Calvary Episcopal Church
April 15, 2001
I bring good news from the graveyard. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
I am one in a long line of Easter messengers. We began back in the graveyard on that first Easter. The message started with the women of the Resurrection. Notice that in every Easter Gospel story it is the women who are the first visitors, the first witnesses to and for the Risen Christ, that first Easter messenger. What a great text to all churches for the ordination of women to the priesthood. Yes, Easter is clear testimony to the holy power of great change for every denomination, for every Christian.
For twenty-two Easters, it has been my privilege to be a messenger on Easter morn. As your friend and Rector, I speak on behalf of each and every one of the clergy and staff members of Calvary Church when I say what a high, and yet humbling honor it is to serve you. You are one of the more contagious and committed urban churches in all of America. We salute you. We bring you Easter greetings of great good news from the graveyard. Christ is risen, indeed!
This homily literally began in a graveyard... ancient Elmwood Cemetery. It was ten days ago. We celebrated a glorious Burial and Resurrection Eucharist here in Calvary Church for one of our magnificent parishioners, Martha Turley Jack. In her late eighties, Martha died as she lived, with her contagious wit and impish smile, and her deep, abundant trust in God and her love for Calvary Church. Following that service in Calvary, we went to Elmwood for the graveside interment and liturgy. We proclaimed those Easter sentences throughout the graveyard. Lewis McKee was presiding at that point, leading us through the graveyard and proclaiming, " 'I am the Resurrection and the Life,' says the Lord. 'She that believes in me, though she is dead, yet she lives.'" We kept proclaiming those words of faith and hearing them ring inside of us.
We arrived at the graveside with the rest of the procession. The casket was placed, and the pall was folded back, uncovering the top front of the casket. In our Episcopal Church liturgy, following some opening words, a small container of sand and soil is poured out over the top of the bare casket. It is my tradition to then make the sign of the cross in the clump of sand and soil gathered there on the casket. As I did this I was praying those familiar words: "In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life," and in my memory of that moment, I paused. I don't know how long I paused, but in my experience something unusual happened. Having said those words and having proclaimed Resurrection, I said (within myself), "Martha T. [as I lovingly referred to her], Martha T., arise. Stand up." I then experienced a strange and wonderful vision. Martha T. rose out of the casket and stood up on top of the casket. She had that marvelous, impish look about her, and she said a line that anyone who knows her recognizes as her line. She said, "This is fascinating," and I thought, "My God. It is. Why don't we, the church, proclaim our Easter story better than we do?" Then the vision vanished, and I somehow continued on with the liturgy. But I hope I never recover from that wild and wonderful experience.
Christ is risen! And because Christ is risen, Martha T. is risen, standing up, eternal. As I say, I haven't recovered from that experience; I hope I never recover. You see, that's the great, good news in the graveyard-- that because Christ is risen, all of God's children are risen. We are Easter people. We are all standing up in Easter faith, or we should be. Now, in this mortal life. And eternally
This experience of Martha T. caused me to reflect on an experience of a friend of mine who is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ in Maryland. She writes for Sojourners Magazine, an outstanding evangelical, social justice journal. She wrote of an experience she had while visiting a Dutch friend in Amsterdam over Easter weekend some years ago. They were worshipping there, in a church where all the music and liturgy was in Dutch. She didn't know the Dutch language, but she noticed a word that was consistently used over and over again, in the hymns, in scripture, and in the liturgy. The word is the Dutch word opstanding. At an appropriate time in the liturgy, she leaned over and whispered to her friend, "Opstanding. What's that mean?" Her friend leaned over to her and whispered, "That, in your English language, is Resurrection. It means Jesus is standing up." Standing up like Martha T. on top of her casket.
I am fascinated by words, so I began to do some study, particularly in Luke's Gospel, of texts where we encounter Jesus raising someone from the dead. You'll recall in the seventh chapter of Luke, a widow in the little village of Nain has just lost her only son by death. Now, there is a double loss; she's lost her husband and now her son. In this scripture story, they are in a funeral procession. They've left their synagogue, and they are headed to the graveyard. Jesus happens to be in Nain that day, and he stops the funeral procession. He then touches the coffin, and says, "Young man. Stand up." I can't begin to explain what happens next, anymore than I can explain what happened in the Easter garden. But, the young man stands up. The word in Greek is anakypto, stand up.
Then, in the eighth chapter of Luke's Gospel, there is Jesus raising up Jairus' daughter, who has died. In that passage Jesus says to the dead daughter, "My child, stand up," and she rises, she stands up, full of life, full of power, full of God.
I can't explain that either, but I don't think we can explain Resurrection. All we can do is proclaim Resurrection. That's the task of the church-- to proclaim and live the "stand up" news of Easter.
In the eleventh chapter of John's Gospel, there is the amazing story of Jesus and his dear friend Lazarus, who has died. Arriving in the graveyard, Jesus proclaims, "Lazarus, come out," and Lazarus comes out. He's wrapped in the traditional bandages of death, like a mummy, but he's standing up. Then Jesus says to his companions, "Unbind him. Set him free." Now there is the clear Easter work of the church, you and me, isn't it? To invite the world to stand up. And then to unbind people, set them free.
In the twenty-first chapter of Luke's Gospel, I noticed a passage where Jesus says, "Stand up. Your redemption draws near." He is speaking to the people of every age. "Stand up!" The word there is the same Resurrection word, anakypto.
Now, if you think I'm dazzling you with my knowledge of Greek, then you must know that I used a lot of "leaners." I'm leaning on the work of other Biblical scholars. Even so, these resurrection words have given me a fresh understanding of Easter: Jesus, stand up! Martha T., stand up! Calvary Church, stand up!
If you go to Jerusalem today and ask directions to the church that celebrates Christ's Resurrection, they'll send you to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is translated "The Church of the Sacred Tomb." In our Western tradition, we call it the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sacred tomb. However, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, they never refer to it as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a tomb. They call it "the Church of the Anastasis," translated, "the Church of the Resurrected Jesus, Standing Up."
I think we ought to change the words of that great, old hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. Instead, we ought to sing, "Come, Jesus. Stand Up In Us." When that happens, we change the world, beginning with ourselves. We become the fifth Gospel-- the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and you. The Gospel According to You, with the Resurrected Christ standing up in you, living in you, day-by-day-by-day. Not just on Easter Day, not just on the Sunday following Easter, but deep in next Summer, next Fall, two years from now, ten years from now, generation after generation. The Church of the Standing Up Christ for the people of God. For Jesus stands up in you. The Church of Anastasis, Christ standing up.
Beloved in Christ, I bring you good news from the graveyard. Jesus Christ is standing up. Now, this Easter Christ seeks to stand up in your life. And, through your life, Christ will stand up in the world.
Wow! That's worth shouting again and again. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen! Alleluia!
Copyright 2001 Calvary Episcopal Church
Luke 24: 1-10
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. NRSV