A Sermon Preached
The Feast of the Resurrection - April 20, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
Do you know that God exists? Do you know that the Resurrection is true?
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, offers two ways of responding to these questions, both problematic. The first, that apologetic shuffling of feet, along with the disclaimer: ‘I don’t really know, this is just what I think; it’s entirely possible that I’m completely wrong.’ And the second, with confidence (or arrogance?) prepared to prove it all with evidence and arguments, refined and sophisticated and certain.
Both, as Williams says, are problematic. The first, because it shrinks faith into something small, reduces its scale and scope to our own comprehensible dimensions and peculiarities. The second, because it keeps everything so safely at arm’s length, so very impersonal. Neither offers much that might compel us. Neither offers something to fall in love with.
The women come to the tomb on that Easter morning, expecting to keep vigil. They expect the stone to be where it was when they left, rolled in front of the entrance. They expect to have this time of shared sorrow. Maybe they even expect the guards there standing watch over Christ’s tomb, making sure the disciples don’t get out of line in their grief.
The women show up – not because they expect what happens. How could they? They just want to be near where he is, or was, in the same way people return to grave sites, or the places we make into memorials at the side of the road or a street corner or, too often, at the fence of a school yard.
The Bishop of Colorado has said that “the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.”
It seems to me that these Marys, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, might well be the patron saints of that greatest spiritual practice. Because they show up – not because they know the right thing to say, or the right thing to do, or because they’re more virtuous, or more intuitive than the others. They show up because they love him. And he’s gone. And they are devastated.
They show up; and everything changes. The earth shakes. An angel of the Lord descends, with a face like lightning and clothes the brightest white. He rolls away the stone and uses it for a seat, and suddenly those guards who were supposed to frighten away the disciples are themselves scared into a deathly stupor. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary show up – and nothing will ever be the same.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel says. “Come and see.” And they do. And then they go to tell the others. Jesus meets them along the way, says to them again: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell the others.”
“Do not be afraid. Come.”
“Do not be afraid. Go.”
And they do.
For us to say something of Christ’s resurrection is for us to say something essential about who we are. It’s more than an historical claim, more than a mathematical proof. Resurrection begins, not with an argument, or an idea, but with the whisper of a promise that takes hold in us. Something changes. Something compels us…toward…what? Toward life, toward hope, toward relationship, toward something and Someone greater than our minds can contrive into simple arguments or proofs.
Maybe the only way to say that is to live it, and maybe the only way to live it is to show up, again and again, like those patron saints of that greatest spiritual practice.
Yes, preachers can preach – and I do, and I will – about the needs of this beautiful, broken world. I will preach about hospitality and reconciling love and freedom and trust and forgiveness and care. But what will persuade you? When somebody shows up after you have hurt them, and offers a kind word you may well not deserve, and then walks alongside you through a space without answers? What will persuade you? When someone notices your child, alone, outside the circle, and takes him by the hand, and walks him into the midst of the group, walks him right in there with everybody else? What will persuade you? When somebody asks if you are hungry, shows up at your doorstep with a loaf of bread?
In the early life of the church, scholars arguing for the truth of the Christian faith used all kinds of sophisticated logic. And they also said this: “Here. Look at us. We make sure everybody gets fed. We take care of the widows and the orphans and the sick. We try to treat people with equity and respect, man or woman, child or adult, slave or free. We try to forgive each other. We don’t exact vengeance. We show up and we stand with one another, and we show up and we stand with people on the margins. We show up.”
That is Good News, because the God we worship is the same God who rolls the stone away and seeks to ease our fear. This is the God who recognizes that we might be afraid, and promises that we will never be alone. We worship a God who shows up…who in these last three days has gone to the depths of hell and said, “Even here. Even here. Even here, I will not be without you.”
And that is Good News, because here on this first day of the week, the tomb is empty, the stone is rolled away, and you – all of you – have shown up. Together with Mary Magdalene and that other Mary and the sometimes-confused and sometimes-doubtful band of disciples, you are here as witnesses to the miracle.
Do I know that God exists? Do I know the Resurrection is true?
Yes. Yes, dear friends, I am persuaded. I am persuaded, because of you – because you are here. I am persuaded because you care for those who are sick. I am persuaded because you welcome the stranger. I am persuaded because you mourn our dead. I am persuaded because you shelter the homeless, you feed the hungry, you keep vigil in waiting rooms, you seek to forgive, you strive after justice and peace, you pray for our enemies.
Yes. I am persuaded that God exists, that Christ is risen, because You Show Up. I am persuaded that the miracle is true because in big ways and small ways you show it to be true every day. More than any evidence, more than any proof we might crave after, I see it in you.
Right there with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, in the midst of confusion sometimes, and grief, and fear, you show up. Together with those Marys, you are bearers of the resurrection. A miracle, indeed.
 http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/1071/archbishops-easter-sermon-2009-proof-of-the-resurrection-has-to-be-lived-not-argued#Sermon. Thanks go to the Archbishop for much of the thought framing this sermon.