Sermon preached on Easter Day, March 31, 2013, at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Luke 24:1-12
Remember how he told you…
My last parish had started its life as a small country chapel built in the 1870’s for the local landowner and his tenant farmers. Surrounding the little chapel on three sides was about an acre’s worth of cemetery. The sight is quite common in that part of the country.
I have only visited my old parish twice since I have been here. Each time, I took a goodly amount of time to roam around the cemetery. Seeing the graves of people whom we had buried during my time there stirred my memory. As I was remembering faces and stories it occurred to me that I was not so much re-creating the past in my mind, but envisioning a future where we would all be together again, alive with the Lord of life.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the other women,” went to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid early on Sunday morning to give him a proper burial, which they had not been able to do because the Sabbath had begun soon after his death and they could do no work, especially since Joseph of Arimathea and the others who had buried Jesus had done so very quickly before anyone could interfere. How they thought they were going to get into the tomb is anybody’s guess, but they were obviously determined to be faithful.
We can imagine what they were feeling because we have all been there. In the cemetery, dazed, sad beyond description, stuck in the present moment of mourning or even despair. They do not, of course, find what they expected. The tomb was empty. They were terrified, as any of us would be at such an unbelievable sight.
Suddenly they were not alone, but “two men in dazzling clothes” stood with them. I always get distracted at this point in the story because I imagine these men as Liberace, or Ray Charles, Elvis, or Sammy Davis, Jr. Oh, why not?
I hear what they first say, these two dazzling men, as a kind of tease. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” If they weren’t so terrified the women might have answered them with a good slap across the face. But then comes the word that the whole story turns around, “Remember.” “Remember how he told you while you were still in Galilee…”
“Remember” is a powerful word. It means to recall, to bring back into the mind, something from the past. It literally means “to put back together again,” “re-member.” When I was walking around that cemetery in Maryland, I was putting back together people and stories with my life, re-building, re-constructing the past.
But to remember is not solely about re-creating the past. At least that is not the case in the Bible. Remembering biblically is not about reenacting. It is not nostalgia for a former time. Then what it is? It turns out it is not about the past at all. At least it is not about the past for the sake of the past. It is, rather, about the past for the sake of the future. “Putting things back together,” as I experienced in that cemetery, is about being propelled into a future.
That’s what we do here each Sunday. We “remember the future,” to put it in a very odd sounding shorthand. We take bread and a cup of wine to keep the memory of Jesus, but the effect of remembering is to create a bit more of the future. This keeps us moving forward without leaving anything behind.
We do not always do this very well. We are often better at forgetting than remembering. In fact, in our hyper-technological world, we cannot remember. We are, for instance, bombarded by e-mail and text messages that barely contain whole thoughts and cannot possibly be remembered. And if they cannot be remembered, they cannot help us build a future, and so we remain stuck as children of the present moment, a moment because it lacks a remembered past and an envisioned future, opens us up to self-absorption, greed and an apathetic lack of compassion. Perhaps our greatest sins in this day and age are apathy and amnesia.
I remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu once saying to a gathering of Americans, “You Westerners are very good at taking things apart. You are so good at breaking things down and analyzing. It has been such a gift to the world! But you are not so good at putting things back together. You are not so good at re-membering the whole. You need us Africans for that.”
This is why it is so vitally important that we continue to do this thing that Jesus left us to do, because it helps us to do survive and thrive as liberated people. Here we put things back together. We re-member, and in doing so we envision and even create a future and in doing so we transform the present, in that great act we celebrate today, resurrection.
Just one example of how this works for us. At the end of the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, leading into the Sanctus, the presider says,
Therefore we praise you joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:
Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and, beholding the glory of your presence, they offer you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name as we sing:
The singing of “Holy, holy, holy,” is a moment when time collapses. We are re-membering the past. We are en-visioning the future. We are transforming the present. It is, as we sing, glorious.
I submit to you that the collapsing of time that we create around this table is a powerful source of healing, liberation, forgiveness, redemption, and hope. It redeems a past that liberates a future that produces healing in the present so that we might be people of hope, justice, and love in a world that is too often stuck in Good Friday.
I am going to invite you to do something this morning, and all the rest of the Sundays of Easter. I am going to pause in that sentence before the Sanctus and I want you to name, aloud if you are able, those who have been part of your story and whom you know to be present around this Table with us. Just shout them all out together to give us a sense of how we are putting back together the beloved community so that we might sing our way into the future with them, with no one, no thing lost.
Let past and future collapse in this moment and empower us with courage and strength and perseverance and all that we need to be the people in the world that God intends us to be.
Remembering ends up being perhaps the most important tool for practicing resurrection.