Happy Easter Friends—this is a day of joy and “Alleluia” truly is our song! There is much mystery around this feast—we accept the resurrection of our brother Jesus on faith for the most part. In modern times, our time, we might use the term, “magical” to explain what the Scriptures present as truth. For us who have believed all of our lives, perhaps this isn’t much of a stretch—or perhaps we don’t even question the story that on Good Friday, our brother and friend, Jesus of Nazareth was put to death through the will of the powers-that-were at that time in Church and State, and that on Sunday, he rose to new life. I believe to truly get the importance of what Easter was for those alive when Jesus was, we have to try and put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak.
Jesus’ apostles, when they could get their heads, and better yet, their hearts around what was truly happening, would recall that their brother had told them that indeed, after his death, he would “arise” in three days. Having never experienced a resurrection, they had nothing to compare it with. They all witnessed Jesus bringing Lazarus, “back to life,” and when he came out of the tomb, with his burial wrappings still on, and the same were removed, they recognized him.
Now, going back to the Scriptures, we read that those who saw Jesus, in his new life, didn’t recognize him until he spoke familiar words, or performed familiar actions, that would show his identity.
In John’s gospel today, in the longer version, Mary Magdala—Mary, the Tower of Faith, knew her friend and rabbi only when she heard him say her name, “Mary” in only the way that he would say it. Another Easter reading tells us of Jesus, walking with others on the way to Emmaus, and of them not recognizing him until he stopped, at their home, and “broke bread with them”—something that he commonly did with his followers.
So my friends, it is good for us, who have heard these stories so many times, perhaps not even, really hearing them, to understand that what Mary, Peter, John, and the others witnessed was something entirely new to them—something out of this world!
And it is precisely for this reason that John’s account of what he and Peter found upon entering the empty tomb, is so revealing. Remembering that the dead in Jesus’ time weren’t embalmed, but simply, “washed, and wrapped with spices” and put into a tomb, John’s account of finding the burial wrappings in one place, and the face covering neatly folded in another place, doesn’t speak of a grave robbing, as the Jewish hierarchy feared. Someone stealing a dead body would hardly unwrap it first for obvious reasons.
John is trying to tell us, in so many words, that what they found in the empty tomb, was something out of the ordinary—Jesus had truly risen—whatever that meant to them! John simply says, “they saw and believed!” Alleluia!
The other very important human notion for all of us to understand, more than 2,000+ years later, is how bereft and saddened Jesus’ followers felt. We all within our community here can understand these truly human feelings as we grieve the loss of Shannon Hanzel. Just as we can still, hardly believe that she is gone, Jesus’ followers felt the same. For many, he was the answer to a life-time of prayers. Many saw him as their “King”—someone who would defend them against their enemies –bring peace to their land.
The idea that Jesus hadn’t been vanquished by death was a new concept for them to understand. So, if Jesus wasn’t someone who would rout out their human enemies, what was his earthly purpose?
They would go back to this earthly question again and again until they fully understood. Some of what they came to know is laid out quite well in today’s Scriptures.
The first reading from Acts, read by Eryn speaks about a Roman centurion, a Gentile, named Cornelius, whom Peter is speaking with, sharing the message of Jesus, the Christ—a message that Peter comes to know was truly meant for all people, all who would listen. These first apostles came to know that Jesus’ true purpose in coming to be one-with-us, was not about “power over” others, but more so, “power for” –strength, goodness, justice, for all.
The 2nd reading, Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth, done so well by Elliot, speaks about this “new way” to be in our world, for ourselves and others, in a way that the people would truly understand, and for present-day, “bread makers” as well.
Paul uses the idea of “yeast” and how just a little bit in a measure of flour, causes the dough to rise—to grow. The effect that yeast has, can bring about good, as well as bad, in the case of when the yeast has gone flat. We know throughout Scripture that Jesus always wants us to take the message a bit deeper. If we start with the “dough” of goodness and truth, that is what will grow and multiply. Likewise, if our “dough” is made up of selfishness, unkindness, injustice, power over others, that is what will grow. I think we see that in our world today.
Our brother Jesus came for one purpose—to show us how to live and to love and to grow and share that goodness with others throughout our one, beautiful, human life. And it would seem that when we all, each one of us learn how to do that, we will have realized that “heaven” is here, now! Alleluia!
In closing my friends, just a word about why I used the longer version of the resurrection narrative from John. If we had stopped at verse 9, instead of going on through verse 18, we would have missed the most beautiful encounter between Jesus and Mary Magdala, the “Tower of Faith” (true meaning of “magdala”).
In this day and age, within our Church, where the hierarchy seems to feel that women do not “image” Christ, Jesus gives the lie to that notion! Easter calls us all, my friends, “to be our best,” in the footsteps of Jesus! Amen? Amen! Alleluia!