Preached by Vicar Este Gardner, Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017
It is a strange and wondrous thing every year, that always, this long-awaited day seems to come as a surprise, and every year, we feel this great resurrection joy. It is also amazing to me that we celebrate this somehow astonishing festival of the resurrection with the vibrations of Holy Week still in our bones.
During our Good Friday service we heard a series of beautiful poems brought to us by our seminarian Marguerite Judson. On the cover of the booklet she made, was an image I had never seen before- a field of stones in a desert landscape. But it turns out that this was no ordinary field of stones – this was the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, and the stones are famous because- they move. They are sometimes called the “sailing stones.” They apparently move all by themselves, and although theories abound, just why is a great mystery. The stones inscribe lines in the dust as they scoot along, kind of like the ones Jesus drew, and sometimes they move in tandem with each other like a dance, and they even move around corners. Something invisible seems to motivate them toward some unknown goal.
In our beautiful Easter Gospel, a stone with another mysterious goal has also moved, leaving, however, no trace of its mover. But the very first thing that Mary Magdalene saw was this rolled-away stone. This obstacle to the Holy is mysteriously moved, so that she is able to see Jesus face to face. But,, like many of us, she doesn’t recognize him at first.
Mary’s reunion with Jesus, like any reunion with one is utterly loved and utterly lost, is unspeakably joyous. But Mary is not only reunited with her beloved teacher, but also her healer – her redeemer. He found her in the darkness, demon-ridden and unclean, and saw her and loved her and healed her. Mary now experiences unimaginable joy.
It may sometimes be hard for us to imagine this kind of joy – hard to imagine resurrection while we are in the unclean depths of the tomb. While we are despairing, mourning, weeping. While we stay in the darkness and dare not even open our eyes. But although it may seem unimaginable, we know, because of the story of the resurrection, that even that black darkness can transform to resurrection joy.
Author Cynthia Occelli puts it like this:
For a seed to achieve its greatest expression it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything transforms. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, [and I would say someone who doesn’t understand resurrection] it would look like compete destruction.
This is good news indeed to those of us who have felt our shell crack and our insides threaten to come out and who, perhaps unwillingly must confront terrifying changes in our lives.
The great 3rd century theologian Origen wrote of a perfect sphere-like entity he called the “resurrection body” – everybody had one. It was with us at the beginning of our lives as a perfect unblemished sphere, and, as we knocked our way through life, it gathered scars, marks on its skin, like the paths of moving rocks. As our life progresses, tomb-worn, we are gifted with these marks, until, at our resurrection, the sphere again is clear and baby-like in its perfection.
As we prepared for our Good Friday service, Rachel and I went to get the huge wooden cross that we use in the service, that we kneel before and reverence every Good Friday. It was out in the garden, and we saw several of our day laborer guests waiting outside the parish hall for the Friday lunch. I saw Javier, who reminded me that it was a year ago, on Good Friday that I visited him in the hospital, as he recovered from gunshot wounds. I saw Renee, who had been weeding our garden for free. But as Rachel started to shoulder the cross to carry it in, a laborer I had never met offered to carry it for her. At first I saw him as a modern Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry the cross, but as soon as he shouldered it, we all saw that he made a perfect Jesus. An instant paparazzi formed, made out of both ourselves and his day laborer brothers. He really looked the part. He was rough around the edges, dark, scarred, perhaps a little overly blessed by alcohol, as Jesus often was, but he had incredible smile.
He dutifully carried the cross into the church, and once we were inside, he stopped and looked around in wonder. “I have never been in this place before,” he said. And then he said it again. “I have never been in this place before,” I saw in his eyes that he was experiencing something he hadn’t expected. When he laid the cross down where we wanted it, I thanked him and I asked him his name. “Manuel,” he said.
Do you know what your name means? I asked him? “No, I forgot,” he grinned.
“It means ‘God-with-Us’,” I said. “It means Jesus.” He seemed a little overcome by this new information and his eyes grew wide.
“I was just standing there, eating my bread and coffee,” he said, “and all of the sudden I am Jesus!”
This small miracle for Manuel was nothing he expected. He did not expect to be in this beautiful church that morning, or to see himself as Jesus then or anytime. But this is how miracles happen to us – this is how resurrection happens. We are just minding our own business, safe in our tombs when- flash-a transformation happens – and Christ is risen!
One theory I read about the movement of those sailing rocks is that they too have to go through a transformation before they can perform their miracle. Apparently the stones float on an infinitesimally thin sheet of water, which, after it freezes, begins to crack in the warmth of the sun. So these rocks, previously so typical in their unmoving frozen state, are suddenly animated – brought to life by this small violence. It is the cracks that move them, that cause them to make those miraculous paths in the sand, and sail together toward their secret goal.
And as for us, when we are frozen in the isolation of the tomb, when we too have cracked, when we have all but died, we must hold on, because the miracle will come. The stone will mysteriously roll away, and we will see the holy face to face, in all our holy imperfection.