Year A: Easter Sunday, 4.12.2020 “Stay-at-home”

John 20:1-18


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Over these last weeks as we obeyed the “Stay-at-home” order, the body of Christ of St Paul’s has learned to gather, pray and serve in new ways. Young and old alike, we have learned to connect electronically. I have discovered one of my favorite past times during this isolation is to coach those of us who did not grow up with the Internet and Facebook on how to use it. We are connecting electronically to the glory of God and to worship together! Alleluia!

More and more groups are meeting now online by Zoom. In fact, I began to cry when I saw the faces of our families during the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. I’ve felt kind of “homesick” for you.

Recently, a reporter was standing near St. Peter’s Square where Pope Francis was alone in the square under a canopy giving the Good Friday message. The reporter said, “Pope Francis will return to this square on Easter Sunday, alone, without the throngs of pilgrims. He will deliver the Christian message of hope and renewal in the midst of this pandemic crisis.

I hung on those words: the Christian message IS of hope and renewal. Isn’t that the Gospel? Hasn’t that been the Gospel since the first, early morning whispers of, “He is not here”?

John’s Gospel reports the early morning arrival of Mary Magdalene. The stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone. She ran to tell Peter and the other disciple. They ran to the tomb to check it out. It was true! He wasn’t there.

And what was more, the linen he had been wrapped in was lying there. Three times, in John’s gospel the linen wrappings were described as lying there, with the even more specific detail of his linen head cloth wrapped up in a place by itself. He no longer needed his grave clothes.

Now, linen was the common fabric used to wrap bodies for burial. I can’t imagine it looked very pristine after all the blood, water and sweat that had covered Jesus’ body when he died. I think of one of my favorite paintings of Edouard Manet hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The title is “The Dead Christ with Angels.” The angels are beautiful and are tending to his dead body. And he is surrounded by beautiful white, pristine fabric as if it is the material of his throne. The white linen makes an artistic statement of color – of Christ’s purity. But, in reality, the linen wrappings were probably not so glorious to look at.

I can just hear Simon Peter when he arrived at the tomb. “This is not right! Where is the body? We need to do something about it!”  Mary Magdalene  cried out to them in sorrow with the news, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” And everyone runs to verify the news.

Neither Peter nor Mary had remembered or believed at that moment Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

But “…the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed…”

Theologian Sandra Schneider looks to the linen wrappings for the clue to believing. She writes, “…the clues of the grave clothes, and especially the head cloth ‘led [the believing disciple] to the belief that, far from annihilating Jesus’ life, the cross was in fact Jesus’ glorification – his return to God where he needs no veil over his face.” “The grave clothes were cast aside because Jesus did not and would not need them anymore.” (Frances Taylor Gench, Encounters with Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John)

He is not here. He has been raised. ALLELUIA!

And yet today, on this Easter Sunday, we may wonder about God fixing death for ever. We see the evidence of the dirty linens of the terrible viral contagion. We know that the richest country in the world cannot or maybe will not supply sufficient PPE, Personal Protective Equipment for the people, the “angels” who are tending to the sick and dying bodies on the front line. The dead due to the coronavirus in the United States have now surpassed the dead in Italy.

In New York City, Potter’s Field is expanding in order to bury so many dead. And helpless, in our homes, we might be saying our lament, “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice;…”

Easter hope includes the truth that God hears our every cry and wipes away every tear.

Easter renewal is God acting, not passively watching. God acts. “On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Christ was NOT taken away. He was raised from the dead, true to his earthly claim, “I am the resurrection and the Life.” This is our hope through this pandemic. And God acts to “…raise up all that has been cast down.”

I follow a group of Christians in the UK called the Passionists. They are a group of Catholics and other Christians “who support and encourage each other to enter into deeper personal relationship with Jesus through [their] encounter with Him in his Life, Passion and Resurrection.”

This week they posted a beautiful photo of the Chapel of Gethsemane in the Coventry Cathedral. The chapel is a work of art – the entrance is through a ring of smooth iron fashioned into a braided crown of thorns. Through it, you can see the altar. Behind the altar there is a giant frieze of an angel, kneeling, looking out and extending his right arm holding the “cup of suffering.” It’s a reminder that Jesus suffers with us in our own sorrows and “gardens of uncertainty.”

But the backdrop is the Coventry Cathedral itself. Coventry Cathedral is a story of hope and renewal for the ages, and it is a story of hope for us now this Easter Sunday when we are isolating for the fourth week and look with uncertainty to the time when we will be set free.

Bombed and burned to the ground by the German Luftwaffe in November of 1940, this was the third time Coventry Cathedral had been ruined over the 1000 years it had been in existence.  After the bombing, the very next day, the ruins still burning and smoking, the cathedral leadership chose to rebuild. It was a choice, “…not in DEFIANCE, but as a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. The leaders chose to lead the people away from feelings of bitterness [fear] and hatred to developing a ministry of Peace and Reconciliation which even now provides practical and spiritual support in areas of conflict throughout the world.”

Right now, Coventry Cathedral is closed like we are. Services are conducted by the bishop on line. But the ruins are open. They have been left standing because they are the sign of hope that God raises all good things out of the rubble of death and loss. And that God faces evil and smacks it down. All for his love for us.

“He is risen, he is risen! Tell is out with joyful voice: He has burst his three days’ prison;

Let the whole wide earth rejoice: Death is conquered, we are free,

Christ has won the victory.”

Imagine standing at the front door of our homes today and shouting, “Christ is risen, Alleluia!