Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: Sermon for Easter Sunday
Posted on 04/21/2006 9:16:46 PM PDT by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, we have this sermon for Easter Sunday:
Sermon on Easter Day (2006)This is quite an interesting sermon, and I don't believe I have ever seen this reference to the Cherubim around the Ark of the Covenant and the angels in white at the Empty Tomb. There is a lot to think about here--my thanks to Fr. Edwards for sharing this with us.
Text: John 20:1-18
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
In the Gospel that is appointed for this day in the Prayer Book, the scene opens with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week. Mary is coming with a heart that is heavy in a way that any of us can understand who has lost someone who was a protector or mentor or particularly loved one. She is coming to the tomb because it is the place where she can be closest physically to what remains of that persons presence.
When she arrives, she sees something totally unexpected and undoubtedly horrifying: The stone is taken away from the opening of the sepulcher. Someone has rolled away the huge rock which has closed the mouth of the tomb and it stands open and empty. After the initial shock, she has an inward impulse to run and tell someone. She goes to Peter and to John and says, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.
Peter and John, equally shocked, run to the tomb. John outruns Peter, and so is the first of the two to arrive. He does not go in, though. However, he does look into the tomb and sees the grave clothes lying there. Peter arrives and being Peter immediately goes in, not caring and perhaps not even thinking about the risk of ritual uncleanness that would be the consequence of having contact with a dead body. When he does so, he sees what John saw, and notices a further detail, which is that the head cloth is not lying with the rest of the shroud, but that it has been wrapped together and put in a place by itself. It as if someone sat up, took it off, rolled it up, and packed it away.
After this, John enters and sees what Peter saw and believes. Now, the text doesnt yet say just what it is he believes, and in fact he may not have been able to articulate it himself at that very moment, though by the time this record was made, he knew very well what it was that he believed. Often our belief begins in almost insensible vagueness we know theres something there, but we cant articulate it. This is very likely what was going on in the mind of the Beloved Disciple, since the very next verse says that, as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. That does not mean that they had not been told: It means that, although Jesus had told them, they did not understand what he had been talking about.
Several times in the gospels, when Jesus tells his disciples that he will be delivered into the hands of sinful men, abused, condemned, killed, and on the third day rise again, they do not know what he is talking about. The most intense emotion that they seem to have when he tells them this is fear. As we are apt to do in the face of things that we do not understand or that puzzle us or that make us afraid, they shove it off to the side. They even deny that it could be true. That is what Peter had done when, just having openly confessed Jesus identity as the Christ and received his Masters endorsement, Jesus immediately began telling them what was going to happen to him. Peters response at that time was, No, Lord! This shall never happen to you! In effect, he was trying to give advice to Jesus about how to be a proper Messiah. Jesus then had to administer a severe rebuke to Peter for thinking as men think, and not as God thinks.
Now Peter, with John, is confronted with this strange scene. The empty shroud lies in front of him, and it shows no sign of having been unwrapped. It is as if the body which it held had come through it. They are puzzled. They are confused. And, as people will do when they are puzzled and confused, they go to their own home to try sorting it out, if they can.
Mary stays, and as she stands outside the tomb, she weeps. At last, she, too stoops down and looks into the tomb, and what does she see? She sees two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
It should not escape our notice that this is a profound reference to something else in Scripture: On the Ark of the Covenant, on the lid which covered the box, there were two Cherubim, facing each other, their wings spread over the space known as the mercy seat. This was the site where the invisible God made his presence known. It was also the site on which, on the Day of Atonement the one day in the year on which anyone (and that alone the High Priest) could enter the Holy of Holies the sacrificial blood was sprinkled to atone for the sins of the people. What Mary sees and what John records is no accident. Though might assert that it is not historical, but merely a literary device that John uses to make a typically subtle point, it does not seem reasonable to think so: If we worship the God who acts in history, it is not reasonable to assume that he would plant a prefiguration of the central event of the history in which he acts and not bring it to actual fulfillment both outwardly and inwardly.
What Mary sees, first of all the disciples, is the display of the significance of what it is that Jesus has done, though she does not immediately understand it intellectually. There before her sit two angels, one on each end of the place where had lain the body of the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. The body is no longer there, and this signifies clearly that the atonement has been made. This is not a tomb that is empty, but one that is full of saving significance. It is not a place of an absence, but one in which there is a Presence.
The sacrifice has been accepted. We need to remember that the a sacrifice doesnt principally have to do with the killing of the victim, though that is a component of the act. It is completed when the life that has been offered through the shedding of the blood (in which is the life) is accepted by God to whom it is offered, joined with his own life, and returned to the one who has made the sacrifice.
This is what has happened, but Mary has not yet been able to comprehend it. There is no shame in that for her: After all, we are now two thousand years on, and we still are still in the process of comprehending it.
The angels ask her, Why are you weeping? She replies quite simply that, They have taken away my Lord, and I dont know where they have put him. The angels make no reply, but Mary turns around and sees Jesus, but does not recognize him. We have all had the experience of seeing someone we know out of context and not recognizing them. If we are not expecting to see someone, we may not in fact see them.
Mary is having this kind of experience. She knows Jesus is not only dead, but gone, so he is the last person she is expecting to see. He asks her, Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She assumes he is the gardener. This is not an unreasonable supposition after all this is a garden, and that is where gardeners can be found. The interesting thing here is that Mary is both wrong and right in her identification of Jesus. Of course, shes wrong about him being one of Joseph of Arimatheas hired help. But she is more right than she knows, for the one standing before her is not only the one who planted the original Garden, he is also the one who undoes the consequences of the Fall occasioned by the disobedience of the gardener who was put into that Garden to tend it but who forgot who he was. He is the New Adam, and therefore the New Gardener.
She says, Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and Ill take care of him. Jesus simply says her name: Mary. He speaks her name as he does to each one of us that he calls and then she recognizes him, for only then can she recognize him. That is how it always happens: By God alone is God known. God speaks our name, and we answer, Teacher Master Lord.
He tells her, Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father, but go and tell my brethren that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. For what he has done is to accomplish the reconciliation between God and Man to bridge the yawning gulf that existed before.
This is what we are here to celebrate today. It is both very simple and very complex. We are here not only to make a mental recollection of what happened then but to celebrate the nature of the Churchs life as it everlastingly is. The way we do that is by coming to the mercy seat the altar of God and receiving from it the Body and the Blood of the Risen Lord.
There is a little ceremony, or manual act that the celebrant performs at the breaking of the bread after it is consecrated. Since most of the congregation cant see it, I need to describe it to you. When the Bread is broken, the celebrant breaks off a little corner of it and drops it into the chalice of consecrated Wine. The most fundamental meaning of this gesture is as a symbol of the Resurrection the reunion of the broken Body and the spilled Blood of the Lord of Life. It is also a sign of our unity in Christ: Because we are united to Christ, we are united to one another in him when we receive him. This is why we believe that it is the Eucharist which maintains and sustains the unity of the Church.
We are here to celebrate and to receive and to participate in this mystery, and those who come to this Table in faith, in penitence and in thanksgiving to the fullest extent of which they are capable and relying on God to supply what is lacking really and truly participate in that divine life and become what they receive. They say, You are what you eat, and nowhere is that more true than in this Blessed Sacrament. May each of us who receives it today do so in faith and as an earnest token of the joy that remains to be revealed to us when, triumphant at last, and with history all wrapped up, Jesus delivers to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God a world cleansed and resplendent with his glory.
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