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12 Apr 2009

“On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”  (John 20:1)        In the name …

Ten days ago I attended a talk at Hampshire College.  It was offered by a professor from Columbia University.  I expected more.  I think the point he was trying to make was that belief in anything supernatural is biased.  If you’re born into a Christian house, you’ll probably think about God like a Christian, if into a Jewish home like a Jewish person, etc.  And since each tradition may claim that the others are false while sharing these same biases, then all such religious beliefs are suspect.  This is not a novel argument, and was not at all interesting.  But what upset me was that he wanted to use religion.  All religion has no substance, he argued, so we might as well use it for something constructive.  His talk was the last in a series about science and religion at Hampshire College. Previous speakers discussed their objections to religion’s interference in science, and I can sympathize with them to a point.  Whether it be the church condemning Galileo or forcing schools to teach creationism as science, I can see where scientists would be upset by religion’s interference in their sphere.  Then this professor comes along to cap-off the whole series and he advocates using religion by science.  What’s the difference? 

He wants to keep religion, but separate it from belief in the supernatural realities that inspire it.  And the example he used in the week before Good Friday was the cross.  He told us that instead of worrying about the cross as Jesus’ real sacrificial death for us that we should use it as a life lesson in struggling for what is right no matter what.  Even if he doesn’t believe that Jesus dies as the Son of God, this professor completely ignores the tortured death of Jesus of Nazareth the man.  He wanted to use the example, but he not only stripped it of any spiritual significance, he ignored the plight of the man.  And by this I was offended, which meant that Lent had done its job.  Jesus’ sacrifice was personal to me.  I didn’t just understand it; I felt it.  And I pray that many of you have had the same experience because religion isn’t about rules, it’s about that man.  The last straw was when the young woman behind me started talking about ectoplasms or some such thing and ghosts.  That’s when I turned to my friend next to me and we both looked at each other and agreed “It’s time to get out of here.”  But this Ivy League professor had to stay and had to discuss haunted houses at an academic level because according to him all supernatural beliefs are the same whether they be Casper or Jesus.

But he runs into a problem with Easter.  The cross is real, and there aren’t too many people who argue against the fact that Jesus was executed.  Even Jesus’ enemies accept that He was crucified.  They use it to attack His credibility.  They ask how God can allow this to happen if Jesus is really His Son.  Jesus’ enemies testify to His death, and His enemies have no reason to substantiate a proclamation of our faith.  So the only reason left for them to talk about the cross is because the cross is real.  His followers accepted its harsh reality too.  And by this I’m not talking about proclamations like Peter’s to the people of Jerusalem that we read as this morning’s Lesson.  That’s well prepared and thought out.  I’m talking about that “aha moment.”  That instant even before thought kicks-in where the harsh reality of Jesus’ death on the cross is shaken by the fact that the tomb is really empty.  They had no doubt that Jesus was dead so whatever shook that certainty had to be even more real.  

The first testimonies of Easter are not about faith, but confusion. Mary Magdalene sees the rock rolled away from the tomb and doesn’t know what to do or what it means.  She runs back to tell the disciples.  They fare no better.  They think Mary is an hysterical woman.  They have to go see for themselves.  When they get there, eventually both standing right inside the now empty tomb, it is told to us that only John “saw and believed.”  The Gospel hints that Peter couldn’t come to grips with what had happened.  It says that they did not yet understand the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.  They leave the empty tomb and there is no mention of joy, excitement or proclamation.  All that is said is that they return home.  Kind of anti-climactic if it were fiction.  I can see the boisterous Peter dumbfounded by Easter.  He can’t get his thoughts around the fact that the resurrection is more real than the crucifixion.  He must have stumbled back home lost in his thoughts.  Again, not the best climax to the story, unless your story is limited by the events as they really happened. 

The story is told of a wife and her ever-unpleasant husband.  They were not shy about their dislike for each other, but they were married and they stayed married.  One year they went away on a trip to Jerusalem.  While they were there, the husband died.  The widow called up the funeral director back home about the arrangements.  He told her that it would cost $5,000 to fly his body home or she could simply bury him over there in Jerusalem for about $150.  She thought about it for only a moment and then insisted on the more expensive option of flying him home for burial.  The funeral director, knowing that this was not the most loving couple and that the husband was not the most pleasant man, asked why she wanted to bring him home.  She replied, “Long ago another man died here, was buried, and three days later he arose from the dead.  I just can’t take that chance.”  Easter is real.  Mary, Peter, John and this widow knew it, and I hope we do to.  He is risen!  The question is:  Now what?

 Easter is not only to remember that the tomb is empty.  Easter is a challenge to people of faith like us to live like the tomb is empty.  Since Jesus is not there, He’s here and everywhere.  Easter reminds us that we need to live like people who really believe that, who take it all very personally, who realize that this is not make-believe, to find our own “aha moments.”  Easter shocked and bewildered the first believers, and then changed them.  May it still amaze and change us today.  For this we pray in the name of the resurrected Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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