Morning glories—sermon for Easter Day
Easter Day, April 16
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
“In the midst of life we are in death,” thus proclaims one of the anthems used in our burial liturgy. It’s also used on Holy Saturday…yesterday…the day before Easter. The day when Christ lay in the tomb…
“In the midst of life we are in death”…that’s true…all of Lent and Holy Week seek to remind us…to make us aware of…this truth. Of course, that anthem is used for burial because our burial liturgy is essentially an Easter liturgy, and—as Easter proclaims, the opposite of this is also true—in the midst of death we are alive. In the midst of tragedy, and devastation, and even unimaginable loss, there is still life. Death in life…life in death.
Hard to make sense of that, isn’t it? But it is true. And we know that it’s true because we live with this paradox of life in death in life everyday.
Denise Levertov captured this double…twinned truth in her poem, “Concurrence.”
Each day’s terror, almost
a form of boredom– madmen
at the wheel and
stepping on the gas and
the brakes no good —
and each day one,
sometimes two, morning-glories,
faultless, blue, blue sometimes
flecked with magenta, each
lit from within with
the first sunlight.
– Denise Levertov (Selected Poems, p. 138)
We are awash in new terrors each day…(people gassed, people bombed, people shot in yet another school, yet another act of senseless violence gone viral on video) so many new terrors each day that it has become “almost a form of boredom.” And yet, each day, there are also those one, or two morning glories…those glimpses of grace…connections with those you love…a touch…a smile…a simple kindness…life in death in life in death in life…
In the midst of death, two women walk in the predawn light to an unmarked tomb. Suddenly, there is an earthquake…a vision…lightening…blinding white…a rupture in their journey…a flash of life in the midst of their mourning.
“Don’t be afraid,” they’re told. “I know what you’re looking for, but he is not here…Look into the tomb…then go and tell the others. Tell them that he is going a head of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there.” Emboldened, they go… “with fear and great joy.” And that’s when it happens…That’s when they see him…in the midst of life…in the midst of death.
I love the fact that in Matthew’s telling of this, the women are empty handed. In Mark and Luke, they are carrying spices to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial, but here they are empty handed. They are simply going to see the tomb.
I love this detail, because every time I have met the resurrected Jesus (or more accurately, every time the resurrected Jesus has suddenly met me), it has been when…and probably because…I was empty handed. Profoundly so.
The times Jesus has suddenly met me…are always times when I’m not merely empty-handed…but I’m actually beyond my ability to help…beyond my own sense of competence…feeling completely impoverished and utterly lacking in any significant resources…going to a grave…sitting with someone dying, or someone giving birth…watching children grow before your eyes…watching parents age and disappear before your eyes…being confronted with “each day’s terror,” the faces of the victims, and experiencing vicarious trauma through that… and having absolutely nothing to offer, or do, or say…I’ve found that the one place where Jesus consistently meets me is at the edge of my own limitations…beyond my own capabilities.
The other place where Jesus meets us is in the turning to go to Galilee. And here, Galilee is not just a spot on a map. Galilee is where it all begins. Galilee is where we are first called, and named…It’s home…It’s the core…the source of who we are.
Galilee is where Jesus called us to that mountain and reminded us—what we always knew, but daily seem to forget—that God is one. That we are to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. That we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Galilee is where Jesus reminds us—again—that it is the poor who are blessed…it is the meek who will inherit…that the peacemakers are the children of God, and those who hunger and thirst for justice…for righteousness…will be filled.
Galilee is where Jesus reminds us—again—that we are salt…that mysterious substance that disappears into and preserves and flavors and changes—makes better—whatever surrounds it…that we are light that shines in the darkness, light that cannot and should not be hidden.
Galilee is the core…the source…Galilee is where we remember who we are and to whom we belong. And the really good news? We don’t even have to go all the way there, we only have to turn around and start down that road…to turn from the path that leads to the tomb and start back and that’s where Jesus meets us.
A phrase that gets reiterated a lot here, is “wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcome here.” You are welcome to participate as fully as you feel called and able in any of our services…our services to God and our services to our neighbors. And when I say that, I really do mean…”wherever you are” because I know that we are all at different places on the journey…some have lost loved ones…some have discovered new love…some are struggling with broken relationships, some are celebrating new ones. Some are full of energy and life, and some are just trying to get through the day. Some are grieving at death in life, and others are awakening to life in death. Wherever you are on that path…you are welcome here.
And these two movements: going to the tomb, and turning toward Galilee offer us a way of thinking about our lives together and our struggle to live faithfully and with integrity in this world. We do need to have the courage…the persistence …of these women to go to the tomb…to look into the darkened and death-dealing places of our world and to tell the truth about them. We need to be willing to peer into the tomb, because that is where we will see the first evidence of the resurrection…those flecks of magenta in the faultless blue of that emptiness.
And then we need to also have the courage…the persistence…to remember all that we have been taught…about who God is…about who we are…about how much God loves each of us…and how we are to love others in return…and then to turn and start back, once again, on that road toward Galilee…toward God…toward home. And Jesus—the resurrected Christ—will meet us and be with us, in life and death and life…always.
Also informing this homily is Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining by Shelly Rambo