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Easter Sunday: Well, can you just imagine that?

By Henry Krause. Based on a sermon given Easter Sunday, April 20th, 2014.

Let the hinges of our hearts swing open
to things we can’t explain –
the unexpected remission of a stubborn cancer,
birth of a child when conception is deemed ‘impossible’,
release from a longstanding addiction,
a moment of reunion with a loved one long deceased.

Let’s not demand or expect mystical graces,
or cling to the hope of them,
or be disappointed if they don’t happen.

Let’s acknowledge there are mysteries
beyond our knowing,
unaccountable magic in the neurons and cells.

Help us experience daily
the astonishing in the apparently ordinary –
laugh of a crow pirouetting in space

a peace gladiola blooming beyond its term,
a slug who travels six inches in two hours
to its longed for haven in the grass

until the kingdom of heaven is spread out before us,
and the glory flames forth in our unrepeatable
‘One of the common elements of the resurrection stories’, David Lose writes, ‘…is that no one expects the resurrection. Even though Jesus predicted his death…and resurrection…several times…no one greets the news that God has raised Jesus from the grave and defeated death…by saying, “Praise God!” No one shouts “Hallelujah” when they hear that their friend and Lord has been raised to life. And absolutely no one, on hearing the news that death itself could not hold the Lord of Glory captive, says, “I knew it – just like he said!” (David Lose, Workingpreacher.com Easter, 2013)

Well, can you just imagine – It’s dark with dawn just breaking through the clouds and she is making her way to the tomb. There is still a chill in the air. She hasn’t slept – tossing and turning all night – as soon as she closes her eyes all she sees is the horrific images of his broken body. That‘s all she can imagine. She and her friends; Jesus’ mother and his aunt – helpless, wailing and overcome as they tore his body, broke it and broke their hearts. Finally just before sundown she and some of his closest friends took him down, quickly wrapped him in a burial sheet and put it in the cave. The raw reality of the one she loved, the one who offered hope – gone. They sealed it with a stone to keep out marauding dogs or thieves.

She’s on her way to the garden where Joseph’s graciously offered, newly occupied tomb is – down the road, on the edge of the town. Not sure what she expects to see but when you are grieving you don’t really know what you are looking for or expecting anyway, in fact you are not expecting anything, nothing. She just needs to be close, to just be there, to sit and remember, to cry. Where else would she go, what else is there to do? She remembers this same loss, emptiness, despair when her brother died. That deep immeasurable chasm.

When she gets there, she can’t quite make out what it is that’s different. In the ‘just breaking dawn’ she sees the stone but its not where she remembered it was. And she thinks she is imaging things. But then it all becomes clear and she bursts out with a loud wail. The tomb is empty. After all that she and the others had been through, now this. Someone has moved or stolen his body. That is the only explanation for why the rock blocking the entrance has been pushed aside.

And so in a panic, in a daze she runs back to the home where some of her friends are staying – Peter, John and some of the others. She bangs on the door and when John comes out she blurts out what she’s seen. She’s out of breath and not speaking coherently. Something about the body is gone, the stone has been moved.

They haven’t been sleeping either. They are up, sitting around and wondering what they are going to do next. They are terrified; afraid they will be hunted down now as well because they are known to be his accomplices. Should they just stay and hunker down; go back to their home communities. Even though Jesus talked about his death they always dismissed it as a ‘never going to be’ reality. They had never imagined themselves being in this situation. And then Mary bursting in, agitated, barely able to speak – something about ‘he’s gone’. Somebody took his body!’

And so they pull on their shoes, Peter and John do, and race out the door. They go down the back alley, across Jebediah’s field, through the creek and across front yards, running as fast as they can. ‘Who did this? If I catch them… ‘. John the ‘beloved one’ is quicker and gets to the garden first. Maybe younger or in better shape, and just like Mary said, the cave is open, rock is pushed back. So he makes his way tentatively into the opening, letting his eyes adjust to the dark and sees the burial sheet and the kerchief that was covering his head – both lying there neatly folded but no body. Nothing.

He doesn’t go in – he’s just not sure what to do –stunned; frightened. But then Peter rushes in beside him, almost pushes him aside and goes right in. Out of breath, he looks around at the scene John has just taken in and then stops. And all is stillness. He’s gone. The one thing that at least they had to remember him by – at least they could come back to the grave site and try to remember his voice and his care for them. At least they would have a place where they could gather to be with him as much as it was possible to be with a dead person. But now even that hope was shattered.

Something happens just then. We are not told how exactly it comes to the beloved one, but he begins to imagine another reality. He sees something more – with what is not there he begins to envision a different story of might be. It says that ‘he saw and believed’. He begins to see a new possibility. He has caught a glimpse of something, maybe out of the corner of his eye, maybe a reflection, or maybe something in his mind’s eye, He’s silent but there is a pregnant silence, a hope filled silence, an empty tomb but not as empty as when he first arrived.

Maybe he quietly tells Peter, ‘let’s go back’, or just slowly makes his way down the path. And so they go, back to their friends, back to something but now something that isn’t quite the same, but not quite right either. Peter, still out of breath, wondering what to make of all this, what to make of the beloved one, who always had a different take on things. They walk, not saying anything, thinking, wondering, just possibly on the cusp of hoping although nothing has really changed.

So, if you think being a child of the resurrection means you have everything figured out, then think again. “When the disciples [first heard the news] some doubted.” That’s okay. The resurrection is big enough to handle our doubt… for the same elements of worship, doubt, and little faith were [there] after Easter as before. Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping wavering community of disciples to whom Jesus appears. (New Interpreter’s Bible)

As Peter and John left they would have passed Mary, maybe they see her, maybe they don’t. Mary must have followed them back to the tomb, running as well. And so they leave and she is again left with this emptiness, this hole. And then, seeing that her friends had gone into the tomb, she too looks inside for herself. And as she looks, she sees something. Is she imagining it, is it real, is it a vision; is it her grief? What her senses tell her is that there are two beings, angels is the only thing she can imagine them as. They were not there a few minutes ago but now they are – strange, but then stranger things have happened.

And one, or both of them speak to her – asks her a question. She has to ask them to repeat it again, she is just not connecting. ‘Why are you crying?’ they ask. ‘Why am I crying?!’ She thinks to herself. ‘I’m here in the tomb of my dear friend with his body missing and you ask me why am I crying?’ But she realizes this may be the help she has been looking for – maybe there is an answer here. And so out loud she says: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.’ Do you know? Can you help? There is a moment of silence and then she senses movement – crackling branch, a sound of some kind and there is someone standing in the garden behind her.

We are told it is Jesus but she doesn’t know this. You know how it is when you see someone in a different context, or different clothing. Jesus is dead so that doesn’t occur to her to imagine it being him. And then the stranger asks her the same question the two angels have asked – ‘why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ And again she repeats the same refrain – ‘They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put his body. Do you know?’

She is not yet able to see clearly and imagines that it is the gardener. This is a guess, but a reasonable one. It is a garden; the person is wandering around early on a workday morning, probably taking care of things. If anyone should know, it would be him. And so she invites him to confess. ‘Just tell me. If you have taken him, whatever the reason, just tell me and I’ll take care of it. All I want is to get his body back.’

You can hear the desperation in her voice, the pleading, hope against hope that he will know something, will have seen something. And we are kept in suspense as well. We’ve already had it revealed to us who this gardener is, and are just waiting for Mary to get it, to finally see clearly. And then, he speaks her name, calls to her. We have all had those experiences when someone calls us by name. We understand the deep connection there is being called by our name, being known, fully and truly and lovingly known. All of that captured by the voice and the way our names are pronounced and given back to us.

When she hears this it is like scales fall from her eyes. ‘Who are you looking for’ is revealed to her. He is looking for her. As soon as he calls her by name she recognizes him. This is the last thing she has been expecting. Yes she was hoping to find him again but cold, beginning to decay, wrapped up in a death shroud and needing to be placed back into the tomb. But this. Not in her wildest dreams. She couldn’t have even imagined. But we know – we’ve been let in on the secret. And we begin to remember that first garden long ago, one where in the cool of the evening the new couple would walk and we are told that the one, the Holy one, walked with them and was part of their lives. Here in this garden, the Holy one is revealed to Mary and again becomes part of her life.

She wants to embrace him but even though there are things going on with him that are the same as they were before, there are other things that are different. He is similar but he is also somehow other. What he does do is encourage her to go tell her friends. We don’t know what happens next – does he disappear; does she simply leave; do they chat for a while. All this is left to our imaginations. What we are told is that she goes off to tell her friends “I have seen the Lord.” The inklings of belief that the beloved disciple had are true – somehow, beyond all understandings and wonderings, Jesus is back. How he came back, what kind of a body he has, all those details are left unanswered. All that we know is that he is no longer in the tomb. He is now in the garden and then in their midst. Something beyond imagining has happened.

And this is where we come in. Because of the stories that they have left us, that many others have taken as their own and lived with and lived by, we too are invited to imagine what it is that happened that day in that place. We too are invited to imagine again the wonder and mystery and grace of life given, of hope restored of the possibility of resurrection.

This is how one theologian, Jurgen Moltmann describes it: “Easter is a feast…the feast of freedom…For Easter begins the laughter of the redeemed, the dance of the liberated…since time immemorial Easter hymns have celebrated the victory of life by laughing at death, mocking hell and ridiculing the mighty ones who spread fear and terror around them. [For] the resurrection faith is not proved true by means of historical evidence or only in the next world. (Rather) it is proved here and now through the courage of revolt, and the protest against deadly powers… for Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s rebellion…when through the Spirit all death, and every rule and every authority and every power is at last abolished (Bread and Wine: readings for lent and Easter p. 146ff.

It is the power of God’s love overcoming death; the power of love overcoming fear. And as James Loney, one of the Christian Peacemaker Team members who was held in captivity in Iraq puts it, “Fear is about worrying what will happen next. But the resurrection story says there is something beyond that, which is bigger. It makes sense of the suffering one endures for the sake of the liberation of every human being from bondage. The Easter message is that the power of love is stronger than fear. It cannot be contained by a tomb” (Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun, March 28/13)

It is this new reality we are invited to imagine today. Hope, life, love. God’s invitation to take on the powers of darkness and to say no them.

DEAR CLOWN OF GOD ~ Susan McCaslin
Jesus of jests and holy foolery,
spin us on the wheel of your wit
till we fall on the floor laughing
at the deep simplicity of it all.

Teach us to dance like David,
to fling off our heavy suits like Francis,
tease the Caesars of this world
till they fall earthward like children.

Let’s all dine together
at the madcap feast of fools,
playing hide and seek
with our too-certain identities.

Be in us crazy wisdom,
smarter than the savvy heads
of corporations. Incorporate us
into the body electric.

Tickle our fancy till we fancy
joys beyond materialism.
Make us laugh into tears
and weep into the glory of now.