Easter Day – April 12, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton,
rector and pastor.
Good morning! Happy Easter to you! It’s always so wonderful to see the church full of happy people, all dressed up in your Easter Sunday clothes.
Okay, so some of you are not so happy. Let’s face it, some of you were dragged here and you’re not so happy to be in a tie that feels too tight or heels that looked so good in the store but now they are cramping your feet just a little. You know who you are.
I want to take a little time this morning to talk about Easter joy – which has nothing to do with obligation or guilt or even fancy new clothes.
I want you to understand the context of the joy we celebrate this day, so you will know and understand. My Easter prayer is that your joy will be so complete that you will tell the stories of our faith to your children and your children’s children.
And joy, which is at the center of everything that is created, will live on in eternity.
In order for me to do that, I have to take you back a couple thousand centuries to the scene of this morning’s gospel.
Actually, you know what? Let me take you back to the very beginning – where the earth was a dark void and, in the time before time, there was nothing but nothingness and emptiness.
Scripture tells us that God, our own God, was sitting among the other gods in the heavens. And God’s spirit was moving over the earth, which was without form and void, and God gave the first gift to us – the gift of Light.
This is the story of our faith. The story evolutionary science tells us that there was in the cosmos, for some scientific reason, a Very Big Bang, And there was light which illuminated the cosmos and brought into being a new world which we call ‘earth.’
Now, let me rush to add that I am not here to defend evolutionary science, and while I am certainly not a Creationist, I think the ancient stories of our faith help us to understand the mystery of our lives.
I cannot prove anything to you. That’s not my job. My role as a priest is not to provide proof but to strengthen your faith, which does not rely solely on data and facts and figures. That is a matter for the intellect.
Faith is a matter of the heart, As Episcopalians who are members of the world wide Anglican Communion, our faith is informed by scripture, reason and tradition.
We read the stories of our faith through the lens of our own intellect, weighing and measuring, honoring and challenging all that has been said by those who have gone before us.
This morning, my friends, this Easter morning is a story from the heart of God which I hope will find a place in your own hearts and minds and souls. It is a story which is imbued with myth and filled with mystery and things which cannot be easily explained.
In the stories of our faith, we learn that God’s first gift to us was light but God did not stop there. God then gave us a new world, with earth and water, wind and fire, and creatures to inhabit the new world.
And God created Adam – Earth man – and Eve, the first woman, and placed them in the midst of a garden which became known as Eden.
I know you know the story about the Apple and the Snake, and that’s all charming and entertaining. For some, it is a story about how we were disobedient and lost our place in Paradise. Some folks build on this and point to it as evidence of how wretched we are, how sinful we are, and how God had to send his Son to die in order to redeem us.
Well, okay. That belief has carried many thousands and thousands of believers throughout the history of Christianity and informs their belief systems today. Actually, I have never found much redemption in that particular perspective.
To tell the truth, I really don’t think that this particular understanding of the mystery of our faith puts God in a very good light.
I mean, God sounds kind of mean-spirited and pernicious to me.
I suppose that’s why there are so many atheists and agnostics in the world. As Carl Jung reportedly said to an atheist, “If I believed in your belief in God, I wouldn’t believe in God, either.”
I couldn’t agree more with that statement, and I think if you believe in that understanding of God, your new ties must feel pretty tight about now, and your new shoes are really beginning to pinch your feet. No wonder you don’t want to come to church other than when you’re dragged here. I wouldn’t, either.
I believe that God came into the world in the form of Jesus, not so much to redeem us but to redeem God’s own understanding of what God created. You see, I think when God, the Greatest Mystery of All, created us in God’s own image, there was a little detail in the design that, perhaps, God didn’t take into account.
And that is that we, as human beings, had become as much a mystery to God as God had become a mystery to us.
And so, God took on human flesh so that God would more completely understand what it means to be the human beings that God created.
Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God knows us more fully, more completely, having had our experiences as human beings. God knows and understands our suffering.
God knows and understands our joy. God knows and understands the ordinary stuff of our lives – work and relationships, betrayal and sacrifice, creativity and intellect, love and peace.
Through Jesus, we know the true nature of God, but God also knows our true nature in a way God couldn’t have fully known before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
You see – I believe, along with some of the ancient mystics of the church, that the redemption of the world through Jesus was also God’s own redemption of our banishment in the Garden of Eden. And that, my friends, is the Paschal Mystery of Easter.
This morning’s gospel scene is filled with this truth. We find Mary Magdalene weeping at the empty tomb. All she can see is darkness and emptiness and loss. And as she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and, scripture says, she saw two angels. The ancient word for angel is ‘deva’ or point of light.
Mary, in the darkness of her despair, looked into the empty tomb and saw two points of light. And, in that light, she was able to see Jesus. Oh, she didn’t recognize him at first; she thought he was the gardener.
I love that image of Jesus as a gardener. Jesus was in the form of God who had come back to reclaim and tend the Garden that was created at the time before time in a new way.
You see, God’s first gift to us was light. God gave us that gift over again in Jesus, the Light of the World. If you follow that Light, the light of God in Christ Jesus, you will not find yourself sitting vigil at the empty tombs of life.
If you open your hearts to the Light of the World and allow your mind to find its own religious imagination, you will see God calling you to be in partnership, through Jesus, to redeem and reclaim the world.
That is the joy of this day, this Easter Day – not to prove or disprove the resurrection, but rather, to simply live it.
Look for the Light, my friends, whenever you find yourself sitting before emptiness and despair. Listen for the Spirit of God, moving over the formless voids that life sometimes is. When you see the light and hear the wind, it’s that God is calling you beyond the limits of your intellectual understanding.
God is calling you live the mystery of faith.
And then . . . and then. . . you will catch a glimmer of the true joy that is Easter.