Here’s an Easter poem from Mary Karr:
DESCENDING THEOLOGY: THE RESURRECTION1
From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and blood ink—
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart
began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape.
Now it’s your limbs he longs to flow into—
from the sunflower center of your chest
outward—as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.
I wish I’d said that. (I’ll have copies on the way out, for those of you who want to read it again.) Only a poet can put words to that void between this life and the next.
Death is in the air on the first Easter morning. Mary’s discovery of the empty tomb was not joyful but troubling, as it would be, I suspect, for any of us. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!” The emptiness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday are still there on that Easter morning. There is such specific detail—of linen rags lying balled up here and there in corners—it makes me wonder what it smelled like in that cave. In my imagination the smell is dank, like death and decay, maybe the smell of rotting humans, or simply the earth, humus. What sounds were in the air as Mary went to the tomb and then to the disciples? It was early, still dark. It was probably quiet, although this time of year eager birds might pierce the silence, here and there. But mostly the air feels heavy and full of death.
It is into this dank, bleak emptiness, that God raises Jesus from the dead, and signals victory over every kind of death.
What do we do with this?
It’s your limbs he longs to flow into. Easter comes with a mandate, the mandate of resurrection. If we are to take seriously Jesus’ teaching, the Book of Acts, and pretty much the rest of the New Testament, there are two parts to this Easter mandate: witnessing to the resurrection, and being a community like the disciples Jesus gathered, disciples who serve as his hands and feet in the world.
The mandate to witness starts with Mary in the garden on that initially hard, sad morning, and flows outward from there. Go and tell the others, Jesus says. I take “the others” to be a fairly broad swath of people. Everybody. This same mandate to witness is present in this morning’s other readings, from Peter in the Book of Acts, and later, Paul. I’m guessing that each of these holy apostles felt awkward and perhaps even dubious at some point while they were figuring out what it meant to go out and witness to the resurrection. And yet they did it.
And, of course, this is our mandate, too, to proclaim the resurrection. To go and tell. It’s awkward. Many of us live as relatively private, silo’ed people. But that ought not let us off the hook. We just need to get creative with our witnessing. Over and over again we are invited to witness not only with our lips but with our lives.
Now it’s our limbs he longs to flow into.
The other resurrection mandate has to do with being a community of disciples, with taking the Kingdom of God seriously, with being the hands and feet and very limbs of Jesus in the world. What does this look like? It looks like moving through daily life and work striving for union with God through prayer, through acts of kindness and mercy, through asking hard questions, through telling the truth to ourselves and those around us, through showing up for our own lives as witnesses to the triumph of life over death. I had an email correspondence with someone last week who wrote: "I've been observing Lent mostly not through my easy, go-to piety but through dealing with difficult stuff." That sounds like a faithful discipleship to me. What does your discipleship look like?
Now it’s your limbs he longs to flow into.
* * *
Last week at the annual Holy Week mass for clergy to renew our vows, our Bishop began his sermon with this quote from the 1963 book Honest to God by John Robinson: The true radical is the one who continually subjects the Church to the judgment of the Kingdom, to the claims of God in the increasingly non-religious world which the Church exists to serve. The true radical continually subjects the Church to the judgment of the Kingdom.
Some months ago I had coffee with a new friend who said: “Wow, a Christian in Seattle….that’s downright revolutionary!” Or at least, I might hope, radical. Which all of you are, just for being here.
I’m guessing that some of you don’t usually go to church, or haven’t been for a long time, and that you might have good reasons for that. Others of you might have been here all week, tempted to set up a cot in the chapel or the office. Others of you are here from time to time and wouldn’t miss Easter Sunday for all the mimosas in the world. Some of you consider St. Paul’s home, even if you only get here once or twice a year, and we’re glad. We’re honored. Others of you walked through these doors for the very first time 30 minutes ago.
Easter Sunday is the perfect time to talk about true radicals subjecting the Church to the judgment of the Kingdom. I ask all of you: “how’re we doing?” Do you recognize the mandate of resurrection at work here? Are we witnessing? Do you see a bunch of people with Jesus flowing into our limbs? Do you recognize yourself being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world? I do. Then again, I am blessed with a particularly good view. I see a community—here, all of you—that loves to pray and sing, a community eagerly longing to be faithful to the resurrection mandate.
The mandate of resurrection brings with it, of course, an invitation. All we need to do is say “yes.” Come. Taste and see. Follow. Run. It’s our limbs he longs to flow into.
1 From Sinners Welcome (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006). Used with permission.