31 Mar 2013
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)
In the name …
My daughter Kristin is here in church today with her friend Hillary. They arrived on Good Friday, and in our house there is no television, radio or anything frivolous on the day Jesus dies. I’m not sure Hillary knew what she was getting into when she offered to drive down here from college. We’re Amish on Good Friday. A couple of weekends ago Hillary took Kristin to her home in Bangor. They said they just needed a break from college. Their first stop was Bangor’s WABI Channel 5 where Hillary’s father is a sportscaster. They watched him do his evening broadcast in that high-tech studio with all those professional make-up people, lighting and sound people, all kinds of people. That’s all well and good, but kind of anti-climactic now that they’ve seen our FCAT camera in action right over here with ace cameraman Bill Girardi behind the lens.
And speaking of anti-climactic, I know we’re all here for Easter. And welcome. Sincerely, it’s wonderful to have you here. This is the church’s grandest and most joyful day, and I’m glad we’re all here to share in it together, but as the Gospel has already told us, we’re here because of an empty tomb, an empty cave in the side of Judean hill. We’re not talking about anything dramatic like frightened soldiers, shining angels or powerful earthquakes. All we’ve found so far is an empty hole in the ground. Hillary’s dad Tim – that’s Maine’s Hillary and Tim not South Deerfield’s Hilary and Tim - he gets to talk about and to the Red Sox, the Celtics, and the Bruins. Kristin’s dad – on the biggest day of the year – gets to talk about an empty hold in the ground. Again, I bet they’re thinking their trip to Channel 5 was pretty anti-climactic now.
Easter is the grandest day of the whole church year, but it starts with a whimper not a bang. The first Easter encounters don’t even mention a resurrected Jesus. There’s just an empty cave. Easter is the mystery at the center of our faith-lives, and it starts with nothing more than an empty hole. The news of the empty tomb spreads through the forlorn community of Jesus’ first followers as Mary Magdalen unexpectedly discovers the opened tomb, and then through her news spreads to Peter and the Beloved Disciple. These are people beaten and defeated. These are people in mourning. The death of Jesus has taken absolutely everything out of them. They have nothing left to hope in. But all of that begins to slowly turn around and give way to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Jesus lives.
He talked about the resurrection, but His death was a lot more than talk. Mary Magdalene watched Him suffer and die. She watched them bury the lifeless body of Jesus in the tomb. Peter and the other disciples were so terrified by the act of Jesus’ crucifixion that they were no where to be seen on Good Friday. The cross was that real. Could the empty tomb be even more real? It was just an empty hole in the ground. It may not have been very dramatic. It may have been anti-climactic after the horribly remarkable events of Good Friday. But in that empty tomb hope began to flicker back to life. Jesus’ death for all of its memorable theatrics marked the world for only two days. That simple witness of the empty tomb, though, has changed the world forever. And it began only with a glimmer of hope, a flicker of belief.
Even before the resurrected Jesus appeared, the seed of belief returned. There was nothing there but an empty tomb. It just as well could have been grave robbers as the resurrection for all they knew at that moment, but the seed of belief sprouted and the Beloved Disciple is no longer worried about who stole the body. Now he’s imagining the unimaginable, that Jesus lives. Is that all that different from where we stand today, this Easter Sunday morning, in this all too skeptical world of ours? Just like Good Friday, we have all kinds of evidence that the world can be mean and uncaring, definitely unfair, but like the Beloved Disciple are we prepared to believe? Are we willing to see through our eyes of faith? We really have no more to go on than those first three witnesses. We’re really not that far separated from the first Easter. The Beloved Disciple saw nothing, and he believed, it says in the Bible. Are we prepared to see with eyes of faith?
How we see the world is not as straightforward as we sometimes imagine. Researchers have discovered that we see what we plan to see and often ignore the most obvious things in our view if we’re not expecting them. At Harvard they did an experiment on radiologists, those men and women who are highly trained to see the slightest variation in the x-ray images of their patients. Heck, I remember when I saw the first ultrasound pictures of my daughters. The doctors were pointing out stuff that was plain as day to them, but I saw nothing. Back at Harvard, the researches slipped-in altered x-ray images. They planted an image of a man in a hairy gorilla suit shaking his fist angrily. The radiologists were looking intently for those almost invisible changes of colour or shape that could indicate cancer, and 83% of them never saw the matchbook sized gorilla on the very same slides. They weren’t prepared to see a gorilla, and they didn’t.
Can you see the connection with the empty tomb? Can you see how important it is for us to give faith a chance by preparing ourselves to be able to see? The tomb was an anticlimactic empty hole, and sometimes I know a lot of people think of church in the exact same way as an anticlimactic empty hole, but this community and our worship and our work throughout the year keep hope alive so that we are also prepared and able to see. I imagine the Beloved Disciple walking home from the empty tomb with a stupid grin on his face. My prayer this Easter morning is that all of us can leave here with that same stupid grin on our faces because as anti-climactic as it may be the tomb is empty, Jesus has resurrected and we can see and we can believe. In His glorious name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo