27 March 2016
Easter C (RCL)
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Easter Sunday feels like the culmination of the Triduum, the great three days. On Thursday and Friday, we are living in to preparation for the great feast. But the readings for Easter Sunday always feel a little anticlimactic. I’m left wondering “now what?”
For Paul, in 1 Corinthians, Jesus’ resurrection is just the first act of a play that has yet to be completed. The denouement is yet in the future. We are to be raised; Jesus’ resurrection is not really the point. In the reading from Isaiah, God promises through the prophet that God is about to do a new thing. As people are coming back to Jerusalem after the Exile, God is about to create a new Jerusalem, and not only that, but a new heaven and a new earth. But even this is not the end of the story; every one will plant vines and trees, and enjoy the fruit of them. God will create a new society in which enjoys the fruits of their own labor, but labor there will be. We will have to live into that new reality.
And the account of the resurrection in John’s Gospel is unique among the Gospels. Mary Magdalene alone comes to the tomb, and sees that the stone has been removed. She runs to tell the disciples and Peter and the beloved disciple race to the tomb. I chuckle each time I read this that they actually remember who won the foot race. But Mary enters the tomb and sees two angels, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus lay. Rowan Williams has written that Mary has entered the Holy of holies, and these are the two cherubim above the throne of God. Mary weeps for Jesus, and the angels ask why she is weeping.
She returns to the garden and encounters the gardener. John is asking us to recall the first garden and the first woman, who used to walk with God in the cool of the evening. When Jesus calls her name, Mary recognized him, and falls at his feet. Jesus tells her not to hold him, because “I have not yet set out for the father.” He tells her to go to his disciples and tell them that he is setting out for his father and our father, his God and our God. Our translations say that he is ascending, but the word means to begin a journey. If one is beginning a journey on a ship, it means embark. The implication that he is setting out for his God and our God is that we should join him on this journey. We are not being kicked out of the garden this time, but setting out on a journey to the father.
The disciples did not, we are told, yet understand the scriptures. Part of this journey into the resurrection will be to go back and reinterpret the scriptures in a new framework for reality, a framework that includes the possibility of resurrection. We will have to re-read scripture with that in mind. Much of the scripture the disciples would be reading would be framed by two great journeys: the Exodus and the return from Exile. This is the journey we are to undertake; a new journey through the wilderness toward the promises of God.
Much of John’s Gospel can be read as an extended meditation on the loss of the Temple, and its replacement by Jesus’ body, the community. Mary has entered the Holy of holies, and Jesus will breathe on his disciples and give them authority to forgive sin, an authority that belongs to the high priest. Jesus is our new tabernacle (the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us) on our journey through the wilderness; Jesus is also our bread from heaven. We are journeying toward Easter.