Preacher: John Michael Hayes
Trauma is a part of life – experiences that overwhelm ordinary means of coping and making sense of things – shatters all security of ordinary expectation and destroys reliable categories of experience. Trauma rips away all illusion and thrusts us into new depths of reality. Trauma is said to be an initiation into the real.
As Isaiah says ‘I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or brought to mind.’
There are bad traumas and good traumas – both are difficult. Jesus’ crucifixion was a very bad trauma, horrific and terrible in every conceivable way.
We have followed Jesus’ fateful end. This past week we have seen Jesus led to the cross, set up by the religious authorities, betrayed by his friends, taunted by the mob, and seemingly abandoned by the God he called father. Stripped naked, nailed to crossbeams, hoisted up and left to die on a garbage heap outside the city walls, executed between two thugs. Atop his cross Pilate’s cruel irony announces: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” This is what happens to would-be messiahs.
We cannot know if Pilate slept easy that night, but we can surmise the chief priests and pals did, knowing that trouble maker was done and gone, and business as usual can proceed without troubling interruptions and inconvenient questions.
Jesus’ men were scarce during all this. Their illusions shattered they hid in fear of the same fate. Only the women were with Jesus in the end and by John’s account the enigmatic ‘beloved disciple’. And early in the morning in the dark before light, only Mary Magdalene ventures out unseen in the hushed shadowed lanes before the still sleeping city awakens. It is Sunday – the day after the Sabbath – the first day of the week. This is a new day – the beginning of new creation. Light is beginning to overcome darkness, the new light that is the new life of humanity.
Mary’s grief overcomes fear. In the trauma of her loss, perhaps she goes just to touch the tomb of Jesus, perhaps still struggling with disbelief. What she sees defies all expectation. An empty tomb!
All her expectations of Jesus have been shattered and now this new affront. Someone has stolen the body, ripping away her sole consolation. What else could it be?
She runs and tells the others. Peter and the ‘beloved disciple’ break out of their paralysis of their fear and run ahead of her to the empty tomb to see for themselves. The realization begins to dawn and the memory of Jesus’ promise, the age-old promise of the scripture resounds in their minds and hearts. They saw an empty tomb, they dimly understood, pieces are starting to come together – could it really be true? – and they barely understand but they believed, the shattered faith and trust welled back up inside them. Something of the personal connection with Jesus is beginning to be not just restored, but put on a whole new basis.
Mary again arrives at the tomb. Alone and weeping, she finds the courage to look inside the empty tomb and sees – as the two disciples did – the linens wrapped up and neatly rolled up but also two angels at both ends of the place where they lay Jesus’ body late that dreadful Friday afternoon.
Two angels flank an empty space just as in the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the temple. We are to understand that she stands at the new dwelling place of God on earth. The God who is beyond all human knowing, beyond all categories of human understanding, the God who will not be scripted and who gives his name only as “I am who I am, who I will be, will be for you” The indeterminate, holy one refuses every grid of human category and will not be made into an idol of predictable action, has done something traumatically radically new in the resurrection of Jesus.
Mary doesn’t get that, not yet. Two thousand years later we still have not assimilated that traumatizing event. Mary is still confused and disoriented. She still insists someone took the body of Jesus. Even as Jesus speaks to her she does not recognize him. Jesus says ‘Why are you weeping? Whom are looking for?’ Mary still does not get what new reality is breaking in. How could she?
Not until Jesus calls her by her name “Mary!” does she recognize the new reality that God’s reckless and extravagant love has thrust humanity into. Jesus has been risen.
Mary goes to embrace him. Jesus says, “do not hold onto me”. Jesus is saying this is not restoration of old reality. This is not reversal of history and now I have my old Jesus back again. Reliable expectation and secure categories are not being put back in place. Rather, God’s unimagined future has broken into the present moment. And everything must change.
Many times in John’s gospel, Jesus refers to “my father”. Now Jesus speaks of “my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” A new relational reality has broken into ordinary reality. We are now to relate to God not as hoary thunderer tobe feared and appeased, not as cosmic fate that we must submit to in blind obedience, not as vapidly abstract unmoved prime mover, but as Father. The one who generates all creation out of nothingness, knows us by name, knows us more profoundly than we can ever know ourselves, and calls us by name through Jesus to new life, life forever in God’s love.
The resurrection of Jesus is just the beginning of the realization of God’s dream and promise to humanity. St. Paul tells us “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died…as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
The resurrection is our new reality. Most of us, much of the time, would prefer to live with more modest expectations, the much smaller reality of “life sucks and then youdie” stoicism. We cynically prefer to call that “getting real”. The greater reality imploding in the resurrection is traumatizing indeed.
We are always so much more comfortable in reducing God to our own terms. Indeed from many pulpits this morning a reassuring watered down rational explanation for Christ’s resurrection will be proffered. It is really a platitudinous metaphor for the eternal triumph of life, or beauty, or truth. It is really a reassuring symbolic myth that tells of man’s dream of eternal life. That sort of thing disturbs no-one and makes no difference whatsoever in how we live our lives. That sort of reassuring thing does not challenge our categories and does not disturb our egocentric view of things.
As the novelist Flannery O’Connor famously commented “if the Resurrection is just a symbol, than the hell with it.”
Of course we cannot understand how the resurrection occurred or what God really means by the promise of our resurrection in a restored humanity.
We cannot know the ways of our God, but we can trust and know God in his son Jesus Christ risen this day because the very same Holy Spirit who moved the disciples to grasp something of this traumatizing new reality and who sparked recognition in Mary’s heart when she heard the Lord call her name, this very morning also moves our minds and hearts also to uncomprehendingly trust God’s extravagant promise and to recognize our Lord.
Nowhere is the promise of our new life in Jesus’ resurrected embodied life more manifest than in the Eucharist we share. “This is my body, this is my blood – live in me and I will live in you”. We together in this new reality breaking through our old settled small minded selfish ways and making us one people of the resurrection.
Our father in faith John Chrysostom preached these words one Easter many centuries ago:
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness! Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!