Year C, RCL
April 20, 2019
North Fork Ministries
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
On Good Friday of this week, just yesterday, I officiated at a burial service for the mother of one of our friends of the parish. At first the idea of burying the dead during Holy Week seemed somehow inappropriate. We had already striped the altar at the close of the Maundy Thursday service and I was in a somber Good Friday frame of mind. In seemed odd to don a white stole two days before Easter. And in preparing the liturgy for the burial service the question arose in my mind, since it was still Lent, what do we do with the “Alleluias”, the joyful words of praise we say together when the bread is broken during Eucharist and at the dismissal?
The Book of Common Prayer exhibited its value once again, providing the answer in a rubric on the last page of the burial service, “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all it’s meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.” So during the burial service we raised our voices, and even during Lent, the gathered mourners proclaimed “Alleluia, Alleluia,” with loud voices and full hearts.
We could shout alleluia because, at our core, we are an Easter people. The experience of resurrection is never very far away. As an Easter people we know that even in the darkest times there is room for light and life and celebration.
But as much as we are a people of the resurrection, we are also a forgetful people. As we read in Luke, the stone was rolled away from the tomb, the women went inside, but they did not find the body and they were terrified. They bowed their faces to the ground, and then they were reminded of the promise.
“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."
And then, Luke tells us, “They remembered his words.” And in our forgetting, we forget who we are. We forget that we are children of God, that we are children of the Light.
Our Sufi brothers and sisters engage in a practice known as “dhikr” or “Remembrance”. The goal of Remembrance is to become continuously and spontaneously aware of the Divine Presence in the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of life, in both the inner and outer realms. The person who remembers God finds happiness; the person who forgets, finds only desolation.
When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women remembered what the Son of Man had told them, and they ran to the others to let them know. We are called to remembrance as well. When we find the tomb empty, when our days are darkest, we are called to remember that resurrection is never very far away.
I may be the only preacher on the North Fork that can get away with quoting the Qur’an on Easter, so allow me. (Qur’an 2:152). “For God has said, Remember Me and I shall remember you.” It is a truth that is valid across all religions.
One of the unique moments in Luke’s version of the story of the empty tomb is the question posed by the two men in dazzling clothes, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” I think the answer has something to do with the reason it’s wholly fitting for us to bury our dead on the same of week as Easter. Death and life are two sides of the same coin. One gives rise to the other.
And so on Easter we are called to remember that the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Alleluia!