Easter B

Barbara Thrall

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.  In the name of the Risen Christ.  Amen.

Well, once again, Happy Easter to all of you, and welcome to those who are visiting.  It is so wonderful to be together on this beautiful, happy morning. It was on an Easter Sunday some years ago that I sat beside a person who was new to the church, someone who was visiting.  We began with the Easter acclamation we just said, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.”  I said the first line and expected her to respond.  She turned and looked at me and after I said, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen”, she said, “I know, that’s why I’m here.”  Yes, that’s why we’re here.

Since I began serving with you last September I’ve been driving on the weekdays from my home in South Hadley through the back roads of Granby, Ludlow and down the main street of Wilbraham to the church.  It’s a lovely drive, with a lot to see, as I have watched the progress of at least four houses being built from the ground up over this past winter.  From the foundations to the framing, the roofs and then the plywood and the Tyvek, all of it progressed.  The windows and doors were installed, and now, gradually, the siding is being applied.   But there’s something waiting.  I guess the workers are still laboring inside and need access, so at every house the garage doors are gaping wide open, allowing the workers to go in and out at ground level with their materials.  When they leave for the day they cover the garage doors with sheets of plastic that flap in the wind and make things look unfinished and waiting. Those flapping openings got me thinking about doors.

Of course we’ve all seen them, we all use them, and I expect they don’t faze us much.  Doors are boundaries, barriers, passageways from one place to another.  Darkness to light, warm to cold, silent to noisy, big to small, small to big.  Doors, at least before the one-way directions of COVID mandates, doors allow us to go both in and out, to place things, including ourselves, inside and leave them there, and to go out through them later to do whatever else we have to do in our day. The thing about a door is that when it is closed, you can’t see beyond it, so when it’s opened, there might be a surprise on the other side.  (Marge Piercy)

The two Marys and Salome in Jerusalem long ago knew about doors.  They had been there when the stone, the door to the cave had been rolled into place, sealing Jesus’ body from any more trouble.  They had wondered how in the world they were going to move that stone away in order to honor the body of their beloved friend in death.  They knew all about going through a door into a place, putting something down, closing that door and expecting to come back later and find things as they’d been left. In this instance, they were not in any way expecting that something would come out of that door.

Perhaps that was why they were so surprised and terrified by what God had done.  St. Mark’s gospel in its original form closes with this odd ending, with the women being deeply unsettled and terrified, and not saying anything to anyone.  As Mark tells the story, this makes a lot of sense.  The shock of Jesus’s body being missing, and then the encounter with the Man/Angel, were just not part of the women’s agenda.  But they were part of God’s agenda.

This past year, we have been at home mostly, behind closed doors, keeping ourselves in when we can, and for a long time now, keeping others out.  Most of us, if we didn’t have to, have not ventured far from home, and have had to be satisfied with what we can watch on our TV or computer, what we can cook, bake or read, knit or clean.  We have been locked away and now, with the arrival of spring and the efficacy and availability of the vaccines, we find we can step outside without so much fear and trembling.  It’s a good feeling, isn’t it, to be able to move about more freely, and to know that this part of life, the way it is “supposed” to be, is within our grasp?

Yes, it feels as though one door might be closing and another one opening making for our going in, and going out, and this is what God brings to us in the miracle of Easter.  It’s a demonstration that we have a God who is all about life and liberation, whose relentless pursuit of us leads to this magnificent gift of Christ’s resurrection.  The power of it, the truth of it, are almost overwhelming, as the women found on that first Easter morning.  Jesus had gone through one door as a dead man and came out of it, as he had promised more than once, a risen Savior.

Several years ago my sister and her congregation sponsored a family that came to the Chicago area after living in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe for 10 years.  The mom and dad and their four girls suddenly had a crash course in Western life and culture.  The members of the congregation found them an apartment, furnished it and then went about the tasks of acclimating them to living there.  “Here’s how the stove works.  Here’s the way you control the heat.  Take care with the hot water spigot.  And here are the keys to your home”, my sister said.  The parents looked at the keys in their hands and wondered aloud, “What are these for?”  Nancy said, “Well, when you go inside you close the door and lock it, and when you go out you lock it again.  You’ll need the keys to help you get back inside.”  For all those 10 years they had been living in a tent that didn’t have doors, so who needed keys?

What the women at the tomb learned was that the door that had sealed Jesus in, had no lock on it.  They and everyone else thought the tomb was a permanent resting place.  God’s love was the key that opened that stone door, releasing the power of the living God to change the world.  It instantly became very clear that more powerful forces were at work, making life where there had been only death and despair, bringing light where there had been only darkness, bringing joy out of terror and bewilderment. The door God made was like the tarps on the garage doors at construction sites across the land – moveable, flexible, permeable.  The stone was never meant to keep Jesus locked away, and his entombment was never meant to keep us locked away either.

For us on this Easter Sunday, we are beholding the continual ebb and flow of God’s loving, saving action in Christ.  God’s goal, our goal in Christ’s coming to us at all, was that he might enter into our lives, come into our hearts, make a home and live here with us, knowing and experiencing what we face with each new day, and feeling along with us what might delight us with each passing moment.  Throughout our lives we are counseled by faith to keep the doors of our hearts open to what God’s Spirit might be trying to do in and through us.  Jesus has made an interior journey and he lives inside each of us in the word, in the sacraments and in the prayers.  This is a beautiful thing.

And then, through this Easter victory, God asks that we open the doors to our hearts and let the risen Christ that is within us go free, escape, if you will.  As we prayed it the Maundy Thursday service, this is the God of liberation whose purpose is to save us from oppression and degradation, from slavery to sin and death. Let Him go free to grace the world, release him to bring joy, allow him to go free to make life where there was despair, to brighten our darkest times. Yes, when we open the door to the possibility of God’s life in us and move through it, God is there to meet us in new and astounding ways through the power of the resurrection, bringing us and God’s goodness to the world.

And so this beautiful Easter day, let us step out into the sunshine (or the overcast, it doesn’t matter) and know that Jesus lives, and because of that, so do we.  That’s why we’re here.  May we rejoice in the power of Christ to open every door that contains us.  May He welcome us into a new life of freedom in God’s redeeming love. Alleluia! Amen.

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