Easter Eve: Looking into Jesus

empty tomb

Listen to the sermon HERE.

In the middle of Rome, at the top of the Aventine Hill, near the Benedictine Monastery of San Anselmo, you will find a strange sight.  No matter what time of day, there will probably be a bunch of people, formed in a line perpendicular to a large green door.  At first, it seems like people are waiting to get into an event, but if you watch, you’ll notice that each person is actually taking a turn at looking through a tiny hole.  It’s a keyhole, and it’s in a gate that leads to a garden and property belonging to the Knights of Malta.  But what’s interesting about the keyhole (and why people line up to look through) is that if you look through it, framed perfectly in the distance is the dome of the Vatican.

In Rome, this “Papal Peephole” draws lots of people.  But I bet you anything, that if we were to build a wall on 88th Street and put a small peephole in it, people would also line up to look in.  There’s just something about “looking in,” that is a part of human nature.  We want to look in, to look deeper, to see more.  And this yearning to look in and see more is at the heart of tonight’s Easter Gospel.

In the Reading from Luke for this evening, the friends and family of Jesus go to the tomb.  They need to see.  They are prepared to look through a crack in the door or a gap in the stones.  They expect to have to deal with the guards and ask that the stone be moved away so they can tend to the body of Jesus.  They probably expect to see a body that is bloodied and beaten.  But they go out of care for Jesus, out of caring love for Jesus.  They find they don’t need to look through a crevice—the stone has been moved.  Strange-looking men ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  These men seem even stranger when they say, “He is not here, but has risen.”

The women are amazed and go and tell the other disciples.  It’s all too wild to believe, too good to believe.  But eventually, the male disciples decide to see what the women are talking about.  Peter runs to the tomb.  And Peter looks in.  They all look in.

Entering the tomb, they find it empty.  But it’s a different kind of emptiness than they imagined they would find.  They went expecting to look in and see death, sadness, despair, darkness, failure.  But when they look, they see the burial clothes Jesus had used.  They see emptiness, but it’s full of possibility, it radiates promise, it holds life, and in that “full emptiness,” those first disciples discover new life for themselves–because everything has changed.

There are various times in our lives when we approach a precipice or the edge of something, we lean out, and we look in.   Perhaps we shyly open the door and step into a new classroom.  Maybe we sneak a peek at the place that is about to be our new home.  At the beginning of life we peer into the window of the hospital room to see a newborn. We glace with hope at opportunities and challenges.  And at the end of a life, we look into the final resting place for the ones we have loved.  Probably, we look in pretty much knowing what to expect.  We look in, like those first disciples did.

But sometimes we get a surprise.

I’m reminded of a story told by the Rt. Rev. James Curry, the former Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Connecticut.  was here on Monday for the Way of the Cross that went through downtown Washington.  Bishop Curry tells a story about visiting the Diocese of Lebombo in Mozambique one year on Good Friday.

It seems that every year on Good Friday, the church in Maputo gathers for what they understand as the Burial of Christ.  A black casket is brought into the church, complete with pallbearers.  The pallbearers lift a lid off the casket and place it to the side.  The bishop leads prayers as the people affirm that Jesus is dead.  He is really dead and this is his funeral.

The congregation, then, is invited forward to pay respect.  And so, two by two, they are invited with the words, “Come and see the one who has died and will rise from the dead.”  Acolytes are standing along the side, and they offer flowers for people to place on the grave.

Two by two, the people make their way forward and walk by the open casket. Choirs sing as people move forward, pause at the casket, bow, and look upon “the one who has died and who will rise from the dead.”

Bishop Curry had watched this ceremony carefully, knowing that his turn would come, and he wanted to do just what everyone else was doing.  And so, he went forward, and took a flower to place on the casket.

He approaches what he understands to be a holy moment, he bows, and he looks in.  He looks, but there in the casket is a mirror and he sees his own face.  And he hears the words again, “See the one who has died and who will rise again.”   He is the one who has died and will rise from the dead.

We are the ones who, in baptism, have died, and are raised to new life in Christ.  We are the ones who die daily to sin, as we make good choices, as we repent and forgive, as we put one faithful foot in front of the other and walk with Christ into tomorrow, we rise from the dead.  We are the ones who, one day, will have died to this earthly place.  But because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we too will rise from the dead.

Easter is about looking in—looking into an empty tomb and finding it full of possibility.  Looking into our future—even the future of the grave—and seeing in it a blending of the image of Christ with our own image.

St. Paul reminds us that when we look at Christ, “…Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”  And then Paul tells us how to gaze, how to peer, how to keep looking, “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:12-13).

I hope that when one of the newly polished crosses passes by, you might catch a glimpse of your reflection. Or that you might see yourself reflected in a Communion Chalice, or catch your reflection in the wine (that is the Blood of Christ), blending with the Risen Christ.

My prayer for all of us is that this Easter we might be given the faith to look more deeply into the life of Christ, and find in it the fullness of our life, both here and hereafter.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

 

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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