Easter 2010 Year C Luke 24:13-35 April 4, 2010
“Christ is Risen, Alleluia!”
If we were editors of the local paper back in the time of the Gospel, that might be the headline in tomorrow’s paper. “Christ is Risen!” (headline)–and under that, the introductory headline “Mary Magdalene finds Empty Tomb.” It would be a darned sight better than the press we’re getting these days.
But of course, it’s not that simple. First of all, there’s the fact of the Roman Occupation and that they didn’t take well to anything that seemed like insurrection, hence, the crucifixion of Barabbas. Well, the almost crucifixion of Barabbas – he was released at the request of the people as it was the custom to pardon one prisoner, and even though he was a really bad guy, the mob decided it was safer to let him roam free than to let Jesus continue preaching His gospel of love and forgiveness. So the headline on Monday morning might read “Barabbas set Free”, subheadline “Peacenik Preacher pays the Price”.
Well, maybe not the Monday paper. That’s far too soon to understand what’s taken place. We’ve had 2000 years to mull it over, and it still remains the mystery of our faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen...and we know how it ends up...Christ will come again.
So – new headline – “Empty tomb”, lead headline underneath the banner; “Woman says dead man is alive.”
It’s a little strange isn’t it? That empty tomb is cause for great joy for all of us. It is, because we know how the story turns out. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. We don’t know how or when, but we know how the story turns out. That’s why we’re here.
Imagine it from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, from Simon Peter and the other apostle’s point of view. She comes to mourn and pay her respects, and finds what amounts to a grave that has been desecrated. How much more can one woman take?
She followed Him in faith, and in love, and ended up witnessing His brutal trial, scourging and execution, and then if that wasn’t enough, now they can’t even let Him rest in peace, the body is missing.
She’s near desperation when she confronts the gardener, or he whom she supposes to be the gardener. “If you know what’s happened to the body, let me know and I’ll take care of it, quietly. Just let us grieve our loss with dignity...”
Of course, the gardener is actually Christ, but something has prevented her from seeing him. Doesn’t that happen to us sometimes? We meet
Christ in our midst, not amongst the Kings and politicians, the rich and influential, but amongst the gardeners and labourers and carpenters and the sick and the homeless, and we don’t always recognize him. Mary, a woman of great faith, once she hears his voice, knows him for who he is.
Realizing who He is, I think she reacts the way any of us might. When we think of the loved ones whom we have lost, that we would love to have just one more day with...if that person showed up alive even for just one moment, we might be tempted to wrap our arms around them and never let go. Christ tells Mary Magdalene and He tells us not to hang on too tight. He tells her she has to let go. “If you do not let me go, I cannot ascend to the Father. You must let go.”
The wisdom or our times describes this as “closure”. We people of faith, who celebrate the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ the Lord know that true closure will come in end times, when He comes again as He said he would.
So, a newspaper story of the day might report on the empty tomb, the faithful woman, a reported sighting of the now very much alive Jesus, and no doubt a reference to the way he died, just for good measure.
The cross, in Christ’s time it was not a sign of love and peace, but a sign of fear and pain. If you were going about your daily business, even the business of preparing for the Passover, and the Roman authorities were busy erecting crosses on the landscape, you knew what that meant. It was a fairly common sight and not a very pleasant one.
Christ wasn’t the only person crucified that day, we know of at least two others and He wasn’t the last one ever crucified, we know of the saints who followed Him, and yet He is the one we remember. Out of hundreds, perhaps thousands of crucifixions over time, His is the one we remember. This is our faith.
If we could go back in time and walk around with a crucifix hanging from our neck, would it bring about a feeling of peace and security and hope as it does today, or would it strike terror into the hearts of the people?
Maybe that is the mystery of our faith. The empty tomb, the man on the cross, the linen cloths of burial discarded, these are the signs of our faith.
It’s unexplainable except through faith that these are the joy of our existence, because we know how the story ends up.
Christ lives. Not in the abstract, not in the “Christ lives in the hearts of each one of us” kind of way, although certainly that is true. Christ lives, in the flesh. His body was never found because He ascended, flesh and blood, into heaven. He rose from the grave this day, this Easter Sunday, not in some metaphoric or soothing fable or religious story; in the flesh.
We commemorate it in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and we remember Christ’s sacrifice for us in the here and now. Christ didn’t say at His last supper “this bread represents my body, this wine represents my blood”, He said “this IS my body, this IS my blood,” and further commanded “do THIS in memory of me.” And so we do, often.
This is what we celebrate, and what so many have trouble understanding. There’s a video out there in which actor Stephen Fry absolutely and brilliantly criticizes the Catholic faith by misstating the mystery of the Eucharist. He’s not a fan, but he makes a well reasoned argument and gets most of it wrong. At one point he says, and I quote, “(the priest) has the power to change the molecules of wine into blood, literally, to change the molecules of paste bread into flesh, literally” and the audience jeers and laughs, and I can’t help but think, well not quite, the power comes from God through the sacramental action of the Priest, but yes by George, he’s got it. This is Christ’s body, this is Christ’s blood, given up for us, for our salvation. It’s a shame Fry doesn’t get that he’s got it, but yes, that’s exactly what’s about to happen. Literally.
Despite the sins of our fathers, the errors of our own time yet to be revealed, our own doubts in the midst of suffering, with this broken and repenting Church amidst the bad press and society’s readiness to crucify Him once again on the cross of public opinion, we are here today.
He is Risen! Perhaps the story in tomorrow’s paper should quote St. Augustine who gives us faith’s answer to today’s questions. “If you understand him, he is not God.”