Monday, April 13, 2009

jesus has moved the stone

Mark 16:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Easter I, Year B
April 12, 2009

This is a tad embarrassing, but I’m a recovering hypochondriac. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, hypochondria is the phobia that makes you think you’re always terminally ill. It has nothing to do an unhealthy attraction towards trees or corpses. Sorry – that misunderstanding’s just cost me friends in the past. Anyway, I went through a two-year stretch of paranoia in seminary where I thought that every mole, spot, bump, headache, toothache, and dizzy spell was God’s way of telling me that I had two months to live. Now, this is obviously ridiculous, and I think we all know who’s at fault here – the “Web M.D.” Whatever you do, never go to the internet doctor, because in the last three years I’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis, A-DD, schizophrenia, polio, and four different types of cancer. Now, rationally, I know it’s not 100% accurate. For example, a while back I was moody and having hot flashes and the Web M.D. assured me there was no need to worry – it was just the early stages of menopause. And so I’m not a big fan of the Web M.D – it’s really good at making you think you’re going to die, not so good when it comes to offering hope.

Because let’s be honest – death is a hard thing to think about. It makes us feel scared, lonely, and powerless. We often speak of death as a natural and normal part of life, and I thank God that many deaths seem that way, but let’s be honest: when we lose someone we love – or when we think about our own death – we don’t feel natural and we don’t feel normal. Death just seems so irreversible, and so no matter how much we speak about death as a natural event, our hearts will not get on board.

And to be quite frank, the Bible won’t either. From a biblical standpoint, death is seen as the enemy, as the Great Intruder to God’s good creation. In other words, death is a bleak reality that must be overcome and defeated – a giant millstone hanging around the neck of humanity. And it’s a stone that weighs us down – it’s a stone of fear; a stone of loneliness; a stone of powerlessness– a stone too heavy for any one man to move. And so we wonder – is death all that there is? Or is there someone that can move the stone?

According to today’s Gospel, three women – on the first Easter morning – were asking the exact same question. They wanted to anoint Jesus’ body – the first of two steps required to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial. And practically speaking, they were powerless to move the stone that guarded Jesus’ tomb. According to Mark, the stone was “very large” and far too heavy for the three women to move. And so on their way to Jesus’ tomb they ask one another: “can anyone move the stone?”

But can you hear their deeper question? You see, these women had spent years in Jesus’ presence. Time and time again, Jesus spoke to them the words of eternal life. With their own eyes they saw him heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and restore the sinful to a right relationship with God. Jesus was their teacher, their friend, their hope. And to spend time in Jesus’ presence was to know the absence of stones – for his yoke was easy and his burden was light. And only two days prior to tonight’s Gospel, he was crucified. You see, for these women, it wasn’t just Jesus that died. Because on that first Good Friday, hope was nailed to a cross. The enemy had seemingly won. The Great Intruder could not be stopped, and the millstone of death hung heavier than ever before. And so once again, can you hear their deeper question? Can you hear our world’s deeper question? Can anyone move the stone?

Tonight we’ve gathered to celebrate the absence of that stone. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and because of that, our universe has forever been changed. That giant millstone hanging from humanity’s neck has forever been cast into the sea. The enemy has been defeated. The Intruder has been stopped. The stone has been moved.

And in essence, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what Christianity is all about. To steal Paul’s phrase from tonight’s reading, the resurrection is of “first importance,” and frankly, it’s the only explanation for the church’s existence at all. Paul lays it out tonight as clearly as he can – Jesus appeared first to Peter, then to the twelve, then to five hundred people at once, then to James, then to some unnamed apostles, and finally, to Paul himself. In other words, what Paul’s trying to tell the Corinthians, and what he’s trying to tell us, is that the resurrection really happened. And in that happening, our universe has forever been changed. The enemy has been defeated. The Intruder has been stopped. The stone has been moved.

Now, there’s a lot of confusion about what resurrection actually is – about what it meant for Paul, about what it means for us. And for the early church, resurrection meant that people who die in Christ would one day return to a new, glorious, and embodied life – not at all disconnected from the one they had before – and that in the meantime, if they happened to die, that their spirit would be safe with God. But not only that, for in Jesus’ resurrection we find the hope and the belief that God will one day renew not just us – but all things – that the entire earth will one day be filled with his love, grace, power, and glory. Ultimately, resurrection’s about God’s conspiracy to reverse the irreversible. And if you think about it, that is a scary and amazing thing. It’s like Mark tells – when the women realized what had happened, they were afraid. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and because of that, the universe had forever been changed.

And so here’s our homework – not for the week – but for the entire season of Easter. Practice Resurrection. Resurrection isn’t just about something that happened to Jesus, nor is it just about something that will happen to us. Even now our God is alive, and because of that, resurrection happens. Make no mistake. “Alleluia, Christ is risen” isn’t a slogan for the religious – it’s the cry of revolutionaries. The universe has changed, a revolution is afoot – practicing resurrection is about joining that revolution.

You see, at the end of the day, Christianity isn’t a set of moral teachings. It’s not a mere path among many to a deeper spirituality. It’s not a system of belief. It isn’t a rule of life. And it’s not a political agenda. It may include all these things, but none of these are of “first importance.” Christianity is about a real event that happened in real time in our real world that we really inhabit. And because the resurrection happened, our world has forever been changed.

And so when tonight’s service ends, go out into the world celebrating! Perhaps more people would believe in the resurrection if Jesus’ disciples ran around doing cartwheels. If Lent was about giving things up, maybe Easter should be about taking things on – champagne for breakfast and chocolate cake for lunch. But whatever you do, be in the world as one who celebrates. Love, bless, heal, forgive, restore, cleanse, feed, give, celebrate.

After all, you can hear the world’s deeper question, can’t you? Can anyone move the stone? Practice resurrection and you’ll show the world that the same God that moved the stone that first Easter morning still moves stones – stones of fear, stones of loneliness, stones of powerlessness. And then tell them that the millstone we call death – that stone has forever been rolled away. For the enemy has been defeated. The Intruder has been stopped. Jesus has moved the stone.

1 comment:

Karen Melchar said...

John, this is powerful stuff, and thank you for posting.

I've been absent--no surprise to you but Holy Week prep for the Parish Administrator takes a toll. Your name came up over and over as we tweaked the Holy Week services. It was a big reminder how much the seminarians did for St. Pat's, and let me thank you once again for that ministry.

And Rummage Sale is April 25--I know you'll be wanting to fly in for that event!