Through Lent to Pentecost 2016 I served as priest at Chapel of St. Francis in Atwater Village, a space shared with the Interfaith Center for Refugees and Immigration and the Holy Spirit Community. Here are excerpts from my Easter sermon. Rev. Dr. Roberta Morris
Easter Sunday (C cycle)
Finally this week the Gospel, what we call the Good News of Jesus Christ, actually is good news: Jesus is risen! Last Sunday I suggested that if anyone were to observe the Christian community during Holy Week they’d diagnose us as manic-depressives, and in fact our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has insisted we should be crazy, crazy Christians. Well, here we are in the manic swing. After the horror of the Good Friday story, the images, the passion, and the quiet of Holy Saturday, where Jesus offered counsel to his fellow dead people, here we are on Easter Morning. He is risen. He is risen indeed.
Here’s how I celebrate Good Friday. Every year I read the Gospel of Mark through; I love that Gospel and not just because it’s the shortest. I love how the soldier, the outsider, proclaims that truly this Jesus is the Son of God.
But this year on Good Friday I read the Gospel of John straight through, partly because I knew I’d be preaching on this Gospel’s resurrection story this morning, and to read it in the context of a whole story. Now I approach this Gospel with some fear, as it is the one most often used to promote antisemitism, so I read it from my copy of The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Friends I highly recommend this book. It’s a fairly standard translation, The New Revised Standard Version, only it has footnotes and articles written by Jewish scholars. It’s an excellent resource, but this isn’t a book review I’m offering this morning – this is a sermon, for Easter. I’m proclaiming some good news, Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed!
Okay, so I’m reading this on Good Friday, and I am still confused why we call this Good Friday, given that we commemorate the slaughter of a completely innocent man. That’s some pretty bad news in this Gospel. We’ll do this horrible thing, and we’ll do it over again, brutally murder innocent people, innocent children, the poor. We’ll do it, even to the Son of God, and he’ll let us play this out: because this is what we do sometimes with our freedom.
Of course, we know that’s not the end of the story, but the first disciples didn’t know that. We always live in this knowledge. so it’s hard to fathom what this revelation is to someone who only knows the revelation of the crucifixion, that this is who we are, fully human, willing and able to crucify an innocent, and Jesus is fully human, and willing to die.
Here’s the other great truth, of course: Jesus rises from the dead. Is there any better demonstration that you can’t keep a good man down? We are redeemed because that’s who Jesus is! Our brother, our friend, shows us to be fully human is also to be fully alive, and nothing, not even the cross, not an ugly death, nothing, can diminish that incredible truth.
Now another thing I did miss in Mark’s Gospel that is all over John’s, is that our brother Jesus is a great friend to women. It seems at every turn in John’s telling of the story, that Jesus is answering, rescuing, debating, healing women. That’s our brother, Jesus.
A writer, Melanie Morrison reminds us that our sisters in this gospel are the bravest in going to the tomb on Easter morning. (Sojourner, “Preaching the Word”) She compares them to some modern Salvadorian peasants insisting on attending the memorial mass of Marianella Garcial. Their sister Garcia had risked death exposing the Salvadorian government’s human rights violations, and indeed she was abducted, tortured and killed in 1983. The government forbade any memorial service and only allowed one priest to be present at the funeral mass, no parishioners, none of her friends and colleagues, just the one priest. Most people stayed home, but some of the poorest of the peasants walked right past the guards, walked into the sanctuary to kiss their friend goodbye. Later that night, the guards took their revenge. The danger was real, but the peasants’ love was stronger than their fear.
Melanie Morrison tells this story to remind us how brave the women in the Gospel were to go to Jesus’ tomb. They were identifying themselves as loyal friends to a convicted and executed political prisoner. By going to the grave they were declaring their love, that they were not forgetting their friend, that they were allied with him even in his death. This was brave, not the prudent thing to do. Guards stood watch and might report the identities of anyone who came to the tomb. We’re told the other disciples were afraid, and basically were in hiding. But these women go, and are shocked by what they find, or rather by what they don’t find. There’s no dead Jesus there. They are the first witnesses of the resurrection, and Mary Magdalene is the first to meet the risen Jesus. He calls her by name.
Now, you would think that a feminist like me would find deep consolation that Jesus appears to a woman first, calls out a woman to proclaim the good news, while her guy friends are huddling in fear. Bishop Michael Curry again tells us this is good news in our modern world, that we can trust the women, and I quote him again (I just love this guy): ““If you increase the equality of women on the planet, if you empower women, economically, politically . . . in reality, they will lift up themselves, their children and their families, and that in turn will lift up cultures and societies. Women, the economists tell us, are the key to making poverty history.”
The risen Jesus trusts a woman as the first witness of the resurrection, and that woman was a good choice, for she does indeed and effectively proclaim the Good News. So why am I not all ‘hurray!” in this manic swing of Easter morning? Am I the chronic depressive in this community of crazy Christians? Maybe, because this fills me with some deep concern – how do we miss this point in the story? That we need to trust a woman? And if we can miss this point, what else have we missed?
That I did, that we do, miss the point underscores another deep truth about Easter – God isn’t done here yet. The good news isn’t only only good news if we get it – we are changed by it on an ongoing basis. The truth about Easter continues to unfold, and we continue to hear it, be shaken up by it, to be surprised. It is time again, starting again today, to be deeply changed by it. To be full of overwhelming optimism, that we can change. Yes, we would kill an innocent, that women have been oppressed, that scriptures have been used to justify antisemitism, racism and sexism when they clearly call us to freedom, even freedom from death. You know that secular song… “If you don’t know me by now… You will never ever know me at all.” Evidently that is not so! We don’t know, we don’t get it, but we start to get it when we’re called by name. The women saw the empty tomb, and Mary Magdalene got it when Jesus called her by name. Jesus isn’t done here yet. We can change, and we can change the world.
Let’s call each other by name. Let’s call each other out. God isn’t done here yet, and God will work through creation, and through our creative action in the world. Doris, who are you looking for here this morning? Sulin, peace be with you. Hayden, let us offer each other this sign of exquisite peace, by calling each other out.
And calling out Jesus’ name: Jesus is risen, Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia!
“Being the same is not the basis of unity. Love is the basis of unity.”
Rev. Dr. Susannah Metz