a Homily for Easter
Text: John 20:1-18
I know that many of you were unable to attend the many parts of Holy Week and so missed the opportunity to know what we are actually celebrating this morning. So here’s a brief recap.
- On Sunday, Jesus, surrounded by a great crowd, arrives in Jerusalem. He makes it very clear that His God is GOD, not Caesar, when he enters riding a donkey in mockery of Rome.
- On Monday, Jesus visits the Temple and drives out the money-chagers and dove-sellers for their participation in a system of economic exploitation. He says that our job is to worship and live, not obsess about the rules.
- On Tuesday, Jesus returns to the Temple to teach the people, but before He can, He is confronted by the Temple Authorities and harassed for His lack of credentials “By what authority” they ask Him. Jesus proceeds to school them and humiliate them in front of everybody. So the authorities begin to hatch plans to get rid of Jesus. The rest of the people, however, are raving about His teachings and how he has revealed the hypocrisy of their leaders: in the Temple, their King, and their Roman occupiers.
- On Wednesday, Jesus is anointed for burial with an expensive oil, called nard (which is still very expensive, by the way) and the disciples protest. Let’s sell it they argue. Jesus tells them that this anointing is the Good News.
- On Thursday, Jesus has the last supper with his closest followers, teaching them that the most important attribute of the Christian community is intimacy and vulnerability. He is then betrayed, arrested, and brought before the authorities. Sounds vulnerable to me.
- On Friday, Jesus is tried, convicted, and killed by Rome.
- On Saturday, we have Sabbath. Nothing.
Which brings us to this morning. The empty tomb. Mary Magdalene witnessing, proclaiming the Good News to the disciples.
A GOD worth believing in
Easter is nothing without Holy Week. A story of Mary Magdalene and the tomb is of no value if we don’t also make sense of who was in the tomb and how He got there.
And it is actually destructive to wipe it away as merely GOD’s doing. GOD made it all happen (we’re often told)—needing to balance some divine checkbook—but don’t worry about any of that nonsense because Look! It’s balanced!
Nor should we get too caught up in the blood of Friday that we never arrive at the tomb to find it empty. To hear that Jesus is not there—He is risen!
The true reason we can’t do Easter without Holy Week is that we can’t believe in GOD if we are never left with nothing but belief. If your life isn’t on the line, it isn’t actual belief.
And we certainly can’t have belief strong enough to survive if we don’t have a GOD worth believing in. Like a GOD that believes in animal and human sacrifice of any sort. A GOD that wants us to continue the ancient tradition of the scapegoat: to place our base desires for vengeance and violence upon an innocent victim, just because we have trouble getting along. A GOD that cares more about what we wear to church than how we treat the people we find there. Or step over to get there. A GOD that expects everyone to just know what GOD is thinking. A GOD that says typos in the bulletin are totally more important than praying for other people or forgiving them for their mistakes.
No. The GOD we know frees and restores. The GOD we know is moved by people who have faith: from Noah to Dorothy Day. The GOD we know rejects our expressions of violence in place of adoration; pragmatism in place of hope; outrage in place of love.
The Good News
I was brought to tears several times this week. First was the murders in Kansas City when a supposed Christian killed three Jewish people on the first day of Passover. Now, this weekend, news out of Ukraine that Jews in Donetsk, a city in east Ukraine, in the midst of ongoing violence, militarism, and invasion, are being asked to register with the pro-Russian forces or face deportation. So like the anti-Semitism of Nazi-era Germany, so connected with our past and disturbingly, with our present.
This news out of Ukraine was breaking as many of us prepared for Good Friday services in which we read the Passion from the Gospel we call John with its references to “the Jews” and bathed in 2,000 years of religious history of scapegoating the entire Jewish culture. Not forgetting that Jesus is a Jew, but choosing violence and hatred because sometimes violence and hatred is all we know. And yet, we are not making Good News when violence and hatred are what we express–on a culture, a group, or even an individual.
That is only true because Jesus broke that mold. No matter how many times we try to recast it, we can’t. The scapegoat is gone. Gone from us. Gone from our tradition. Gone from our people’s experience. Gone from GOD.
The innocent one, the one killed for insurrection, carried no weapon. The innocent one brings with Him an end to the evil we would wage. The innocent one isn’t the only thing risen today.
The Truly Good News
When Jesus was anointed on Wednesday of His last week and the disciples were freaking out because the oil could be sold to feed the poor, Jesus tells them that they’re on the wrong track. They are obsessed with money and action and doing the right thing. And Jesus says a curious thing. He says
wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
Whenever the Good News is proclaimed, her story will be told. In remembrance of her, not Jesus. Her story is gospel. The Good News today isn’t just a risen Christ, but the rise of these women. The woman anointing Jesus; Mary the Mother at the cross; Mary Magdalene at the tomb. The rise of the nameless and the voiceless. The rise of the poor and the powerless. The rise of Good News that is actually good! News of generosity and thankfulness. News of change and redemption. News of resolve and faith. News of tenderness and mercy.
News captured in the gentle hands of the woman rubbing the oil on Jesus’s skin, in Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, in Roz and the small group of drivers making sure Charlotte was with Stu in his last days, in all the acts of true power and authority that make us whole, that make us holy.
This is the Good News and this is what we mean when we declare as one that Christ is risen.