Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Sunday 2010

Luke 24
1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " 8Then they remembered his words.
9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

The quote de jour comes from a gentleman waiting in line yesterday at the Apple store in Atlanta, Georgia. Waiting patiently to buy the new iPad, he said, "I don't know what it is -- I just think it's going to be something that's really cool.” Back in my day, when you dropped five hundred bucks on a shiny new gizmo, you generally had a sense of what you were getting. Call me old-fashioned.

Maybe it’s odd that the pivotal moment in the history of the Christian faith involves rolling away a large stone to reveal –
nothing. No iPad, no Rolex, not even gold, frankincense or myrrh. Even Tim Hortons, famous for their annual answer to Lenten abstinence, puts something under the rim, even if it’s a polite “please try again.”

So the key to understanding Easter is the absence of something. Could we get any farther from the zeitgeist of the present age? Isn’t the key to modern economics a willingness to spend? Didn’t President Bush advise a frightened nation to go out and shop? Can you really defeat terror at the mall? Are all these questions rhetorical?

Mostly, yes. We arrive at Easter morning with a surplus of questions, beginning with the one posed to a group of frightened woman in the tomb. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angel asks, ‘wasn’t the promise of this day the seeming absence of Jesus: didn’t he tell you about a three-day pattern where death would become life?’ Then they remembered his words.

They remembered all that he shared with them in Galilee. They remembered the long table and all the laughter as friends gathered to share a meal in his presence. They remembered the long hours of conversation, long after the wine was gone, when he would describe a life given to the Most High, when he would sketch out an unfolding story, when he would speak of resistance, and the unseen world of God.

Even as some in the group began to fade into the evening darkness, a core would remain, steadfast in the hope than Jesus would say more about this Kingdom he loved, about the great themes of compassion and forgiveness, and about the ways of God. And he didn’t disappoint, telling more stories and reciting the aphorisms they had come to love.

But then, leaning forward, and in a low voice, he said ‘a day will come, you know, when the crowds we teach and feed will flee away. Some will conspire against us, and repeat the words that can be most easily misunderstood. I will be arrested, Caesar’s justice will prevail, and I will be no more. But listen now, my friends, because the Ruler of Heaven and Earth is doing a new thing: on the third day I will rise again.

Standing in the empty tomb, these words came back, as clearly as their memory of the fading light and the soft breeze they felt each evening on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But could they remember their response? Maybe this was the moment that they too retreated into the darkness, with a collective sigh and saying ‘no, Lord, this will never happen. You enjoy the favour of the Most High. And besides, who would fill our evenings with stories of prodigals and foolish virgins?’

Standing in the empty tomb, they remembered his prediction and it suddenly made sense. How could the one who made the leper clean, the one who cast out demons, and the one who raised Lazarus meet the end like an ordinary human? How could Jesus, with his otherworldly wisdom and unique relationship to the physical world simply die and remain in this place? No, in the light on this morning, his whispered words suddenly make sense. He is not here; he has risen!

Christ is Risen! [He is Risen indeed!]

But now the hard part. Now it fell to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them to tell the story and share the message that his three-day journey is complete and the tomb is empty. They become evangelicals, literally “messengers” of the Good News that Jesus cannot be found among the dead but is alive once and forevermore.

But they could not hear it. St. Luke records that ‘they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’ And here we see that place where the emptiness of the tomb met the emptiness they felt, emptiness in the absence of the great connection the women made. And they would remain in their emptiness, we know, until the events that followed and the resurrection appearances come.

For now, though, they will remain in some confusion, a liminal place between knowing and understanding. They will live between hearing and internalizing the word. And they will have more emptiness to face and this may be precisely the place where we can return to our time:

Victor Franckl, psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor, best known for writing Man’s Search for Meaning, coined the term "Sunday neurosis.” He used the term Sunday neurosis to describe the feeling that comes when the busy week is over:

[An] existential vacuum…is a common phenomenon and is characterised by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction and questions the point of most of life's activities.*

If we moderns face ‘Sunday neurosis,’ then many of the disciples faced “Easter Sunday neurosis,” a cynical lack of direction and a sense of emptiness born of grief and despair. Maybe it was the result of collective guilt, following a week of retreats and denials, or maybe it was simply a lack of imagination in the face of this new thing. Whatever the root of this emptiness, it becomes the bridge between ancient and modern, between long ago days and the world we now know.

We suffer, you see, from an absence of hope. We fail to see the things that are truly larger than ourselves and see instead the shiny things that are sent to distract us and fill a void. Sunday is the busiest day at the mall precisely because we seem to have lost the ability to see the unseen world: to imagine something far beyond the ordinary and to live in hope.

We are constantly tempted to see the empty tomb in the context of our own emptiness, and not the empty space filled with promise that God intended. We are tempted to apprehension rather than adoration. We are tempted to equate the absence of a body with the absence of hope, while the empty tomb shouts the opposite.

So the key to understanding Easter is the absence of something. Call it God’s great irony that the empty tomb is filled to capacity with the potential to transform hearts and remake a weary world. It is God’s great irony that the empty tomb is filled with the message that death is never the last word and the Lord of Life walks with us each day. It is God’s great irony that the empty tomb is both absence and presence at the same moment, and the message of his presence has been shared every Sunday down to today.

Christ is Risen! [He is Risen indeed!]

*Yalom, Irvin D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: BasicBooks, p. 449.


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