Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 16, 2021
Today we revisit the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Many of the familiar characters reappear. Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, the mother of Joses, Mary the mother of James and Salome. Except for Pilate of course, the faithful and courageous followers of Jesus.
Courage does not mean the absence of fear. Fear is very often the fuel for courage, the reason it is needed in the first place. Joseph risked his life asking Pilate for the Lord’s body. The Myrrh-bearing Women took off into the unknown. What would they find at the tomb? Would they be stopped by soldiers? Who would roll away the stone from the tomb so they could anoint him?
Remember, at this moment none of them knew about the Resurrection. To them, Jesus was dead and gone. Crucified by Rome and forsaken by the majority of the disciples. They went to anoint a corpse with ointment that would dry out his body and fulfil the traditions of Judaism.
They had faith, but in what? Only that they would be able to care for him in death as they did for him in life. Surely little comfort, but love incited them and love “believes al things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails.” They still loved him and in spite of their sorrow and fear and hopelessness they set out on their thankless task.
I’m sure you have all heard the Zen saying, “Leap and the net will appear.” Faith is like that. Thomas did that last week, but really, do you think any of the Lord’s followers in that Upper Room were not in doubt to some degree. Only Thomas had the courage to say it out loud. The Myrrh-bearing Women took a giant leap and discovered a mystery beyond their imaginations. Only they had the courage to venture out that morning.
An Angel greeted them who greeted them with the Paschal Greeting, “He is Risen” and gave them a simple instruction, “Go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Mark’s words tell an all-to-human tale, “Trembling and astonishment had come upon them” and because of their shock they did not do as the Angel had said. They fled and said nothing to anyone.
The radical message of the Resurrection that so shocked the Women has faded for us. It is not really possible to put ourselves back in time and experience the world-shattering mystery as they did. We accept it as good Orthodox Christians should and yet does the news cause us to tremble? Does it provide the impetus for us to become true disciples, to love as he loved, to die for others as he did? To stand in wonder at the Omnipresence of the Almighty in all things?
In our insane era the opportunities for us to rise and stand for the truth, for goodness, tolerance and justice are many. We must all decide how and where to make our stand. As Christians we cannot allow our hearts and minds to be dragged into the gutter and polluted with hatred towards anyone, any race, any gender, any orientation, any religion or anything else.
Here is a list of things I pray about that concern me. You may not like my list or agree with it and I recommend that you make your own list. Of course, you can make your own list. I pray for the suffering people of Palestine and for the innocents who are dying in this conflict. I pray that the hearts and minds of Israelis will at last come to see how their treatment of the Palestinians has spawned such terrible suffering. I pray for Tibet. I pray for Christians everywhere, in Egypt, in Eritrea, in China, in Africa and in ideologically radical countries where persecution and martyrdom has become a way of life. I pray for women everywhere. They have suffered discrimination for the whole of human history. I pray for all who are suffering from poverty and disease, for India and everywhere that COVID is rampant. I pray for all the communities of color in our nation and for Native Americans and, yes, for the LGBTQ community who want only equality and to live a good life free from fear and recrimination. I pray for the Armenian people whose genocide has finally been recognized by our country 200 years too late. I pray for our country. I am deeply concerned about the darkness of hatred and ignorance rising from within our borders. Please pray for one another that should the time come, we will stand together and oppose the evil that threatens to overwhelm good people everywhere with the Light of the Resurrection burning in our hearts.
If our faith does not result in righteous, compassionate and courageous action, we cannot possibly say we have understood the message of Christ, his life, his Crucifixion and his Resurrection. We must not let trembling and astonishment drive us into lethargy, for the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
Christ is Risen!