Listen to the sermon HERE.
Listen to the entire Choral Eucharist from Easter Day HERE.
If you’re ever in downtown Los Angeles, you should visit the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The building opened in 2002 and sometimes gets mixed reviews: it’s contemporary and cavernous, with a beige outside that hints at the California missions of the 18th century. Once inside, the worship space can seem overwhelming. But then your eyes notice the walls. There, all around, covering the walls, are people. Black, white, tan and red, old and young. As if holding up the walls themselves, as if holding in their hands the prayers and hopes and sorrows and joys of the faithful— surrounding this huge space are tapestries of the Communion of Saints. Saints contemporary and ancient. But they look familiar. And they look real.
Part of the reason they look so real is that the artist John Nava used the people of his hometown Ojai as models for the saints. They are people like you and me. The person around the corner becomes envisioned as Augustine. The lady who delivers the mail becomes Teresa of Avila. Ambrose is the grocer. The waitress at the restaurant becomes Catherine of Siena. The model for the 3rd century martyr Perpetua, was one of his son’s classmates.
I love that the artist used ordinary people. He didn’t pick wealthy donors, or the best looking, or the smartest, or the one with the most connections. The tapestries in the Cathedral make an enormous point: God shines brightest through ordinary people. And God does this all the time.
Over and over, in scripture, in history, and in our lives, God shows up in what might seem like the least likely person, in the most unlikely of places. As we’re reminded by the Holy Trinity icon in the Memorial Chapel, God shows up to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three strangers. In the Hebrew scriptures, God shows up to Jacob in a wrestling match of a dream. In the Book of Esther, God shows up in the words and acts of Queen Esther, Mordecai, and even a Persian King. The stories of Jesus tell us how God shows up in Bethlehem, in the carpenter’s shop, and in dusty Palestinian villages. God is in the garden. God is on the cross. God shows up as a wanderer on the road to Emmaus. And God shows up at a fish fry on the beach that first Easter morning.
When has God shown up for you? Was it in someone you knew, or a total stranger? Was it through a book, or a movie, a piece of music, or a sudden insight? Did it happen in church, or at work, or at the beach? Was it like with Mary Magdalene, when God showed up in a garden?
That Easter morning, Jesus shows up as a gardener for at least two reasons, I think. The first is to remind us to be on the lookout for him. God is often disguised in our world, but with eyes of faith, we can see and rejoice and be a part of the continued resurrection of his love.
But there’s a second reason why Jesus appears as a gardener: It’s because sometimes WE are called to appear as Jesus, to be his hands and feet and mouth in the world. We’re called to speak up for those who have lost their voice or had their voice taken from them. We’re called to reach out and help heal. We’re called to grow and cook food, and to help feed the hungry, to build and provide in order to house the homeless.
Symeon (the New Theologian), a tenth century mystic, puts this beautifully as he writes
We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body
where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,
and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
And so, this Easter and always: Keep your eye out for the gardener. Or the boiler room man, or the taxi driver, the nurse, the waiter, the politician, real estate agent, teacher, or kid playing soccer. And in the midst of serving others, be sure and check in the mirror some time.
And let us live aware and ready, that Christ may shine through us to bring light more fully into the world.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.