in this fine piece that we, each of us, have a friend –someone who knows the sufferings we are called to take on in life because our God experienced it all in Jesus.
And in other words, the days of Holy Week are not just a good, holy story of so many years ago, but are a blueprint, really, of our lives as Jesus’ followers. Gerson’s piece details how, through the experience of our brother, Jesus, our, at times, human doubt, is sanctified in the human doubt he experienced on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Doubt and faith go hand in hand. “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” We believe, yet sometimes we doubt, and we know that our brother, Jesus understands these times for all of us. I think the beauty of Holy Week, coming to the joy of Easter is really about our God who showed such over-the-top love for us in Jesus—showed us that living up to our human potentials for ourselves and for others is possible and that Jesus will be with us every step of the way, as we try.
So, my friends, may those that we meet and greet, associate with, and care for in this world always be able to “recognize” us as Jesus’ followers by our “familiar” actions of love for them! Amen? Amen! Alleluia!