Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011 St. Cyprian's

John 20:1-18

Mary’s persistence and insistence on finding Jesus throughout today’s gospel, her emotional vulnerability, and rawness of presence leads her to be the first one to experience the resurrected Christ, in the face of a stranger. Resurrection is a strange thing, yet faith in this unexplainable mystery is at the heart of Christianity. The testimonies of wise ancestors and elders of the faith all teach us that when we persist and insist on finding Jesus we will be surprised and delighted to discover the resurrected one in the face of strangers. If we like Mary Magdalene, are present to our pain and suffering, our hearts deepest yearning, if we are vulnerable we shall discover that new life is possible, is right there beside us opening us up for a new adventure.

Resurrection is the opposite of preservation. When Mary arrives at the tomb early in the morning, while it is still dark, does she come as the other gospels suggest to anoint the body of Jesus with oil? That admirable gesture of affection and care is about preserving a dead body, not about discovering a living one. Preservation is not resurrection. To preserve is to protect and defend, resurrection is about letting go and opening up --- preservation is about what was, resurrection is about what is and is to come. Mary Magdalene through her persistence and insistence after being shocked by an empty tomb and then interrogated by angels shifts her focus --- she changes how she sees things. We too if we are to really experience the transformative power of the resurrection in our lives ---  we must change how we look at things, people and circumstances. We must let go of one way of operating and embrace the wild, uncontainable, liberating Spirit of the resurrection. Like Mary we have to move from preservation to resurrection. Preservation and resurrection are very different --- preservation is about living anxiously in ways that keeps the story of our lives, circumstances and communities closed and predictable, the best days are behind us, resurrection is about constant change (the gardener Jesus tells Mary don’t hold on to me) resurrection is about an open, ongoing, story one that invites participation, interaction and new adventures. Resurrection reminds us that we don’t and can’t know everything, and that what might appear to be a lost cause may really be the starting place of major revolution --- a baby is being born in a morgue.

As Wendell Berry’s poem, which we heard read at the beginning of today’s service, illustrates resurrection takes practice. We humans would rather have something “ready made” safe, secure and easy than wild, uncontainable, challenging and free. But resurrection is all about asking questions that have no answers, loving someone who does not deserve it, being joyful though you have considered all the facts. When my mother was hit by a car a few years ago, the only thing I could read in the ICU was poetry, and a wise old mentor of mine, said that’s because poetry is the language of the heart. We contemporary Christians might want to read more poetry, we may need to appreciate what one expert on joy describes as “the poetic principle.” Jacqueline Kelm writes that the poetic principle suggests “we can find whatever we want in every situation and whatever we choose to notice is fateful. All is present in every moment, from love to fear, good to bad, beautiful to ugly, joy to sorrow. Whatever we focus on from unbound possibilities defines experience. In this sense reality is like poetry, it can be written in any manner conceivable and is open to infinite possibilities.”

The early followers of Jesus could have chosen a different end to their story, they didn’t have to choose resurrection, the didn’t have to believe Mary Magdalene, they didn’t have to trust the strange visions and happenings around them. They could have believed that death, cruelty, injustice, violence, wealth and power were the definers of reality. That actually would have been easier, safer, and more comforting. But they practiced, whether conscious or unconscious, the poetic principle, they practiced resurrection. They told stories that shifted the focus from a dead guy on a cross to a living one, present everywhere including the face of strangers and supposed enemies. St. Cyprian’s has to me been practicing the poetic principle for a long time. There have been artists and poets in this community’s story since the beginning. Today we are continuing to practice resurrection, we are like Mary insistent and persistent in seeking Jesus and we are being surprised again and again how our resurrected teacher comes dressed as a gardener, stranger, cyclist, mother, activist, neighbor, supposed enemy ------

Yesterday I visited Ruth Maloof briefly at a hospital she has been in for a long time. Mrs. Maloof is one of our community’s many elders who was a very active leader not just at St. Cyprian’s but throughout San Francisco. Her husband who is daily by her side, shared with me notes and photographs, booklets and programs that she had saved from her years of service at this church. I was moved by the handwritten notes, and newsletter announcements that she had penned many about a tutoring program she helped start downstairs for youth from Wallenburg High School in the early 90’s. Familiar names were among her notes, Dr. Matthews, Mrs. Jones, and Dr. Daniels. But these materials were not stale artifacts of old, they bore witness to an active, engaged, connected faith --- and inspired within me an appreciation for the spirit of resurrection among us in this place today --- when any one of us is nearing the end of our life someone I bet will pull out a folder giving testimony to our, your active, engaged, and connected faith.

Before I close I want to share a few more words about Mary Magdalene, there are many stories about her --- some call her the Apostle to the Apostles because she was the first to proclaim she had seen the risen Christ, some incorrectly claimed she was a repentant prostitute --- but one thing is clear her life was made completely different when she decided to follow Jesus. At the foot of the altar is an icon of Mary Magdalene, she’s holding an egg, the story goes that ...

following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house. May we each one day be as bold, confident, provocative, creative, and poetic as Mary Magdalene.

Let us ask unanswerable questions --- what will St. Cyprian’s be like in 50 years from now, in 2061? Let us every day do something that won’t compute, let us Love the Lord, love the world, love someone who does not deserve it --- Let us practice the poetic principle, let us practice Resurrection.

image by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
Wendell Berry's poem can be found here.
story of Mary Magdalene & the egg is from here


Michael Helquist said...

a baby is born in a did that come to you? remarkable

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will said...

Could be too much Doctor Who, or perhaps the film Children of Men, or an adaptation of something Tom Brackett writes about.