It is early Sunday morning, it is still dark, a dark that is only lit by Magdalene's oil lamp and the stars spread out across the sky. The dew is thick in the garden, the smell of the grass and the dirt and the trees fills the air. The stones are cold, all the heat of the day gone out of them. Her feet carefully pick their way along the path. The silence of that Sabbath is heavy in her heart. It has been more than a whole day since the one they all loved had been so brutally killed. The one in whom they had placed so much hope, who made their hearts leap with joy, who healed and taught and loved them with such abundance, dead and buried here in a new grave. Covered with a stone so heavy only several men could move it. Magdalene comes to grieve - to be close to him once again, even it is just his linen wrapped body behind a stone. She goes to the place where she last saw him before they placed him there, rolled the stone over the opening and the soldiers appeared to chase away any followers who might show up. All seems lost. Empty. Gone.
But, what's this? The stone has been moved, the soldiers are gone! She runs to tell Peter and the others. They run to the tomb and see that Jesus is not there - they believe Magdalene now - so return home. Once again it is just the woman - alone. She bends down and looks in the tomb and sees 2 angels. They ask her why she is weeping. Why wouldn't she be weeping - not only is the one who called them his beloved, the one who had healed her of her torment - 7 demons they had called it - and whom they loved is not only dead - his body is gone- there is nothing left. And then another person asking "why are you weeping? who do you seek?" I can almost hear her voice rising in a sobbed plea - "where is his body? what have you done?" And then, and then, the answer -- her name. Called by name. Like all those places in the stories of her faith and her people that she had heard all her life -- where God calls the people by name, each named by the Holy One. Called into life, into fullness of being. You no longer have to cling to things or your fears or to your past - anything that keeps you from really living -you can let go - you can live because I live and have shown you how to live and how to love one another so that all can live.
Today we heard the story of Peter - he has been confronted by Paul who says that Gentiles can become Christians without the rituals that Jewish men have to undergo. Now you know Peter is a leader in this new religious movement - and he knows how things should be - after all he was there at the beginning and knows the way we have always done things. What Paul is saying is NOT how it should be. Good grief - if you let Gentiles join without doing it in the correct way and with only a few rules - pretty soon anyone will be joining and who knows where that will lead? Peter is invited to eat at Cornelius' house - he "knows" that is wrong. But these people seem to be following in Jesus' Way. A dilemma
But then he has a dream - where Peter is shown more of what Jesus had been trying to teach him. In the dream food is spread out and God invites him to eat -- but some of the food is ritually unclean (bacon, shrimp, etc) - Peter is horrified, gags at the sight of it, even. But God commands him to eat - saying nothing in creation is unclean. It is all holy. This is where our lesson today starts - just after this dream. Now Peter understands -- Christ came for all people - not just a small band of followers - but for all who want to follow Christ. Over and over the church has had to rediscover this teaching - at one time the church has thought some were beyond the love of God - could not be seen as fully human--slaves, Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with certain diseases, those who had sinned and not repented or paid for their sins. And over and over God has revealed the Holy in each of these --showing up in the most surprising places.
When we seek the things that are above - as the letter to the Colossians says -- we see God everywhere - we see LIFE everywhere - even in unlikely people, even though they have it deeply hidden behind their fears and their deeds. If we only see with our own eyes - we often just see brokenness and death and emptiness. When we look with Christ's eyes- we see the heart. We know the compassion that is offered to each of us no matter what and we want to offer that to others.
The other day I received a note from a friend who is a priest in the LA area - who some of you may know as he was a candidate your previous Bishop election- Howard Anderson. A close friend, mentor and bishop of his is dying of pancreatic cancer - his name is Bob Anderson. A bishop who was not afraid to stand up against the abuse of children, women and men by clergy in the Episcopal Church. A bishop who through this work brought many back from the dead to new life - death of the soul from abuse in the church. My friend writes:
We had just embraced, both of us in tears. It had been a good visit, even knowing that this would be the last time I saw him alive. Bishop Bob Anderson has been so much more than my ordaining Bishop. He has been mentor, cheer leader, promoter and wise counselor. The term clergy used to use for Bishops, “Father in God,” was more than appropriate for the relationship we have had over the years. As I opened the door to leave, I looked back, the frail, rail thin man who sat in his chair still looked to me to be the 6’2” 195 pound basketball player that I first met 34 years ago. That’s kind of what happens when we see with the eyes of love. I waved, and he threw me a kiss, and said, “See you on the other side!” He said that with such steadiness, such certainty, that I will never, ever forget the feeling I had. In the midst of Lent, I had an Easter, alleluia, moment!
And now we are in that Alleluia moment - in fact, are always in that moment because Jesus showed us that death has no power. Not the every day deaths we feel when in despair or struggle or falling short - nor the death that will come to us all one day. There is no power in these things - we need not cling to them or fear them -- the power of love and self sacrifice and compassion will win out. That is the Alleluia of Easter. or as I like it in Spanish ¡Aleluya!