“The Funeral that Wouldn’t Be”
April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday – Year C
On Good Friday many of us stood at the foot of the cross and tearfully watched Jesus be crucified. It was a time of pain and sorrow. We felt helpless. There, on a plain wooden cross hung our Redeemer. And there was nothing we could do. The day was dark. So were our spirits.
Here we are. It is Sunday. Join with me and let’s walk to the tomb where Jesus was laid.
We need to walk carefully for the ground is rocky. We follow Mary Magdalene. She is carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ body. She reaches the tomb first. She is taken aback. The air is sucked out of her. She is ready to faint. The tomb stone has been removed from the cave. Not even stopping to get her breath, Mary runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple – the one whom Jesus loved. They too run to the tomb. All the stuff associated with death is there – but no Jesus.
You would think that at such a scene these followers of Jesus would understand what is going on. Surely, they have an idea of what has happened to their friend and leader. But, instead, they reach into the darkness and believe.
Mary stands outside the tomb and weeps. Me too. In all her grief and hurt she is mystified and uncertain what is happening around her. It seems too much to take in. What is she to say to all the questions that we ask? With blurry eyes clouded with tears Mary doesn’t recognize the man with whom he is speaking. Even with all the tenderness shown to her, she fails to recognize the Great Teacher.
A few minutes pass. Jesus whispers to her. “Woman, why are you weeping?” She thinks that it is the gardener who is speaking to her. More time passes. “Mary,” the voice whispers. Mary recognizes the Beloved. Do we?
The light of dawn caresses our face. Along with Mary, we too have seen the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
All of us have experienced the death of someone close to us. We know the pain and sadness that goes along with death. We so wish that we too could hear our name spoken, one more time. Oh, how we wish that our loved one could utter our name. Our hearts would turn cartwheels! I am sure that Mary’s heart did. “Mary” the risen Christ utters. “Laura” the risen Christ whispers.
Maggie was in the darkened hallway of the hospital, bending over in pain. She waited there for the 5 minutes each hour she was allowed to go in to be with her husband.
They had never been apart. In the 55 years they had been married, they had never spent a night apart. Through all the years on the farm, the births and raising of their children, through illnesses they had both suffered, they had never been apart.
Now he was dying. The nurse tells her that Harold could not last the night. “Why don’t you go home,” I suggested. “I’ll sit here for a while.”
“I can’t go,” she said.
The nurse told us that we could have our 5 minutes. “Don’t forget the gowns and masks,” she commanded. “We don’t want the infection to spread.”
Harold didn’t seem to recognize the 2 green-shrouded figures that came to his bed. At least, not until Maggie took his hand, moved her mask and touched her lips to his cheek. I said a prayer out loud, but all the time she was whispering to him. She kept her head right alongside his on the pillow. She talked to him like she belonged there.
Later, in the hallway, she was weeping. “What did you say to Harold?” I asked – more to cover the silence than to get information.
“I told him that I loved him and that I would stay with him.
“You know he’s very ill. He may not be with us in the morning.”
She stared at the floor for a long time. “I know,” she said. “He knows he’s dying too. He’s afraid a little. I can tell by the way he holds my hand. But it’s all right. I know he’s all right now. I told him that it will be Easter in the morning.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was November. Had she forgotten?
“Um. It’s not really Easter,” I offered. “I know, Reverend,” she said patiently. “But it is for us. We’ve practiced celebrating Eater together for all of our years. Now for Harold and me, tomorrow is our Easter.”
On Easter morning the church door opens and Sharon walks in. She’s 20 years old and hasn’t seen her family for a year. They are standing in the front row. The usher knows this is a big moment. He grabs her and holds her and pulls her all the way to the front row. Her father sees her, peering around the edge of the pew. It is such an incredible moment. The whole family, all 5 of them, just collapse on each other.
Danielle is 12 and her mother died this year. It was the first time she had been back in church. We sang “Amazing Grace”. When I saw her, I thought, this is going to be hard for her. During the service, people kept reaching out to touch her.
I’m in complete awe of the courage these people come with.
Such are the Easter experiences in your life and in mine. Together we witness the Risen Christ. It is a holy mystery, to be sure. But, with faith we are assured that Christ’s Spirit dwells within us. May we too be open to the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Amen.