(For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes will not be disclosed in this series.)
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
These are the words of 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Since the very first time I read them, I have seen and felt that explosion of light, an almost electric vision of sunlight on mirrors or the blaze of tin foil unrolled, and have known the moment that the very nerves of the earth were charged with God’s presence. These two lines seem an appropriate physical representation of the drama we’ve experienced through history and will re-experience tonight, travelling from the darkness of crucifixion and death to the radiance of light, Baptism, empty tombs, memory and promises kept.
An empty tomb at dawn – that feeling of loss, grief, and abandonment the women in Luke’s gospel must have felt. To lose a human being you’ve loved not just once on the cross, but twice, with the physical body vanished. Imagine feeling abandoned at our most vulnerable, pain-filled time. We’ve all felt this at our darkest moments – living with cancer or a recent diagnosis; living with recovery after stroke; hanging on by our nails during depression and other mental illness; losing a job; losing a life-partner, or child – the Where-Is-God feeling. Thomas Merton has a quote on this subject that resonates with me: “Prayer is learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and the heart has turned to stone.”
Then the dazzling messengers appear, asking the women to remember Jesus’ words and all that was foreordained, and then “with this reminder, the words of Jesus came back to them.” We know these women to be Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and another. So did these women in their terror run away after the messengers’ words to them? No, they ran toward – toward the apostles to give the good news.
Despite the fact that it was the women who discovered the empty tomb, endured the initial fear of the messengers’ words and then remember Jesus’ words, the apostles didn’t believe the women. Why? Was it because they were women? ( I hate to say it, but that’s a rhetorical question…) Or was it because the apostles hadn’t yet entered into the process of remembering, seeing, and believing for themselves? Or was it simply shock, the body’s inability to meld physical, emotional and intellectual truth into any comprehensible logic?
This resurrection we learn glimpses of in Luke’s gospel is intimately related to Baptism. Baptism is change, transcendence, transformation into a different thing. Tonight, we as a community experience resurrection because [one of our members], as an adult, is choosing us. Its both [her] resurrection and ours, as a faith community.
There is something in adult Baptism that awes me, and I guess it’s the deliberate element of choice, something infants don’t possess when their parents choose Baptism for them. In my own case as a Mom, I wasn’t ready to commit to the Catholic Church when my boys were infants or toddlers. It took me until they were 8 and 9 years old for me to have them baptized, because I was that unsure of the strength of my faith. I still struggle with the meaning and obligation of Baptism – who doesn’t? But I’m glad to have those boys here with me tonight. They’re not products of Catholic schools, as I was from childhood through my first year of college, so there is a lot of history that’s different for my family. Still, I hope and believe the values have rubbed off, and aren’t our values the most important thing we can hand our children?
What I most take away from our readings this evening [Romans 6:3–5, 8 and Luke 24:1–12] is that when we stand before the empty tomb in bewilderment or sorrow, God is still and always with us. In the file-clerk and the truck driver, in the professor and the hotel cleaner, in the nurse or in the nun, God is with us. Turn around and look at each other. Literally, please, do this for a moment, and you will see the face of God.
And remember also that Death is not God’s final word. This is the day on which we celebrate the fact that Jesus was willing to die for us, but was not willing to stay dead. Jesus left the tomb to live with us in our ordinary, unspectacular lives. He is in our lives every day we invite the stranger in, forgive a co-worker, act in small or large ways on our convictions, pull kindness from empty hats and swirl it in torrents on others with whom we most disagree. This is resurrection, the graceful essence of life. And remember always that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” Happy Easter, and Happy Baptism to all!