A sermon for Easter morning at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio
No one really knows what happened inside that tomb between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning. There are people who think they know. They’ve written whole books about it. But no one was there. No one really knows.
The soldiers at the cross knew that Jesus had died. They made sure of it.
Joseph and Nicodemus, his friends, and Mary, his mother, wrapped his body in linen cloths, just as Mary had wrapped him in swaddling cloths when he was newly born. They laid him into that tomb, a cave really, hacked out of the rock; they laid his body down as gently as Mary placing her baby in a manger for his bed.
Then, they rolled a large, heavy rock across the mouth of the cave, sealing it shut. No daylight could get in, no sound could get out, and there was no way for anyone to know what was happening between Friday afternoon, and early Sunday morning, when the women came back for Jesus’ body.
At least, that’s nearly true. But this tomb was a cave, remember? And what lives in caves?
She was a bat, and her name is impossible for humans to pronounce, because we can’t do bat noises any more than bats can do human speech. But roughly translated, her name was Adaiah.
Adaiah was sleeping in the shadows when the men came with the body in a shroud. She heard the women weeping outside. She watched the men wipe away their own tears before they went back to face the weeping women. She panicked, as suddenly a great stone was rolled across the doorway, and she was sealed into the tomb with a stranger, and more importantly, nothing to eat!
It was nearly twilight, the time of day when Adaiah would expect to wake and stretch her little batty wings, swoop out of the cave and almost immediately stumble across a nice cloud of midges, perfect for a light breakfast, like a jolt of coffee to her little bat body.
Instead, she was trapped, and she was hungry. She looked at the shrouded body, and said, “So now what?”
No one knows what answer Adaiah heard, although some people have written whole books about it. But they don’t speak bat language, and Adaiah couldn’t speak human, so I don’t know why they thought they could speak for her.
At any rate, very early on Easter Sunday morning, when Adaiah should have been about dying of hunger, instead, when the stone rolled away and the light let in, the little bat flew out in great excitement. She saw the women coming back for Jesus’ body, and she swooped and hollered at them, “He’s alive! He’s alive!” But they couldn’t hear her. They would have to find out for themselves.
All of the other bats had gone back to bed for the morning, so Adaiah told the birds, and you know what birds are like, they told everyone – and Adaiah told a small fly, who was so surprised that she didn’t just eat him that he described it as a miracle.
When Adaiah returned to the tomb, her cave, the man was gone. The angel who had stopped by to pass on the message that Jesus was alive, he was gone. The women he told were gone, and all that was left was a linen cloth. Adaiah snuggled into its folds, remembering those wonderful three days when she had witnessed the deepest mystery of God, and dreaming of glory.
Actually, I think that the only people who do know what happened during those long hours between Friday night and Sunday morning are those who have been to the tomb with Jesus.
The people who have been locked away from the light for what feels like eternity, by circumstance, by illness, by depression.
The people who have laid a child to rest, wrapping her as though in swaddling clothes, kissing her goodnight.
The people who have been harrowed by life, who have found themselves in hell. They are the ones who know what happened in that tomb.
We live in difficult times, when terror and strife tear up the Holy Lands and our own relations. So did Jesus.
We are shocked and numbed by violence, visited on the innocent, borne by Jesus.
We live in a divided nation, a divided world; so did Jesus.
We are trapped in our racism, Romans still crucifying those who are not citizens of the supreme empire, let those with ears understand. We who live by the gun are dying by it, as Jesus predicted in the garden. We who will not love one another, love God’s grace above ourselves, are scattered in the imaginations of our own hearts.
We live with fear, we live with faith. So did the disciples of Jesus.
The promise of the empty tomb does not stand alone. It is the answer to the question that the sealed tomb poses: what happened? How could he die? Where is God now?
The empty tomb assures us, he is risen. And where will we find our resurrection?
We find it in the voices of our children, shrill, demanding, and close to the kingdom of heaven. We find resurrection in the faith of the dying, in the resolute announcement of alleluias at the graveside. We find resurrection here, in the bread and the wine, the Word and the sacrament.
Sometimes, like the women coming to the tomb in the early morning darkness, we are so fixated on the rock in our way that we are hardly able to grasp that resurrection has, indeed, happened. We are so certain that it could never happen to us, for us, on our watch that we are speechless. We are so frightened that no one will believe us that we hide the good news even from ourselves.
But as our preacher at last night’s Vigil reminded us, God does not depend upon us for resurrection. Whether we notice it, whether we are ready for it, whether we expect it, even whether or not we believe it, Christ is risen.
If we live in the light, we will find him in his glory. If we are sealed in the tomb, we will find that in the darkness, resurrection is already beginning, and he will wait with us until we are ready to roll back the stone of grief and leave our own grave clothes behind.
It may cost us our denial, our despair, but resurrection is always already waiting.
Wherever we seek him, Christ is to be found, because he is alive. The promise of Easter is that wherever we find ourselves, Christ is already resurrected and expecting us. He has gone ahead of us to enlighten the way of life. There is nowhere, and no one, who is beyond the reach of his mercy, his love, his wounded and whole heart.
May each of us find the resurrection that we need this Easter, and rejoice in the mystery of the Risen Christ.