Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Once again we are startled and terrified…is it a ghost? Who can believe what we have seen? What we have heard? Can we even believe it?
Once again we are invited to see—and to touch—the wounds that still lay open in his flesh. Wounds that we are responsible for…wounds that we are forgiven for…Do we have the to courage to look at the wounds scarred into his flesh?…The courage to look at the wounds in our flesh? Our hearts? Our psyches…? To not only look on them but to find forgiveness for them as well? Remember last week, when he said…”If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven […]; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20). How many of us find it possible to forgive some but not others…How many find it possible to forgive others, but not ourselves…how many sins do we retain—hang onto—instead of allowing them to be brought out into the light and healed with the grace of forgiveness?
It’s fearful and amazing, isn’t it?…seeing, touching, and healing those wounds…and today…a new element gets folded in…Food is shared…the community is drawn back together…rewoven in a sacramental feast…The word is broken open…Our minds are broken open…to understand…and to change…The unspooling of the resurrection goes on…the irresistible power of the resurrection continues to transform us…to transform and to prepare us…for the work ahead.
“The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of transformation,” writes one scholar (Nancy R. Blakely, Feasting on the Word. p 428.) Seeds that grow and flourish…crack the hardened soil of our hearts and minds, and shoot upward seeking light and life.
That’s the trajectory, and fear and amazement is the ground where it begins. The ground at our feet…the entrance to the empty tomb… that potent combination of clarity and confusion when the world suddenly ceases being what you imagine it to be and bursts forth into what it truly is. Which is not always easy to take…
Fear and amazement are always components of this ground, but sometimes amazement is the greater part as when the daffodils first burst forth after a long winter…sometimes fear is more prominent as when yet another person of color is gunned down. Fear and amazement IS the ground at our feet…we are always at the entrance to the tomb…with that Easter question…echoing…will we flee, or will we follow?
And Jesus always meets our fear and amazement with comfort—”peace be with you,”—and challenge—“why are you so frightened?”
Well we’re frightened because we know that seeing him here…witnessing the reality of the resurrection…means that everything has to change…we’re frightened because those seeds he planted in us—those seeds of hope…seeds of justice…are taking root and starting to grow…and that means things will change…and we’re frightened because looking at and accepting the fullness of our humanity…things done and things left undone…the parts we love and the parts we don’t…the parts that glow with divine light…the parts that have been broken and wounded…(very often they’re the same thing)…the luminous and the scarred…seeing and accepting all of that means seeing and accepting all of it…as sacred. All of it…sacred.
His wounded, resurrected body…sacred. Our bodies…sacred. Black bodies…Asian bodies…Latinx bodies…trans bodies…cis bodies…white bodies…all sacred. “What we do to the least of them…we do to him,” (Matthew 25). His physical sacrality, reminds us that all life is sacred.
The seeds planted in us through his resurrection…reveal the sacredness not just of all bodies…but of all matter.
One of Archbishop William Temple’s (1881-1944) great provocative lines was, “Christianity is the most materialistic of all great religions,” … He’s not talking about the materialism of something like the prosperity gospel…he means that to think of Christianity as purely, or even mostly spiritual, is missing the point. Christianity is materialistic, he says, because “Christianity regards matter as destined to be the vehicle and instrument of spirit.” (Archbishop William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. xx). Matter is infused with the divine. Jesus’ resurrected body reveals the sacredness of all matter. Which is scary, because it means the way we see the world has to change.
Jesuit Priest Teilhard de Chardin tried to capture this when prayed his Mass on the World in the Ordos desert of northern China,
“Glorious Lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you […], whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, ‘In truth you are my Lord and my God.’ […] Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; […] All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being.” [source]
Jesus changes us as the sacredness of reality becomes clear and unfolds before us…as we move from fear and disbelief, to puzzlement and joy, to open and understanding minds and hearts. It is a fearful and amazing journey…a journey into a future (again to quote Teilhard), “too heavy with mystery and too wholly new.” [source] But that’s the journey Jesus invites us to, as we stand on the ground of fear, amazed at the reality we see, and open our hearts and minds to the sacredness within and around us.