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Eucharistic meditation, Easter Sunday

Eucharistic meditation, Easter Sunday March 23, 2008

John 20:3-8: Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.

Graveyards are spooky places, sites for countless horror films and Steven King novels. Death is unnerving, and we keep our distance from the dead. We put them off in a sequestered, fenced area on the outskirts of town, where they – and we – can rest in peace.

Jews had even more reason to avoid tombs. Dead bodies were ritually defiling, so that anyone who touched a dead body, or came into a room with a dead body, or stumbled across a tomb, would become unclean, and would have to be washed in order to return to full participation in Israel. Jews wouldn’t just hang out at tombs.

But within a few centuries, Christians began to gather at the tombs of the saints and martyrs to celebrate meals. I’m not commending that practice. But it is suggestive, and it is consistent with the New Testament accounts of the resurrection. Peter and John go storming into the tomb to find out if Jesus has really been raised; John reports that Mary Magdale finds two angels in the tomb of Jesus, sitting like the cherubim over the ark. Something happened to remove the terror of the tomb. Something happened to make the tomb a place of celebration rather than fear. By the resurrection, the tomb of Jesus became the sanctuary. Death was swallowed up in life, impurity in holiness.

It has been said that through the course of church history, Christians turned the Lord’s table into a tomb. What had been a feast of joy became an occasion for self-examination, abject humiliation, self-flagellation. That’s certainly true. Many Christians, Catholic and Protestant, have treated the Lord’s Supper as an occasion for grief.

But the real problem is not turning the table into a tomb. The basic problem is that Christians came to misunderstand the tomb. For Christians, the cross, an instrument of torture, has become a sign of victory; and for Christians, the tomb, a place of death, has also become a sign of victory, because the tomb of Jesus was empty, and death had been defeated.

This is a table, but it is a table where we celebrate a crucifixion and a burial. This is a table, but it is a table that celebrates a tomb and a cross, a cross and a tomb that becomes a table because Jesus is risen; He is risen indeed.


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