Homily delivered on the Sixth Sunday of Easter at Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois as part of its Eastertide mystagogy series. This homily is also reflection on thoughts expressed by Dr Rowan Williams in his 1982 book, Resurrection, some of which are directly incorporated into this homily.
One of the curious paradoxes of contemporary society, certainly in societies known as “first-world” but increasingly around all the planet, is that we can be seemingly so well informed about events happening on the other side of Earth and be so seemingly separate from our neighbors close to home.
Through a variety of screens — whether television, computer monitor, or cell phone — we can pay close attention to political events in India, this morning in Jerusalem, the meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, or meteorological patterns wherever we will like to look. All the while, many of us here do not live in this neighborhood of Riverside, but rather travel at some distance to come here. Most of us travel some distance to get to our places of employment, whether by train or car or bus or bicycle.
Now many of us know our neighbors, at least their faces. Perhaps we share meals occasionally, or at least chit-chat on the sidewalk. Perhaps we know them because we hear late-night arguments coming from inside their homes. But think of all the houses near yours, the occupants of which, could you name? Do you know anything of their story? Do they know anything of yours? And note how normal it is for one’s blood relatives to live far away from you, not only different cities but in a different state.
Now, of course we are all connected. There do not need to be conversations to recognize the solidarity that exists whether we recognize it or not. Our solidarity shows up, for example, last summer with the flood in Riverside. That was on the local level. It shows up through social events that bind us: for some of us, the score of the Bears game, for example. On the national and international level, it showed up dramatically on events of 9-11. We are all interdependent whether or not we recognize its implications, whether or not we share meals together, or babysit each other’s children, whether we help others in a crisis.
Yet, absent these sorts of particular phenomena, is there nothing, then, that can bind a people together except the score of the Bears’ game? Or the incoming weather changes? Are we only bonded when some sort of calamity or disaster occurs?
The Christian Church says, no, there is much, much more than can bind us together. The Church here on Earth is made up of people for whom the possibility of more is the deepest concern. The baptized members of this Church promise their lives to this possibility, and we say it is not only a possibility yet to be realized, but also one that can be realized here and now, in our lives, and in our society.
And this possibility begins with the Resurrection of our Lord.
This Lord is a man we crucified. During Holy Week, we all yelled “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The responsibility of the Jesus’s crucifixion is on our hands. The responsibility of Jesus hanging on the cross and bleeding and dying is on our hands. When Peter, in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, says “this Jesus whom you crucified” he is speaking to us. That we crucified.
But, wait, how is he speaking to us? How are we responsible, today, for Jesus being the victim of this brutality?
We are responsible because we sin. We are responsible because to sin — whether a large sin or a small sin — is in fact a form of violence to Jesus. To sin is to separate us from God. To sin is to move us away from God. To sin is to hurt forcibly, literally hurt, the one who wants nothing more than to love us, protect us, and make us like him. Just as “prodigal son” moves himself away from his generous father, we move ourselves away from our most generous creator, the one who’s very nature is love: the one who’s very nature makes our relationships with others.
We sin when we forget who God is, and treat people and things without love. We move ourselves away because we are always tempted to think, and to act, that we are somehow divine, that we are in charge. We crucify Jesus because we are constantly self-centered.
Being self-centered, we forget that in all that we do, we are present to God, and God is that to which all things are present. God is the creator of everything. The lover of everything. The keeper of everything. Time and time again, we forget this unfathomable fact.
Adam and Eve forgot this unfathomable fact. They forgot that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was under God’s authority. They forgot that the tree by its nature points to God. They forgot that the tree is an icon of God, and instead saw in it a means to be divine, as if they were in charge. Self-centeredness, pride, selfish desire — by whatever name, this is the root of all sin.
And it is self-centeredness, pride, selfish desire that crucified Jesus, that crucifies Jesus today, and that can only be healed by the transformation of that history and that guilt which can only come when we, who judge Jesus to be less than God every time we forget him, turn to him, the victim, and recognize him as our hope, our savior, our Lord. Grace can only be released when we look to no one but the crucified. When we confront the crucified victim, and see in him salvation.
Friends, in this Easter season of mystagogy — being led again into the mysteries and wonder of God, particularly of Holy Week, and this morning of the Resurrection — being led into them so as to savor them as we would savor the best food and the best drink, or the best artwork — we begin by always keeping in mind that Jesus did not need the stone rolled away to come out. The stone was rolled away so that we could enter in. . . . Enter in to the mystery of Christ, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus crucified.
This entering into the tomb is the day to day activity of the Christian. Entering into the tomb is our deep commonality. It is what binds us as the People of the Living God. This empty tomb, the Resurrection of Our Lord, just like all of the events of in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is an event of such creative action that our talking about them is always exploratory and never exhaustive.
To taste and see that the Lord is God requires that we are given back our story, our past of guilt, hurt, separation, and confusion. All of the Old Testament stories available to us on the Easter Vigil — Creation, the Flood, the binding of Isaac by Abraham, the crossing of the Red Sea, and more — these are our stories because these are part of the ongoing and ever-living memory of the People of God. We read these stories on the Easter Vigil to understand who we are.
And it was the receiving back of her story, her identity, that Mary Magdalene experienced, I think, in the garden outside the empty tomb. She saw a gardener, and asked him where the body of Jesus was taken. And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” To which she replied, “Teacher!” She was given back her history, and she was transformed. Because of the Resurrection she had a focus and pivot of a fresh and transforming interpretation of all human reality. And we do too.
Owing to our actions and words that separate us from God, we too are not worthy for the Lord to come under our roof. But when the word of God is said, a saying that returns to us the fullness of our memory and identity, a saying that proclaims the Resurrection of the victim we judged guilty, a saying that itself was in the beginning, a Word with God, a Word that is God, a saying through which all things are made, a saying from the very nature of God, like Mary Magdalene, and like Thomas, and all the disciples of Jesus, our souls are healed. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth.
Cover image “Chora Anastasis1” by Gunnar Bach Pedersen is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original