Friday, August 7, 2009

Bill Carroll on Easter

Bill Carroll is Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio.

I don’t care what anyone tells you. I don’t care what the hymn says. We do not come to the garden alone.

We come racing with Peter and John, close friends of Jesus, to see the empty tomb. We come with Mary Magdalene, in the middle of the night, trying in vain to care for his body.

We also come with Christians in their billions. Today, they are gathered in Zimbabwe and the West Bank, in Guatemala and Haiti, in a Chinese village, in small town Iowa, in New York City, in the Swiss Alps, and in many other places throughout the world. We are also gathered right here in Athens County. Christians gather in every conceivable type of building: from monasteries to storefront churches, from the little country church to the majestic cathedral, from ancient stone buildings to modern structures of glass and steel. We also gather outside, beyond any four walls built by human hands, to worship the risen Lord at sunrise. We do so in every conceivable way in every conceivable language. In countless tongues, we sing hymns of joy and tell the Easter story.

So, no, my friends, we do not come to the garden alone. We come with many brothers and sisters. We come as a worldwide community, the Body of Christ, the Church.

We come for many different reasons, carrying many different burdens. Some of us are troubled by the burden of sin. Others by the prospect of impending death. Still others come imprisoned by the past and the shackles of memory. We come heavy laden with anger, resentment, and grief. We are fearful and anxious about our future. We worry about finding work or losing a job, perhaps even losing our home. Maybe this has happened to us already. Perhaps we are facing a difficult family situation or life-threatening illness. Perhaps we are bone tired, worn down by hard work and many cares. But, no matter what the reason or burden, no matter how heavy or light, and even if we are among those lucky untroubled few, we come today looking for a word of hope and resurrection joy. We are looking, in a word, for JESUS.

And so, we come. Early in the morning on the first day of the week, we come. We come to the garden tomb with Mary Magdalene. Spices in hand, we come, ready to bury our friend and Lord. We don’t expect much from Jesus. We certainly don’t expect to see him alive. But we have come here in the wee hours of the morning to do what we can.

Mary has spent the night weeping. She must be exhausted. Hours ago, she was already at the end of her rope. Now, she is numb with grief, nearly past the point of caring, in desperate need of sleep. But, when she arrives, there is no body. Insult is added to injury. Even this comfort, however small, is denied her. They have taken his body from her.

And so, she begins to weep. And first the angels, then the mysterious stranger, ask her why. In both cases, Mary’s answer is the same: “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Supposing the stranger to be the gardener, she asks him “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

But then, the stranger, who is Jesus, calls her by name. “Mary,” he says. And she turns to face him. “Teacher!” she replies. Jesus calls her by name, and she responds. Her turning is more than a simple bodily movement. It is a complete change of life. It is conversion. She is leaving sin and death behind her—to serve the living God. Jesus has appeared to her—ALIVE—so her grief gives way to joy. Having been called and sent, she runs to tell the others: “I have seen the Lord.”

No, we do not come to the garden alone. Our faith is built on the foundation of the apostles. It is built on the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who saw and touched the Lord. It stands upon the testimony of a great cloud of witnesses, throughout the world and throughout the ages, who have encountered the Living One and been changed by him forever. Jesus calls person after person into his Body, the Church. We come to him through his community.

Even those of us who have our doubts—who doesn’t?—can glimpse in broken fragments the meaning of Easter. Every sign and symbol we use, every story we tell, points beyond itself to the Great Mystery. We see it mirrored in the flowers and smiling faces. We hear its echoes in our thunderous hymns of joy. We even taste it and smell it in the bread and wine made holy. We feel it in our bones, in the HOPE this Day gives us—in God’s frightening yet exhilarating offer of freedom. For, on this Day, Christ is risen, breaking the power of death. On this Day, he sets us free from all the powers that enslave us. He calls us and sends us in his Name.

The Christian vision of life is very realistic. “The three sad days have done their worst,” and they cannot be undone. We do not deny sin, suffering, and death. In Christ’s presence, our burdens remain real, but they lose their power over us. Easter does not undo the evil that crushes Jesus; it unveils the saving power of his Cross.

On this Day, God imparts a sure and certain hope the world can’t give. God gives us a knowledge born of love. The whole Day testifies to things unseen—to the victory of God—to the grace and mercy that are now claiming our world, from the bottom on up.

For God chooses the weak and despised of the world, and makes of us a kingdom. God chooses sinners, and makes us beloved children. God chooses the fallen, and makes us stand.

The same stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

My brothers and sisters, come to Jesus the Living One, who is that very stone, and lay your burdens down. For we have been born anew to a living hope by his resurrection from the dead.

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