Monday, April 25, 2011

Preach One: Easter A

Five times I arrived at the tomb to learn that Jesus was not there... Twice on Sunday (in Crystal Springs and in Forest), twice on Monday (for Middle and Upper School Chapel - this is the version of the homily I'm sharing below, and if you read it, remember that there I preach to a congregation that is 15% non-Christian) and once on Friday (for Lower School Chapel).  Jesus and I are both a little weary.  But alleluia, he is risen!

Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118; Matthew 28:1-10

It's all about the bunnies at our house.  Not just at Easter, but all year long.  It started at Easter, though, when our son was four of five years old, and we were playing the "I Love You More" game, which went something like this.

I love you...  I love you, too...  I love you more...  I love you more...  I love you more than...and here is where it got interesting.  We would each pick something we really liked, or had lots of, or something clearly huge, something too many to count, and compare our love to that.  I love you more than macaroni and cheese.  I love you more than the universe.

The game took a turn for us that Easter, when our son looked around his room for something to love us more than, and declared as he reached for the pile of stuffed rabbits on his bed, "I love you more than bunnies."  It's still, to this day, the only way to win that game in our family, topped only by "I love you more than a million gazillion bunnies, "or "I love you more than all the bunnies that ever lived," or the insurmountable, "I love you more than infinity bunnies."  That's a lot of bunnies.  That's a lot of love.

I have loved you with an everlasting love, we just heard God declare through the prophet Jeremiah at a very dark time for God's people, when they would soon be defeated in battle and carried into exile.  Their whole world would come crashing down around them, but again I will build you, God promised.  Again you will dance.  I love you more.

I have set you an example; love one another, we heard Jesus declare to his disciples just last week, as he knelt to wash their feet.  It was a dark time for Jesus, when he would soon be betrayed by one friend, denied by another, and abandoned by all the rest.  Their whole world would come crashing down around them when Jesus was defeated and carried into the stone-cold exile of a tomb, but your sorrow will turn to joy, Jesus promised.  I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  I love you more.

Jesus' friends would tell that story over and over again after the resurrection.  There were so many stories they could tell about all that they had seen and heard in his presence.  Stories about healing; stories about welcome; stories about justice and mercy and hope and invitation and forgiveness.  Stories about suffering and death...and seeing him again.  Stories about love.

In time, some of their stories would be written down and become what we now regard as holy scripture. Some of those stories are quite long.  The gospel of John spends an entire chapter - forty-one verses - on one man born blind.  The full story of Jesus' birth takes nearly three chapters in Luke's gospel.  The gospel of Mark, shortest overall, still spends almost two chapters telling of Jesus' passion and death.

Other stories in scripture are startlingly brief, perhaps none more so than the story we hear today.  There are twenty-eight chapters in Matthew's gospel.  The resurrection is told in fewer than ten verses.  But then, what is there to tell?  There were no witnesses in that stone-cold darkness, no one to tell just how or when everything turned from death to life.  The gospels only say that when his friends arrived on the morning of the third day, the tomb was empty and Jesus was not there.  He has been raised, and you will see him, an angel says, and with that, the story ends.  Or depends on what you believe, how you tell it.

We see crucifixion, or something like it, every day.  We see betrayal, denial, abandonment, defeat, death.  We see it in the world around us, when children are denied access to education or health care, when citizens are at the mercy of ruthless governments.  We see it in poverty, racism, violence, intolerance and injustice.  We experience it in grief and pain and fear and hatred and loneliness.  The world comes crashing down around us.  It is a dark time all the time, it seems.

But that is, for Christians, precisely where the whole story begins, in the darkness, in the void, in the place where there is no life.  Just as God, for love, once said, "Let there be light," and there was light, so in that tomb did God, for love, say, "Let there be life," and there was life.  The whole account of God and God's people, the experience of women and men like you and me, has been that God creates.  God saves.  God loves.  God lives.  This is the story Jesus told, not only with his lips but in his life and in his death.

And in his resurrection.  While no witnesses can tell us just what happened in that dark exile, we believe that somewhere between Good Friday and Easter's dawn, the game was finally won as God said to the world once and for all, No.  I love you more.  I love you with an everlasting love.  I love you more than bunnies.  My love is bigger than your sins, your shortcomings.  My love is bigger than you doubt, your disappointments.  My love is bigger than your faithlessness and fear.  My love shines in your darkness.  My love is stronger than death.  I love you to infinity.  That's a lot of love.

In the end, at the beginning, somewhere in the story of God's love for us, we come to realize, as perhaps the gospel writers did, that words can never fully convey just how much God loves us.  Love like that can't be counted.  It can't be described.  It can't even be imagined.  It can only be experienced.  No one stays at the empty tomb; in all the stories they go out into the world, plunge back into their lives, and that is where they encounter miracles of life and love.  That is where they see Jesus Christ.

We see resurrection, or something like it, every day, not just once a year surrounded by lilies and bunnies and alleluias.  We see it in schools built in impossible places.  We see it in language barriers transcended by kindness.  We see it in cans collected, bricks laid, games played, meals served, medicines given, friends made.  We experience it in the invitation to question, the challenge to serve, the call to live with honor and integrity.  Whatever our faith, whatever our belief, what account can we give of life and love?

I leave you with an account given in the 14th century by Julian of Norwich, who longed, as she wrote, to comprehend the endless love that was without beginning, is, and ever shall be.  In this, Julian marveled, our good Lord said most blissfully, "See how I loved you!"  It was as if he had said, "My darling, behold and see your Lord, your God, who is your maker and your endless joy!  See what delight and endless bliss I have in your salvation!  For my love, enjoy it now with me."  Amen.  Alleluia!

Artwork: "Summer Fields Little Rabbit," by Claire Wright; "Footwashing," by Father Bob Gilroy; "Good Friday," by Tim Norwood; "The Beginning of God's Creation," by Mark Lawrence; "God's Love," by Lee Ribal; "Easter 2006," by Eugenie.

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