Seize the Beauty and Challenge the Ugliness
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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 have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 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. John 20: 1-18
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia! Both an ancient and timely greeting, as we welcome this happy morning and experience the joy of risen life given to us by God, in Christ Jesus, through our baptism into His death.
Today we renew our faith that the Risen Lord is indeed present to us in the breaking of the bread and today, in His sacramental presence, we recommit ourselves to our baptismal promises. Promises that draw us into the pain of the world that we might faithfully witness to joy and hope, and advocate for peace, justice and the dignity of every human being.
During Holy Week we wrestle with the very core of our human mystery. We reach toward the depths of what it means to be thoroughly and completely human as God defines human. During Holy Week, pain and loss, betrayal, suffering and death – the cruelest realities of human experience – present themselves to the eyes of our hearts. During Holy Week we raise up again the Cross as that inscrutable place to which all human life is called for transformation and that place from which a vulnerable God reigns.
We remember that Jesus Christ died for us so that we might not be afraid to die – especially in those critical moments during life in which we are summoned to the cross.
And today, the end of that Holy Week and the beginning of all our tomorrows, we glimpse the wonder, of that transforming hope and of that transfigured life, in the person of the Risen Christ. That transforming hope and transfigured life which is ours, for the owning, and to which we, and all human beings, are called.
As Jesus Christ died for us that we might not be afraid to die, so Jesus Christ rose for us that we might not be afraid to live. Really live. And that is what Easter is all about – really living – deeply living. Not settling for cheap substitutes for life. But always choosing first, the effervescent and spirit-filled life to which God has called us in Christ Jesus.
Celebrating Easter is to be our daily commitment and risen life our ordinary way of being in the world. It is in the light of Easter and our Christian calling that we hear again the stirring words of the Prophet Isaiah – words that we will sing in a few moments as we renew our baptismal promises. With these words Isaiah spells out the agenda of the Easter faith that is ours in Christ.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to set the prisoners free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord and to comfort those who mourn. This is what it means to be baptized into Christ’s royal priesthood, and to be members of his Body in this world.
For 20 centuries this has remained the essence of our Easter vocation. Sometimes we have lived our calling with clarity and courage. Sometimes we have been woefully timorous. And, sometimes, to our shame, we have been complicit in the exploitation, injustice and violence that we have been anointed to confront, condemn, remedy and heal.
It is with penitent hearts, and bathed in the assurance of God’s forgiveness, that we can acknowledge the complicity of Christians in the sins of each age: slavery, tribalism, militarism, war, religious intolerance, the abuse of indigenous peoples, racism, anti-Semitism, violence toward women, and violence toward persons of same gender affection.
If the truth is to be told, in most, if not in every age, we Christians have offered a mixed response to the challenges placed before us – challenges to our choosing the cross and becoming the star witness to transforming hope and transfigured life.
Sometimes we have been courageous and far-sighted; at other times – cowardly and myopic. Sometimes, we have resisted social conditioning and compliance – preserving the freedom that is our Easter birthright. The courageous freedom seized by Peter as he proclaimed God’s impartial favor in a closed community, which wore its close-mindedness as a badge of honor. Sometimes we have acquiesced to society’s efforts to define and control us – abandoning our Easter identity and calling and losing our prophetic voice.
The challenge that is always before us is to seize the grace and find the courage to respond as the Easter people we are called to be. To bring to bear the transforming hope and transfiguring life of the wideness, generosity, openness, mercy and magnanimity of God, upon the narrowness, selfishness, close mindedness, vengefulness, and pettiness of human life without God.
My sisters and brothers, when one looks at the world in which we live, it is generally easy to see, that the challenges before us, are well formed.
In baptism we promise to renounce evil and to choose love. Sadly, we are reminded again and again that past evils are never entirely behind us. We are reminded, but we need not be deterred from our Easter calling in the face of it all. The challenges we face as Easter people are many, but the Risen Christ is with us and goes before us.
Racism is as real and as virulent today as it was in the days of Jim Crow. One of the jurors for the Derrick Chauvin trial when questioned about the Black Lives Matter Movement responded with the cliché that All Lives Matter. She still has not woken up to the truth that while we have always lived as if white lives matter, we still no not live ensuring the same regard being given to people of color. Look at the voting restrictions that have just been adopted in the State of Georgia and are being advanced in numerous other states.
An ever-expanding slave class, euphemistically labeled for decades as the working class, lives from paycheck to paycheck, while the privileged few who own the government, and establish and support the systems, deny them even the remote possibility of being paid a genuine living wage, which in 2021 would be something north of $25.00 an hour. Slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation. It simply morphed and expanded. If Amazon can pay no taxes and its CEO can bank $300 billion dollars, there has to something gravely wrong with the economic system, even as it sustains many of us in reasonable comfort at the expense of the slave class.
At Holy Cross/Santa Cruz we are in a privileged position to be a point of arrival for some who entered the states both legally and illegally in search of a livelihood and a sustainable life.
There are many who can only think in terms of legality and illegality. But must not our hearts find their first beat in the words of the Peter of Easter faith – God shows no partiality? Must not our first response be something other than a wariness of strangers? Must not our first response be a loving and generous welcome? Must not our first commitment, not be to upholding unjust laws but to an unqualified respect for the dignity of every human being? Does not our baptism charge us to become better advocates for comprehensive immigration reform that at once creates a path for citizenship to the undocumented people among us and also gives reasonable and ready legal immigration status to those driven to emigrate from their homes because of a dire need to do so? The only real crisis is not at the border. Rather it is the moral crisis that looms in our hearts. So let us get behind the new wind that is blowing thru the efforts of the new administration.
It is in a world that presents us with such challenges, that we find ourselves exercising our baptismal priesthood. It is a priesthood in which the one offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice offered are one and the same. This is the world in which we are called to proclaim the good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to proclaim liberty to the captives. If we are to carry out this ministry with faithfulness, we will need to learn to articulate with ever-greater clarity, patience and courage the vision that has been given to us by Christ, of a world in which the God-given dignity of all people is our first priority – yes even before economic gain.
If we are true to the call that is ours in Jesus, we can expect resistance, push back and, at times, harsh criticism and maybe even abuse. Whatever might be hurled at us, we need always to refuse to return evil for evil. We must find the restraint not to hate even those who oppose us most forcefully and may themselves hate us.
As I was preparing this sermon, I stepped outside, and my eyes were seized by the beauty of springtime’s first blooms in a landscape that is only just beginning to awake from the pall of winter’s death. The metaphor was sharp and poignant as was the implicit invitation. Seize the beauty and challenge the ugliness, seize love and challenge hate, seize the vision and challenge narrow-mindedness, seize wisdom and challenge ignorance, seize hope and challenge despair, seize life and challenge death at every turn.
God has transformed the tomb in the garden into a womb from which new life, a new way of living, and even eternal life has been born. Let us rejoice and be glad knowing that our Redeemer lives and that we can live a risen life in, with and through Him.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
April 4, Easter, 2021