The Adventurous Lectionary – Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26
This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! This is the heart of the Easter proclamation – God has made this new day, this wonderful life-giving day and rejoicing is the only appropriate response. God’s doing a new thing, the divine creativity brings forth new life with every new day, and that creates life where death appeared triumphant. It may seem like a “idle tale” to skeptics, but to those who have experienced resurrection, this “tale” witnesses to life bursting forth in the face of death.
On Easter Sunday, my practice is to read the passages from at least two gospels, in this case Luke and John. In both stories, women are at center stage and, for all intents and purposes, embody the “great commission” to go and tell the world (the disciples) well before Jesus’ male disciples. The gospel accounts present two different perspectives on the resurrection, and they need not be harmonized as we often do with the Christmas stories. In contrast to the approach of many Christians today, the early church was comfortable with diverse witnesses to Jesus’ birth and resurrection. The differing stories are not a stumbling block to faith or veracity, but a reminder that resurrection is ultimately indescribable. Neither Jesus nor his resurrection can be encompassed by our theologies and rituals.
God is not “orthodox,” nor does God demand one path to our knowledge or experience of God’s presence in the world. We see in a mirror dimly, especially when it comes to the nativity and resurrection. Our words and worship point to the moon, to use a Zen Buddhist image, but are not the shining orb that guides our paths through life’s wilderness moments.
Luke’s Gospel centers on the women’s witness. Several women come to the tomb. Perhaps, against the social mores of the time, these women traveled with Jesus, supporting his ministry and perhaps ministering to women in their patriarchal culture. The death of Jesus devastated them. Yet, though their world had collapsed, they like countless mourners before and after them came to give their beloved friend and teacher one last act of love, to anoint and embalm his lifeless body. But, the body is gone, and the angelic messenger reminds them of Jesus’ prophetic words and challenges them to live boldly, letting go of death and claiming resurrection life.
Filled with joy, they tell the others, who simply can’t believe the amazing news. Only Peter returns. He finds nothing and goes away amazed. Radical amazement, to quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, is the only way to respond to resurrection. It defies belief, yet it is life-changing. In a world in which resurrections happen, anything is possible including our own transformation and commitment to Jesus’ way.
Jesus’ beloved and countercultural companion Mary Magdalene is a central figure in John’s Gospel as well. She apparently comes alone, discovers an empty tomb and runs to Peter and John with an improbable tale – Jesus’ body has disappeared. She is unnerved by the empty tomb and returns, grief-stricken, believing at first that Jesus’ body has been taken from the tomb. The grief she felt when her beloved friend died was unendurable and she needs closure. She needs to see the corpse as devastating as the sight of her beloved friend’s inert body will be to ground her in reality and help her move on, albeit in pain and hopelessness. She pleads with a “gardener” for answers. She wants to pay her respects, anoint his body, and show her love.It is in this encounter with One Unknown that her life is transformed. The Risen Jesus calls her name, “Mary,” and her life is transformed. She comes back to life and though she can’t fathom the resurrection, and has no theology to understand it, she believes and worships.
She wants to hug the Risen One, but Jesus cautions her, “Don’t hold onto me.” Is Jesus’ body too energetic for human touch? Is he not fully reconstituted? Or is there something more at work here? Could it be that Jesus is saying to Mary – and to us – “don’t hold onto static images of me, don’t localize me in space or time, or confine me to a particular spiritual body or institution”?
Jesus’ resurrection is not “orthodox” nor does it fit into any dogmatic statement. It is, like the Holy Spirit, a power that goes where it wills, unconfined by human conceptualities or authority systems. From now on, Jesus can’t be localized in Galilee or Jerusalem, he will be everywhere. From now on, Jesus can’t even be localized to the tradition that bears his name. He will bring wholeness to all creation and persons of all cultures.
In that spirit, Peter proclaims a global gospel and affirms that God shows no partiality among nations and cultures. The resurrection is for all, salvation is for all. There are no resurrection-free zones or times. Resurrection is as real now as it was in the first century. It still brings new life to lost and vulnerable, and alienated and grieving, humankind. You can’t build a wall to contain resurrection. It is incorrigible in its universality.
Resurrection is the ultimate antidote to death in all its faces, from bigotry and xenophobia to physical annihilation. Resurrection plays no favorites. Although I am no biblical literalist, for a moment I will play the literalist game, asking those who restrict resurrection to a favored few believers, what is it about “for as all died in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ” that you don’t understand? “All” means “all” not part or predestined or believers, but “all.” At the very least, resurrection touches us all, providing a pathway from death to life for everyone, even those who are afar off as a result of doubt, behavior, or religious tradition. As Paul says elsewhere, God will be “all in all.”
Today, we can open to resurrection power. Though beyond our control and untrammeled by our belief systems, we can awaken to resurrection in all the dead zones of life, trusting that God will revive us all, and trusting that we are to be agents of resurrection, bringing forth life in death-full situations in our time.