Good morning, church! Happy Easter!
Look at all of you. You look amazing in your Easter best! Okay, a few of you look like you haven’t been here in awhile. Maybe a long while. Maybe some of you are here because you were . . . umm . . . . “encouraged” . . . . to be here? You know who you are.
I am intrigued, once again, by the Gospel report of the resurrection.
Did you notice how many women are mentioned? There’s Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene – whom many scholars believe was not a prostitute but, actually, the spouse of Jesus – and Salome and Joanna, and “other women”.
They had come to the tomb, bringing spices to tend to the body, as was the religious practice and tradition at that time.
They were all startled to find an empty tomb. In Luke’s gospel, which we heard this morning, two men in dazzling white clothing appear before him and say to them,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here, but has risen.”
In Mark’s gospel, the women gather at the empty tomb and encounter a “young man, dressed in a white robe”.
In John’s Gospel account, it is Mary Magdalene alone who finds the stone rolled away. She tells the other disciples and they come, look in and see the empty tomb and then they run back home.
But, Mary stays by the empty tomb, weeping in her confusion and grief. She, too, sees two “angels” who ask her why she is weeping.
When she turns, she sees Jesus but at first does not recognize him. It is only when he calls her by name that she realizes that it is the resurrected Jesus standing in her midst.
So, we have these different accounts of what happened on that day that we call “Easter”. I am most intrigued that, while the women were the ones to first see the empty tomb, it is only Mary Magdalene who actually sees the Risen Jesus.
Yet, she does not recognize him at first.
I have always been intrigued by John’s report.
How is it that she didn’t recognize him? This is the man she knew and loved for several years. She cooked for him and ate with him, laughed with him and cried with him. She washed his feet and listened to his stories and his teachings. She wiped his brow and dried his tears.
She followed him as he walked the road to Calvary and sat at the foot of the cross with his mother and wept as she watched him die.
How could she not recognize him?
As I’ve thought about this particular scene and the various reports of that first day of Easter, I’ve come to an understanding something about Mary’s temporary amnesia. I understand it because I recognize it in myself. I see it all around me in the world.
The resurrected Jesus, whom we call the Christ, the one Anointed by God, is all around us in the world, often standing right in front of us.
And yet we, like Mary, do not recognize him.
Part of it is cultural, of course. We Americans are very busy people. We have been carefully taught that very busy people are very important people. And, important people simply don’t have time to stop and notice things that are not significant to the busy, important work we have to do.
I’m struck by the fact that other cultures are not like this. There are many examples but I’ll give you two.
In Hindu culture, when two people – even strangers – greet each other, they always bow. Why would two strangers bow to one another? One may be a scoundrel and the other a thief. That’s not what matters. What they are acknowledging in each other is that there is a divine spark in each one of us. When they bow, they bow in recognition of that divine spark.
How would our world change if we did that? If we looked for and honored the divine spark that is in each of us? Just imagine.
In South Africa, when people greet each other, they say, “Sawubona" meaning "I see you" and the response "Ngikhona" means "I am here".
As always when translating from one language to another, crucial subtleties are lost. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and its grateful response, is the sense that until you saw me, I didn't exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence.
Think about that for a minute. Let that sink in. Until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence.
A Zulu folk saying clarifies this, "A person is a person because of other people".
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that this is the foundation for what South Africans call Ubuntu Theology.
It is to say, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. South African Zulu people say, "A person is a person through other persons."
What if . . . what if . . . in this busy American life of ours, we took a few minutes to slow down, to dial back the pace of life just a bit from 11 on Life’s volume control to somewhere around 7-8?
What if we lowered our speed limit from 65 mph on the highway of life to the residential rate of 25 mph?
What if, when we pass someone on the street or in the supermarket or at the drug store or at the gas station, we took the time to smile and say, “Hello”? What might happen?
I can tell you one response.
Every Sunday after the 7:30 AM Service, a group of us go over to the West End Diner for breakfast. As I enter the diner and when I leave, I always look people in the eye and say, “Hello” or “Good morning.”
I don’t mumble it. I say it right out loud. “Hello!” I say, or “Good morning.”
A very few will return my look, even fewer will return my smile. Mostly they look down at their shoes. They might mumble “Good morning.”
But, mostly, they just put their heads down and keep walking. Now, this is not a critique of the people of Milford. I can assure you that this is a common response whether I’m in Wilmington or Philadelphia or Boston or Seattle.
Don’t even get me started on New York City. Well, Manhattan. The Upper West or East Sides are different.
I’ve often thought that my collar is a serious handicap. I mean, a woman? In a collar? What’s THAT about? What am I supposed to call her? Father? Mother? Sister? Oh, God, if I acknowledge her presence, she’s not going to start talking to me about JEEE-zus, is she?
I acknowledge the potential anomaly of my situation. A woman in a collar! Seriously!
My own particular experiences aside, I want to acknowledge that at our baptism, we affirm our belief in the words of the Nicene Creed and are asked to take five vows.
The fourth vow asks, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves?”
The fifth vow asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”
To both vows, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”
On this Easter Day, I want you to carefully consider these two vows. Indeed, I’d like you to commit yourself to living your life in such a way that would make it clear that you are striving to be true to the vows that you took when you were baptized, and reaffirmed at your Confirmation.
Start by inwardly imagining yourself bowing to the divine spark that exists in the other person. Try looking strangers straight in the eye and saying “Hello!” or “Good morning!”
Say it right out loud and like you mean it.
In fact, let’s practice that right now. I know you’re Episcopalian and a proud member of God’s frozen chosen, but I’d like you to turn to the person to the right and say, “Good morning.” Ready? 1, 2, 3 “Good morning.” Now, turn to the person to the left and say, “Good morning.”
Now, I want the left side of the church to face the right side, and the right side to face the left side. Now, find someone on the other side of the church, look them in the eye and say, "Happy Easter!"