Easter Day, Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Day, 8 April
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Schmidt, Rector
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:14-23
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

MARY MAGDALENE: The Gospel reading from the Gospel According to St. John which I just read to you recounts the story of Jesus’ first appearance as the risen Christ. It is not to a man, but a woman. Not to someone revered as holy, but to a person seen as a notorious sinner. Not to someone expectant with hope, but a follower of Jesus overwhelmed with grief. How poignant is their initial conversation:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him . . . “Rabbouni!” . . . which means Teacher . . .

It would be a very natural thing in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus to honor Mary Magdalene. She is the first person the risen Christ appears to. She is also the first apostle: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”

As I mentioned in an Easter homily a couple of years ago, the account of the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene has special resonance to us at All Saints’ because of two remarkable renditions, both the results of mistakes. One was the time a Pastoral Associate read the story on the Feast of Mary Magdalene in July. Someone had forgotten to put the ribbon marker in the right place, so when she opened the Gospel Book, it wasn’t there. So she did what most of us couldn’t do: she told the story in her own words as stories would have been told by the first Christian for several decades until any of the Gospels were written. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we heard the story unscripted, told by a master story teller who brought us deeply into the joy Jesus and Mary Magdalene experienced when they met in the garden where he had been buried.

What stands out for me, though, is another time of telling the story. Its power comes from my failure to tell it right when I taught it at our Godly Play children’s program. There I was on the floor with the children in the Godly Play room, doing all the things the instruction manual dictates with the felt landscape, the papier-mache tomb, and the figures of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. All was going quite well, I thought, . . . until the figure of Jesus toppled over when my sleeve brushed against it. The accident led one of the children to exclaim, “Oops, he died again!” Of course, he didn’t. But I did!

MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS: Making a mess of telling the story of the risen Christ’s meeting with Mary Magdalene embarrassed me. But most likely it would not have bothered Filipino Christians at all. Not because they don’t also honor Mary Magdalene. But because they assume the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared was his mother, the Virgin Mary. So in spite of the fact that there’s no account in any of the Gospels in the New Testament of an appearance of Jesus to his mother, a distinctive liturgical custom has developed in Filipino Roman Catholic churches across the globe in which the risen Christ does just that: he appears first to Mary, his mother.

Here is one account of the liturgical practice honoring Jesus’ appearance to his mother, taken from a web site called the Jesuit Gourmet, which concludes its account with recipes of traditional Filipino Easter foods:

The celebration starts at dawn just before sunrise, with two different Processions that start at different points. The first one consists of [an] icon of the risen Christ carried by men while the second consists of the Blessed Virgin Mary [covered by a veil to denote her mourning] carried by women.Precisely at sunrise, the two processions meet at the church courtyard. . . At the center of the courtyard, the icon of Jesus is faced with the icon of Mary under a canopy . . . At this point, the ceremony of the meeting begins with the choir singing alleluias as Mary approaches Jesus. Under the canopy, an angel descends on top of the head of Mary and lifts the black veil from her; exposing a happy mother who is seeing her son.Uproar of Jubilations is heard from the crowd and confetti fills the air and the choirs would hail the risen Christ and sing songs of joy. Then the ‘Dawn Mass’ is said to the crowd in the courtyard.

CONNECTION: The Filipino name for this celebration of the meeting of the risen Christ with his mother is salubong, a word used for “meeting someone who is arriving.” There is no real English equivalent to the word. The best usually offered are words like ‘meeting’, ‘encounter’, and ‘connection’. As helpful as these words are, they don’t bring out the way in which the meeting, encounter, or connection is something that is expected, even anticipated, and actually hoped for.

Still, I like the word connection, even though it can sound too sterile. I like it because it conveys not just why the risen Christ appeared to his mother in the salubong but why he continues to appear to you and me: to connect with us so we can better connect with each other. That’s why I can say without any qualification that when you truly connect in your thoughts, words, and deeds with another person, there the risen Christ is present. And even more, it is the risen Christ who has actually brought that connection about.

Against great odds. Especially today. For in spite of all the technological advances which have created a global culture, too many of us use them to retreat into a private world that separates us from each other, rather than making connections. As suggested by a cartoon in the recent issue of The New Yorker where someone in a conference room is standing alongside his Power Point screen, telling the people gathered, “First, I want to give you an overview of what I will tell you over and over again during the entire presentation.” He is trying to connect, I guess. But failing miserably. Because the eyes of every one in the audience have already glazed over, as mine do, as soon as I see Power Point equipment in any meeting or conference I attend. It’s just like the old days when I entered a meeting room and saw the easel with a newsprint pad hoisted on it. I want to bolt.

AN EXODUS TALE: However often the connections we want to make fail, still we want to make them, whether or not we see them as the appearance of the risen Christ. And I cannot say what joy it gave me when I read this past week an article called “An Exodus Tale Ends in an Interracial Reunion in Indiana” about the connection recently made between two religious communities in Indianapolis, the African-American South Calvary Missionary Baptist Church and the Etz Charim Synagogue.

The members of the two communities used to connect all the time. They lived in the Southside section of the city and even though each community kept to itself in many ways, they shopped in the same stores, walked the same streets, went to the same theatres. But then they separated. Upward mobility gave many of the young people

the opportunity to move to the suburbs. The building of a football stadium gutted the neighborhood. And what was left of it was divided in two by the construction of Interstate 70.

And so, never the twain did meet. Until an anthropology professor at Indiana University-Purdue decided to find former Southsiders in an attempt to restore through various social events and worship services at the Baptist church and the synagogue the former ties that had formerly connected them.

This is how the article I read recounts one of their most recent connections: After the church service ended and the Southside alumni settled into a kosher lunch together, Jacqueline Belamy, 62, added her assent. “Most times, people of two colors, two religions don’t come together,” she said. “To see how it’s blossomed to this is like ‘Wow!’” What was impossible to foresee was the depth of the individual connections that have been re-established. Ms. Profeta and Cleo More . . . discovered that their families had lived at different times in the same house . . . Beatrice Miller and Gladys Cohen renewed a friendship from their work at Head Start almost a half-century earlier. Henrietta Mervis, 92, met the long-ago customers of her parents’ grocery store. She was not even the oldest participant at the service. That honor went to John M. Calloway, 96, who let it be known that he is still a ballroom dancer.During a bus tour of the old neighborhood . . . Beatrice Miller said something that she probably meant in jest. But under the circumstances, it sounded profound. “On the Southside,” she said, “every key opened the same doors.”

OVERWHELMED IN RAPTURE: I imagine that there are very few places in your life and mine today where “every key open[s] the same door. And probably we wouldn’t want it that way either. After all there are connections we desire and connections we don’t. But in those times and places where we want connections, I recommend for our celebration of the risen Christ’s salubong with his mother a poem called Easter Hymn, from the far East, not from the Philippines, but from Korea, by Ku Sang. Who lived from 1919-2004. Dates which show how much disconnection he and every Korean has lived through for far too long. And equally how much he has desired the risen Christ to connect with him. So that he might, in the risen Christ’s name, connect with all who need connection.

On an old plum tree stump,

seemingly dead and rotten,

seemingly dead and rotten,

like a garland of victory

flowers gleam, dazzling.

Rooted in you, even in death

all things remain alive;

we see them reborn, transfigured.

How then could we doubt

our own Resurrection since

by your own you gave us proof.

Since there is your Resurrection and ours,

Truth exists;

since there is your Resurrection and ours,

Justice triumphs;

since there is your Resurrection and ours,

suffering accepted has value;

since there is your Resurrection and ours,

our faith, hope, and love, are not in vain;

since there is your Resurrection and ours,

our lives are not an empty abyss.

In this lost corner of the earth,

dappled by the spreading spring,

as I imagine that Day’s world,

made perfect by our Resurrection,

I am overwhelmed in rapture.

So let yourself be overwhelmed in rapture today. Make connections in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. By those connections you’ll learn that our lives are not an empty abyss; our faith, hope, and love are not in vain; suffering accepted has value; and that justice triumphs, and truth exists.

May Easter be for you a true salubong! Amen.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia

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