Easter Sermon: Holy Imagination

Holy Imagination

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

It seems appropriate that, each and every year, the timing of an event as mysterious as Easter depends on the cosmos itself. You need to look first for the vernal equinox, a sky-defined event, and then for the full moon, a dark-defined event. And the point of course – counter-intuitive as it might be – is that you need to look into the dark to find the light.  Dawn may be when weeping women and shaken men could not find the body of Jesus, but whatever happened to it, it happened in deepest darkness.

But t Jesus’ life had always been about rejoining darkness and light, hasn’t it? Twelve resurrection stories struggle to show us how this can be now.  No two are alike.  Some are about the absence of death.  Some are about seeing Jesus alive.  But the more there are, the more questions they raise.  Were these stories about actual events as we define actual? Were they visions?  Are visions delusions or are they our only way into some realities? Could all this be someone’s imagination? The church’s? Ours? Jesus’s?

What is imagination anyhow? The dictionary says it’s the ability to form new concepts or happenings not previously present to earthly senses. We’ve certainly noticed that Jesus always walked between the clarity of belief and the shadow world of imagination, pointing out that life is not defined by Caesar’s reign, Pilate’s grasp, or conventional pieties. What might we learn if we could know what his God-centered imagination taught him about life beyond life? What might he know about darkness that we can only guess? It takes a certain kind of imagination to look into the dark to find the light.

One thing we know about imagination is that it’s not available to senses of touch and feel, but it’s not delusion. Ask Walt Disney. Ask Jesus –  his scars are part of him now. So is his imagination, the only sign we have of his amazing ability to remain faithful even when his human life was ripped away. We’ve said over and over again this season that Jesus perceived God as radically alive and trusted his life and his hope to his perception of the overwhelming nature of that aliveness.

And now we come to see that’s the real focus of Easter: the coming together of completely different ways of being – God’s and ours. When Jesus chose to trust God to the end by choosing the wellbeing of others, he chose the way of the other, the path of ultimate commitment. Jesus’ way was God’s way. Jesus’ compassion was God’s compassion. Jesus’ life was taken into God’s eternal life.

But what of the rest of us? Luke says that the women who ran to the tomb saw what they saw and believed what they believed what they believed. But when they shared their conclusions with the apostles, the gospel says that Peter “ got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” What that means today is that the heart of the Christian story is a still place where the courage to go on is born of glimpses and yearnings and the need to see the linen strips for ourselves.

Luke did not try to speak the unspeakable. He did not tell us exactly how long ago or exactly how it was that Peter sensed the risen Christ. He told us instead, how to sense Christ for ourselves. Go, Luke tells of the angel saying, go to your own Galilee and try to live as Jesus did. There’s still more to life than our take on Caesar’s reign, Pilate’s grasp, or conventional pieties. Try for yourself and then you will know that the story has no end – for Christ has gone ahead of us. Christ is risen. Alleluia.

Let us pray: God of all creation, you are the one un-confined by our definitions. You are light from past the galaxies, love without a farther shore. We are so small and so very grateful for a glimpse into the mystery of our presence in our world – for our own sense of Christ’s compassion and integrity and resurrection.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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