Easter Day 2016 The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
March 27, 2016
For me, preaching at a funeral, much like preaching at a wedding, is an essential part of my call to ministry. When else are there so many people in church for whom Jesus Christ has little impact on their daily lives? There is no more pregnant time for birthing new life in Christ.
And today we are gathered for what should be a funeral as well. Jesus, the Christ, our beloved, teacher, supporter and guide has died. And we come together today to speak of that death and of what it means to us.
Funerals are times of mourning. Someone we have loved is gone and we suffer in our loss. Funerals are also times of joy when we know that while those we love and miss and remember are no longer with us, we know they are with God. We know that the longing we all share to be with God has been fulfilled for them. And while we are not happy, we know joy.
The disciples, those who had left everything to follow Jesus knew only the sadness—none of the joy. Their lives were filled with grief on that day we remember today. But what funeral was quite like this? Flowers, bright colors, procession, and the joyous repeated Alleluias!
There seems to be more going on here today. A man, Jesus of Nazareth, has died. But that was years and years, centuries ago. And we gather here today to remember his death and raise our voices rejoicing in new life.
When we speak of Easter we hear talk of scientific probability. Those who choose to believe what science tells them can happen say resurrection isn’t possible. Every time I consider the possibilities, I am confronted with the fact that something happened that morning. Something began that morning. In a matter of days, the disciples were changed.
They had run away rather than be identified as a follower of Jesus. They had denied him. We know that even after they heard of the empty tomb, of Jesus’ resurrection, they hid behind locked doors. These people, afraid, tired, saddened, probably hopeless, began a movement that has spread around the world. Something happened that morning that changed the world. Something real happened that day and in the weeks to come and our world bears the fruit.
In his personal notes Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:
If a man should pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to
him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in
his hand when he awoke—Aye, and what then? (1)
Is the story of the resurrection we hear today that flower? Did the Mary Magdalene find a flower in their hand? Is the empty tomb, the angels, memory of being called by name, the flower we awake to find in our hand this morning?
This is mystery. When you consider all of the mysteries of our faith, the resurrection is the most astounding. Of course it astonishes us in the sense that it is hard to believe in a logical fashion. However, if we believe in God as the ground of creation, what is there that God cannot accomplish? Who, though, imagines the resurrection and its impact over the centuries. “Whom are you looking for?” And the world is a different place.
Let’s consider Mary Magdalene. She is only mentioned twice in this Gospel of John. However we know that she had become a devoted follower, a disciple of Jesus. It was a totally countercultural relationship of that day merely because she was a woman. While since the sixth century when the Church labeled her a prostitute, she has been considered unclean, there is no mention of this in the Gospels.
In the Gospel of John we heard read today she discovers the empty tomb. We don’t know why she went to the tomb in the dark of early morning. There is no mention of coming to the tomb with spices to anoint the body. Like the sheep who recognizes the Shepherd when he calls her by name, Mary, she responds Rabboni. Rabboni. With that instinctive response she claims her place as a Rabbinical student of Jesus.
In responding to her name, Mary was like the sheep we find in the story of the Good Shepherd, where Jesus says “the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” (2) As we see in the story of the resurrection today, and we know in our own lives, resurrection is always personal and intimate. We might with it would be global, but that has not yet come to pass.
When we think of resurrection, especially on Easter Day, we immediately think of life after death. Life with God, with Jesus, that we have heard Jesus promise to his disciples, and that we often have a sense of as we sit with those who are dying. Yet resurrection is for us today, and every day. As Jesus said, the realm of God is here, it is now. It stretches into the infinity of the future. It is for all and it is for you and for me.
One of the joys of parish ministry is being privileged to hear others talk about their faith. As an interim I also hear people speak of their parish, why they came, why they stayed. My own story is, it ends up, not so unusual. I was a parishioner here before I became Interim Rector. I came here one Sunday during an extended chaplain residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. In all parts of the hospital I sat and listened and prayed with families whose loved one was near death or had died. With parents whose children had died. With drivers in horrible auto accidents. I listened. I hope I opened myself to them. I carried their pain.
I happened here one Sunday. I wasn’t one to kneel in worship, but I knelt down. I let the words of the mass wash over me. I received the sacrament, the bread and wine of the Eucharist. I left healed. There is no other way to put it. The weight was lifted. I was renewed. Each week had its burdens. Each week I left worship here renewed. That is my story.
Since I became interim rector, people have shared the story of their first visit. The reason they came back. Each, without any prompting from me, has said my work brings me into contact with much suffering. My life is very difficult. I come here, I leave healed.
It’s not inexplicable. A mystery, surely. But the experience has an explanation. The Risen Christ is among us. He is here. He is surely in other places, in our lives in ways unique to who we are and what God knows we need. Yet, again and again, it as if we hear that voice call us by name, as if we awake to hold that flower.
Through the resurrection we know that it is possible, even in the chaotic times in our lives, to remain at our core calm and undisturbed. To be challenged again and again and meet those challenges with strength and courage. To know paradise today, in each of our lives.
I love the words of Austin Farrer: The end of man is endless Godhead endlessly possessed. (3) Endless Godhead endlessly possessed. We hear Jesus say “I am ascending to the Father, to my God and your God.” Endless God, endlessly ours—yours and mine.
Jesus calls you by name. How has believing that Jesus’ words were said for you changed your life? How will it change your life as you move on from this day? Does the flower of paradise rest in your hand? Does it take away your fear of the future? Does it change your future? Might it change the future of even this small part of the world?
What is the difference between a dream of Paradise and reality? What if the empty tomb is the flower of Paradise resting in your hand? What Easter dreams would you dream? How would that change your life? How would that change the world?
(1) Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. ‘Anima Poetae’ from the unpublished notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(2) John 10: 3-4,14-15
(3) Farrer, Austin. The End ofMan. SPCK 1973. p. 4