preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, O.A., Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2016; EASTER SUNDAY, Year C
Revised Common Lectionary
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.
The women were just doing their duty. There was no time on
Friday to embalm the body. But that nasty job was their responsibility. It was also
sad work for them, for they loved the dead man. It was costly work as well, for
it would leave them ritually unclean and separated from their community for the
next seven days. But, before they can get to their duties, they are interrupted.
"Two men in dazzling clothes" appear and frighten the women. The men then
comfort them with these words: "Why do you look for the living among the
dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember…" they are told.
Remember. What are they to remember? Jesus had told them
that he must be handed over; he must be crucified; he will rise again. It is a
pattern that will be reinforced later that day and over and over again.
We see that same pattern in the next story in Luke's gospel.
It's later on that same Easter day. Two disciples were walking to the nearby
village of Emmaus, and a stranger joined them on the road. They were talking
about these things, the crucifixion and the rumors of resurrection. The
stranger then reinterpreted insights from the scripture that they had missed.
As they got to their destination, in the manner that is customary
in the Middle East, they invited the stranger to come in and stay with them. He
did. And when they were at the evening meal, the stranger did something to help
them remember. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. They
remembered. That happened just last Thursday night, the night Jesus was
betrayed and arrested and so brutally treated. That was the night they had
their last supper with him. Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it
to them and said, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in
remembrance of me." Now on Sunday evening, remembering that last supper as
they watched the stranger break the bread, their eyes were opened and they
knew: the stranger was Jesus. Resurrection was among them. Life begins anew.
Apostles and disciples of Jesus have been remembering in
just that same way ever since for nearly two thousand years. In a few moments
we will take the bread, bless, break, and give it, and you will receive new
life, the bread of life and the cup of salvation. You will remember, and you
will be filled with resurrection life.
There is a pattern to Jesus' life that is repeated in the
Eucharist. The dazzling men at the tomb told the women apostles of it.
"Remember how he told you…, that [Jesus] must be handed over…, and be
crucified, and …rise again." Handed over, crucified, rise again. It's the
same pattern as take, bless, break, and give.
This pattern is present in every moment of life. In every
moment we face a choice. Do I take it and bless it, or do I fight it and try to
control it? Do I give myself over in confident, peaceful trust to whatever happens,
or do I anxiously grab it and wrestle it. Like Jesus, we are all handed over.
Stuff happens, and we have to deal with it. Your friend is crucified; you women
have to tend to the body. The alarm clock goes off; you've got to start your
day. Let yourself be handed over to it; take it and bless it. Right now is the
only time we can be alive. Right now is the only time we can be one with God,
living in resurrection life.
Every moment presents its duty or its opportunity, its joy
or its sadness. Embrace it all, like Jesus. Jesus embraced life, its joy and
its pain, all the way to the cross. From his birth he let himself be handed
over into full human life, and he remained entirely himself, centered and
grounded in God. He let himself be handed over to crucifixion. And he rose
again. Bringing life out of death is what God does best.
In some sense, each moment is a small death, a little
crucifixion. We let ourselves be taken by the duty or the joy of the moment. When
we hand ourselves over to the circumstances of the present moment, fully
present, giving ourselves to it, we put ourselves into this pattern of eternal
life, the pattern of dying and rising.
It takes some trust. Trust to stay in the present rather
than anticipate whatever may be on the horizon ahead of us. Trust to stay in
the present rather than dragging along our resentments and hurts from the past.
David Steindl-Rast describes this kind of life as the life
of leisure. "Leisure," he says," is the virtue of those who give
time to whatever it is that takes time—give as much time as it takes."[i]
He says that this quality of giving yourself, letting go, dying from moment to
moment is our experience of eternal life in the eternal present and our
participation in the resurrection life of Jesus who is always bringing life out
My life is often the opposite of eternal life and
resurrection life. It's often more like bondage. I look at my calendar. Before
the day comes, I've nearly filled it up. Gotta
get it done. Take care of business. Grab the bull by the horns. How many of
you live that way? And then, depending on our temperament, at the end of the
day, some of us go home and just collapse and others go to the gym and grab a
workout to relax. That's not the life of leisure.
Eventually, we will all have to give this up. Eventually we
will all die. As we die, we cannot do things, control things. We will all know
this in the shadow of death. I remember visiting a beloved parishioner in my
Mississippi church. What a good person; what a good life. I loved her so much. In
her 90's now, she was dying, and she looked radiant even though confined to
bed. She smiled at me and said, "I'm not afraid of dying. I'm really
not." Then a cloud passed over her face. "I just wish I could get
everything organized." And she glanced toward her spotless kitchen and
workroom. I couldn't help but chuckle a little. This most organized person was
having to let go one of the most driving purposes of her life—organizing everything
in a proper order. I said to her, "Mamie, everything is just fine. From
now on, you don't have to organize a single thing. It's all taken care of. In
fact, there's nothing more for you to organize for the rest of your life."
Her eyes got wide. There was a sparkle of happy wonder. Like that was too good
to be true. Then a relaxing breath. "Well, I guess you're right. I don't
have to do anything but just lie here, I guess." Then she giggled.
"It's really about all I can do right now," she beamed. She had a
What if we died before we are forced to? What if we let
ourselves be handed over to the circumstances of the present moment? When you
think about it, it's really about all we can do right now, be fully present to
the duty or joy of the moment. Take and bless what you are handed over to in
each moment. Die to all your habits of worry and control. Surrender. Be. Then
give leisurely to the moment whatever time it takes, living in the eternal now,
trusting the rest of the universe to God.
It's a matter of remembering. Remember how Jesus was handed
over, crucified, and risen. Take, bless, break, and give. Remember. It is the
pattern of eternal life, the pattern of resurrection life. And if we are
willing to remember, it begins here and now.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, Learning to
, published in Parabola
2, Number 1: "Death," Winter 1977; posted online February 29, 2016: http://parabola.org/2016/02/29/learning-die-brother-david-steindl-rast/