Sermon for Sunday, April 21, 2019 || Easter Day C || JOHN 20:1-18
Here we are at long last: Easter Sunday, a long wait this year, two-thirds of the way through the month of April. But it could have been longer. April 25th is the latest Easter can be, but that hasn’t happened since 1943 and won’t happen again until 2038, which coincidentally is the year I’ll be eligible to retire. Unlike most holidays, which are fixed on a particular date or day of the month, the date of Easter (and the Jewish Passover) springs from something much grander – the motion of celestial bodies. We start with the vernal equinox, the day in March when the earth is tilted just so in relation to the sun to make day and night the same exact length. Then we find the next full moon, and the Sunday following is this day of Resurrection.
I’ve always loved this astronomical system for finding the date of Easter because it reminds me that the event we celebrate today does not just affect us, but affects all of creation. The Gospel of John tells us, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son…” This “world” is the whole cosmos, both the big, starry universe beyond our sight and the depths of the universe held within each soul. The Resurrection is the reality of God, in which all things are drawn to the Creator; in which the love of God reveals its eternal, participatory nature; in which the sin of humanity does not stand a chance against the reconciling desire of God to bring us back into right relationship.
Such a universe-aligning event is impossible to describe, so I’m glad the Gospel writers never tried. Indeed, the four accounts of the Gospel tell the stories of the witnesses to the aftermath of the Resurrection, not the moment of resurrection itself. Today we heard the story of Mary Magdalene, who comes to the tomb in the darkness of the first day of the week and finds the stone removed. She fetches Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved and they race to the tomb, find it empty, and go home. Mary stays behind, weeping at the tomb, and she meets the Risen Christ and becomes the Apostles to the Apostles, bringing the good news to them: “I have seen the Lord!”
In the midst of this story of the empty tomb, one tiny detail stands out to me today. The Gospel writer tells us that the witnesses see “the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.” This little detail about the folded head-cloth has always set my curiosity on fire. Again, the Gospel writers are silent on the moment and the mechanics of the Resurrection, but here we get a glimpse, just a glance, perhaps, at the Risen Christ tidying up the place before exiting the tomb.
And this detail brings me to a poem by my favorite poet, our own Philip Kuepper, whose words never cease to astound and deepen me. Philip, with his poetic wit and whimsy, attempts what the Gospel writers won’t do. This is his recent poem “Jesus in Limbo.”
Of course, he was bored,
lying there in the dark
in the damp crypt.
I, too, would think how
to get out of there.
Look at the crocus
purpling up out of the earth,
the instant the fingers of spring touch it;
and the glad laughter of daffodils.
Tulips kiss, with relish, the air.
It only stood to reason
Jesus would rise
in the darkness, and look
for the way out,
look for the chink in the rock
where starlight quivered faintly,
like the wings of a white
moth drawn to the imprisoned
light emanating; Jesus,
both miner and the vein of gold,
who brought from the earth lode,
a wealth for the world.
In his poetic words, Philip picks up on imagery Jesus himself uses: the seed that must be planted in the ground in order to grow, “purpling up out of the earth.” The boredom, too, for why else would Jesus fold up his burial shroud, unless he was more fastidious than I give him credit for. And finally, those last words of the poem, that have been singing in my heart these past few weeks: “Jesus, both miner and the vein of gold, who brought from the earth lode, a wealth for the world.”
Jesus, both miner and the vein of gold. This image paints the truth of God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God. For the love of God is that which animates us, the spark that gives our souls eternal life in the power of the Resurrection. Before we claim any other identity, we own a fundamental identity as God’s Beloved.
All of us. Every one. Full stop.
We hold this belovedness deep within, so deep we might never realize it’s there. This is the vein of gold that Jesus mines for in each of us and teaches us to excavate in each other. Philip’s poem invites us to become prospectors, sifting our experience to find the gold of God’s presence. And unlike Old West prospectors panning in cold mountain rivers, we will find this gold when we look for it. Because God’s presence is always looking for us. Indeed, this presence finds Mary Magdalene in her sorrow outside the tomb when the Risen Christ calls her by name and gives her a mission. And this presence finds us in our sorrow, in our joy, in our exhaustion, in our enthusiasm. The Risen Christ beckons us to rise too, open the mines of our hearts, and let the love of God shine like that vein of gold.
Today we celebrate the day of Resurrection, and we remember that this holiday is not just a day, but an invitation into the very reality of God. In this reality, worthiness is a function of belovedness. In this reality, all people and all members of Creation have an essential spiritual value that goes beyond the economic. In this reality, the eternal love of God never ceases to bring Creation back into right relationship with God.
The Risen Christ invites us into this reality, the Risen Christ who is both miner and vein of gold. And so I sing with a joyful heart: “Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”