Homilie – April 8, 2012
April 8, 2012
Great moments occur in the story of this nation. This country declared
independence on the 4th of July in 1776. When astronauts first flew
skyward and landed on the moon, every one of us tingled with worry
and excitement, because we feared that Neil Armstrong might somehow
not be able to return from that lunar rock and dust. Arthur Conan’s
novels excite us on television; To the Lost World still inflames our
imagination and sets our foot to thumping. More recently, college
basketball riles us; we all want to watch our favorite win and win and
win, until thunder claps, and we turn off the TV with a groan.
A heart-stirring moment occurred in the Holy City. Excitement jangled
Mary Magdalene on the first day of the week. Dark night clings to the
Jerusalem streets. She remembers Thursday night with Judas’s betrayal
and the arrest of Jesus; those blood chilling events kept her pacing all
night, and then the terrible scourging, and then the agonizing stumbling
to Calvary, and then the pain-filled hours on the cross until final death—
oh, how could she sleep all of Friday night? Mary Magdalene has stewed
in her tears all through Sabbath Saturday. That night brought her no
relief, but now she could at least be out of doors and walking.
In a hush-hush meeting with two other women, the trio starts for the
tomb; only fervid attachment can drive humans to a tomb at such an
hour. Hints of dawn relieve some shadows, and chilly shivers energize
these women’s steps. During the journey, dawn dissipates the darkness.
Surprise widens these women’s eyes, and shock parts their lips, for the
tomb is wide open and the heavy stone—circular and tall for closing the
cave-like tomb—lies flat on the ground. Immediately Mary Magdalene
imagines grave robbers violating the sepulcher. Her unnerved state
brought on by a day of waiting and two frenzied nights makes
Magdalene a prey to the worst suspicions. Those thieves must have
carried off the body of her Lord.
Hardly glancing into the burial chamber, she shouts at her two
companions that they should stay here, and straight she runs, not with a
dignified hurry and not with a trot, but with an all-out run. She does not
fear for herself; that is not it. Nor does she panic out of fear for a lifeless
body. Bewildered, she needs to talk, to tell the leader Peter, to unload
her dread to him. She flies to the middle of the city; Magdalene knows
that Peter and the others are hiding out in the upper room where they
shared the Last Supper.
Frantically, Magdalene pounds on the door. They are in there, she
knows; they don’t want to answer the door. She pounds again. They fear
the police who captured Jesus and brought Him to Pilate. They are there.
Teenage John opens the door a crack. Magdalene shoves past him. Peter
stops her in the middle of the room. “They have taken the Lord from the
tomb,” she blurts in frenzy, “and we don’t know where they put him.”
“They?” “We?” “Taken the Lord?” It is too much to process.
Magdalene’s frenzied tossing of hands and her frothing words rouse
Peter from his somnolent haze. ‘Say again,’ he tells her; ‘what have you
seen.’ Fear and joy race across her face and tremble her arms. Robbers
or the temple guard or the Romans make her fear; his promises of rising
make her joyful. Is it fear or is it joy that trembles her?
So Peter and John will find out for themselves. Out the door and down
the steps they hustle. Partly to keep warm, partly to see the tomb, they
start running together. Who would steal a body? Magdalene made no
sense! John sees Peter puffing, and teenager John runs ever faster, and
bits of sun now light the corners, and still no one is on the street, and
John flies through the vacant gate post and through the garden and there
is the huge stone on the ground and the empty sepulcher, wide open.
And John bends down to look inside; he sees the burial cloths there.
Grave -robbers would not unwrap the cloths from the body! Grave
robbers would not take time to roll up the head cloth in a neat separate
pile! Yet the cloths and bandages that had enshrouded Jesus were lying
on the ground. The napkin that had enveloped his head was carefully
rolled up and placed aside in a corner.
Peter comes and rolls right into the tomb. The empty quiet rings in
John’s ears. The stone ceiling forces him to bend low, and the cramped
stone space forces his gaze on the empty corpse shelf.
Tricking into John’s memory came Jesus’ words about three days to
rebuild the temple of His body (John 2:19). And the Lord had spoken
“openly” about rising on the third day (Mark 8:31-32; Matthew 17:23;
Luke 18:33). And John himself had witnessed the transfiguration, and he
had heard the Lord tell him and Peter and James not to tell other people
about that marvelous shining “until the Son of Man has been raised from
the dead” (Matthew 17:9).
John himself saw with his own eyes Jesus’ works of power: at the Cana
wedding feast when Jesus changed water into wine; at the Sea of Galilee
when Jesus calmed the storm that was sinking the boat; at the deserted
area when Jesus multiplied bread to feed five thousand people; at
Capharnaum when Jesus cured the demoniac; at Bethany, when Jesus
had raised the dead Lazarus from the burial tomb.
The vivid reliving of those hundred miracles freshly startles John in this
empty burial chamber. Now John sees and believes. At this resurrection
moment, when the world newly realizes its great moment, you and I
again feel the surge of Jesus rising in us. Amen.