Monday, April 6, 2015

The Easter Sermon: Signs of Life

 Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

When I got up this morning I started, as usual, to look for signs for life. I turned on the faucet, and as the clean water flowed out I gave thanks that, even in a severe drought, all I have to do is turn the faucet, unlike the millions of women who have to go looking for water every day to keep their families alive. I gave my cat her breakfast, enjoying her lively greeting and appreciating her companionship that enriches my life. I inspected my strawberry and tomato plants, looking for both new fruits and for caterpillars that might attack in their own quest for life. I drank my first cup of tea and watched the day come to life, thankful for the sunlight that is the source of almost every life form on earth.

It isn't hard to find signs of life in the most ordinary of our activities.

In the cool of the early morning on the first Easter Day, a woman went to a tomb in a garden. She didn't go to find signs of life. She went to care for the dead. She had no expectation that the one who had died would be alive. She had seen him die a painful and public death. She had forced herself to stay by the cross when others had fled. She knew there was no hope. She came in the dark, alone, to grieve.

The first sign of something unexpected was the open tomb. Who moved the stone? Not the male disciples; they had fled and hidden in an upper room. Not the people who loved him; they had been busy observing the Sabbath. Not the dead man himself, obviously. When Mary reported her discovery, the men raced to the tomb, confirmed its emptiness, and left, wondering. No signs of life there.

Mary's tears blur her vision. She bends and peers into the darkness of the tomb. A faint vision stirs in the shadows: messengers from God, questioning her grief. Why are you weeping? They already know (as we do) that life has conquered death, that the light is streaming back into a dark world. But Mary doesn't know. She knows only that she cannot find her beloved, that even the broken remnant of his body has been taken from her. She turns away, squints in the light of the rising sun to see an unrecognizable figure who repeats the question. Why are you weeping?

Who would be there in the early dawn but the gardener? This is the time of day to inspect the plants, to look for new life, to catch the caterpillars. This is the time of day to watch the sun rise and give thanks for new light and life, to look for life and not for death. Mary is still trapped in her grief, focused on the tomb, still unable to see what is now right in front of her.

It is only when he says her name that the incredible truth starts to break upon her. Think for a moment about the person you love best in all the world. Think about that person saying your name. Think about the love that is conveyed in just one, two, or three syllables. Surely there is no more beautiful sound than that of the beloved calling us by name. It is unmistakable. And when Mary hears her name in that familiar cadence, against all expectation, a sound she hadn't dared hope she would ever hear again, she begins to turn, to turn from death to life, from darkness to light, from night to day. "Teacher?" She reaches for him. But no - she may not hold him. He has not returned as he was before. He is risen, and everything has changed. The world has turned on its axis, and the victory is won.

Our baptismal service asks us to turn: Will you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? When we come to recognize the risen Christ in our lives and in our world, we must turn to him. And once we have turned, once we have seen the reality of the resurrection, everything changes. Signs of life are everywhere.

The world is full of death and darkness: countries at war, people killing their neighbors, domestic abuse, exile, bigotry and exclusion. In any newscast you will hear messages of disaster, of war, of struggle and persecution and tragedy. The massacre of more than 140 college students in Kenya is only the most recent outrage. We can spend our lives looking into the tomb, wondering in horror and confusion where the dead body of our humanity has been buried. But the message of Easter is different. The good news, the news brought by the angels, is news of life, not death. Why stare into the grave when signs of life are all around us? If your vision is blurred by tears, listen ... Listen for the voice of the one who loves you more than anyone, calling you by name. Turn to that voice and learn what it means to be a child of the living God, a follower on the way that leads to life abundant. The voice calls to every one of us, because every one of us is known to God and is loved by God, my God and your God.

In a few minutes we will celebrate Holy Communion, and you will hear an invitation which comes to us from a faraway, inclusive community: This is the table, not of the Church but of Jesus Christ.The risen Christ comes to us, not when the Church decrees that we are worthy, not when we feel ready to receive him, not when we are at our best-behaved or most successful or most optimistic. But he comes to us at the graveside, in the midst of grief and confusion, when we are afraid and alone, when we are most despairing, when all we can see in this world is emptiness and death. He comes to us and he calls us by name, so that we may turn and know that he lives.

In the moment of recognition Mary is transformed from a mourner into an apostle. She goes from the tomb to the other disciples, her brothers and sisters who are still in the dark, and she shares the good news with them: I have seen the Lord. This is our purpose as the Church: to go to our brothers and sisters in the world and to tell them, "I have seen the Lord," so that they too may turn, and recognize, and live. The sun rises, the light shines, Christ is risen, and love triumphs.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
5 Apr 2015

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