The Easter Present
The Easter Present
Rev. Robert Woodruff
April 5, 2015
We’ve arrived at the empty tomb—the destination of our forty day journey through Lent. By way of reminder, we began following Christ into the barren wilderness where, away from the comforts and stability of society, his spiritual fortitude was tested for the journey. We then followed him through his ministry in the Galilean country-side until his triumphal ride into Jerusalem.
Mocking a Roman General riding into town on a stallion after a military victory, Jesus rode atop an ass, entering the religious epicenter as a humble king ready to face his destiny and establish his kingdom. Following his last meal with his inner- circle, Jesus is betrayed by one of his close companions, who turns him over to the religious authorities—those who ultimately arrange for his death. Friday evening, combined with the voices of the Church of the Risen Savior Catholic Church’s choir, our choir sang a stirringly rendition of St. Johns passion. And that account marks the penultimate step of the Lenten journey with Jesus taken down from the cross and his lifeless body closed behind a tomb.
But now the tomb is empty. What are we to make of this climax to the foundational narrative of the faith? The implications are not immediately apparent. As is often the case, getting to the heart of meaning on life’s journey requires reflection.
Case in point: Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. “Watson,” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” replies Watson.
“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”
Watson thinks for a moment, “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I see that God is powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?
“Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”
Let us pray: As we hear the familiar story of hope from two thousand years before, may your words fall freshly upon our ears as if for the first time. And may your timeless Spirit use it to bring life where weariness and brokenness pervades our souls. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
You will recall that our Lenten theme is mindfully living our faith in the now. One of the great spiritual and psychological human challenges is transcending our wiring. So often the propensity of our minds and hearts is to lock onto past experiences or future concerns, which keeps us from living fully in the present. Author and Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh describes this well: “Fear,” he writes, “keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.
Because reality is happening now. When we preoccupy ourselves with what has been or what will be, we lose ourselves in our own sense of time and miss life that is happening now. St. Augustine recognized this calling the notion of time: “A distention of the mind,” and implying that we ought not be caught up in where the whims of our minds would take us.
Author Eckhart Tolle describes this in his book The Power of Now, “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but...the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time— past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” Living in the now, I would add, is not ignoring the past and future but rather giving it its proper place. You may be familiar with the popular quip, “It’s okay to look at the past and peer at the future, just don’t stare.”
Mary’s experience with the resurrected Christ that Arturo and I just read is emblematic of the importance of living in the now. When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed, she panicked. As is often the case when something seems suspiciously awry, her heart begins to stir into a frenetic frenzy and her mind races. Remember, she so recently said goodbye to her rabbi, teacher and friend preceding his tragic death. We can only imagine her grief.
At that moment, Mary’s mind is detached from the now. She does not even take time to peer into the tomb, but instead her mind jumps to conclusions. A grave robber or somebody up to no good must have removed the body and she runs to tell the others. Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, upon hearing, engage in a footrace to the tomb. Arriving first, the beloved disciple looks in and sees the clothes folded in the corner, but he also does not go in. Then, Simon Peter catches up, and enters and sees not only the linen wrapping, but also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It is folded in the corner. One commentator suggests that this was a sign to them that Jesus’ body was not stolen because robbers would have taken the clothes and not wrapped them neatly, (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9).
It was only after this initial detective work that scripture indicates Peter and the beloved disciple begin putting it all together. The details of the now start to sink in. It is Mary however, who first recognizes what occurred. Two angels reach out to her in her grief and then she sees Jesus, but she does not at first recognize him. It is only when he calls her by name that her mind abandons her grief for past events and her worry about future implications of the missing body. It is only then that she sees the resurrected Jesus in the moment and calls him by name: “Rabbouni” she responds in astonishment—teacher. It is in the now, that Mary is able to recognize the depth of the Good News.
The meaning of today’s narrative is found in the now. Even theologians and church communities can miss this. After all, there are strains of Christianity that try to place the meaning of Easter in existentially proving the event happened as a form of dogmatic validation. And there are others who assert that the power of Easter have more to do with end times. These are escapist approaches that only take adherents out of the now and allow detaches from the present. I am reminded of New Testament Scholar and Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright’s words, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all,” he continues, “is what the Lord's Prayer is about,”—on earth, as it is in heaven.
Queridos hermanos y hermanas, the truth of Easter, of humanity’s deepest metaphor and reality, is that it must be engaged in the now to experience it. To know that love is stronger than fear and death, to experience life in its abundance on our journeys; to keep our anxieties and unhealthy attachments from dictating our realities, and to bring love, and humanization and transformation to a world that is fraught with present darkness and brokenness, we must live in the Easter present.
We may recall when Jesus first began his ministry. After his forty days of preparation in the wilderness, he goes public by preaching in his home synagogue. You remember, at first, the congregation gushed over their burgeoning hometown hero. And then Jesus quotes Isaiah to lay out the manifesto of his mission: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ His stated mission is not otherworldly. It is about transformation in this world now. It is about loving God, neighbor and self in the moment. Scripture holds implications of important past realities we are called to remember and the sacred text alludes to a hopeful future, but always in the context of the now. The present is where things happen. We cannot change the past by dwelling and we cannot affect the future by ruminating. But we can move on from what has happened and plant seeds of hope for what will come—only in the present. We can only live resurrection right now.
As we heard at the beginning of our Lenten journey from the Apostle Paul, “Now is the time.” That is what he told the church at Corinth that was stuck in the past, beckoning them to live into the present. Now is the time, Second Presbyterian Church, as we continue to live and share with others a taste of heaven on Earth. Now is the time for allowing resurrection and transformation into your life and the life of others by engaging the now. That is an Easter present worth living.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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