Sunday April 28, 2019
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Moretz
Were there no graves in Galilee?
We meet the Israelites at a time of deep dread. Technically, they are free. As a great mass of men, women, children, animals and carts, with Moses leading them, they have made their way beyond the land of Egypt. But, they are as far as they can go, for now, having set up camp by the sea. Pharaoh has had second thoughts about allowing his slaves to leave Egypt. They know this because, on the horizon behind them, they can see the great cloud of dust kicked up by all of the horses and chariots of Pharaoh’s armies. They are coming. And they are coming to get them, alive or dead. And so they are trapped. With nothing to do but wait by sea and lament losing the freedom they had barely tasted. Not only to lament, but to rage. Certain Israelites go to their failing leader, “What have you done, Moses? Were there no graves in Egypt? Is that why you have brought us out here to die in the wilderness? Tell us, Moses, were the graveyards full? Because this is the only reason we can think of that you would have done this to us! Thank you for being so considerate to have given us this fine Promised Land to be our open-air tomb.” The blackest of humor in a dreadful time.
I wonder if the disciples made the same kind of dark jokes in their time of dread, when they were in hiding in the Upper Room after Jesus’ killing, in fear of their own people to do the same to them, afraid to risk going to the tomb to pay their respects, but even worse, they were afraid to go out of the door, to show their face on the streets, and reasonably so. It must have been the case that they feared that another disciple or associate would betray them, another weak soul who would find a bag of silver too alluring in the face of their own cross. Along with the grief, their fellowship being corroded by fear, exhaustion, suspicion, and perhaps even black humor? “What have you gotten us into, Peter? Were there no graves in Galilee?”
Perhaps, what kept their band of disciples hopeful, what kept them sane, was remembering the words that our Lord had said to them the night before he was killed. “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” He told them so often not to be afraid. Fear is not so easy that it can be commanded out of us, but it's a start. That encouragement is a start.
What did he tell them in those final discourses that Passover night? He told them there was room enough for all of them in His Father’s house, even for Peter who would deny him three times before the cock crew. And by the same token of grace, room for those who also failed him by fleeing from Jesus’ side when the soldiers came. He also told him that he would die, that like bread he would be broken, but he makes clear that his death is not the end. There’s so much more to come. He said that he would make a place for them in his Father’s house, that he would go ahead to that Other Place, like a bold scout in the wilderness who rushes ahead to give word to the oasis to make provision for the great caravan that is coming. He is not primarily concerned with their failures that are coming, their betrayals. He is driven by love to prepare a place for them, and also to prepare a place for us. And not only to prepare a place for us, but to prepare a Way for us to get there. He is not just the scout; he is our leader and guide. For just as he goes ahead to make preparation for the next stop on our spiritual journey, he returns to us to give word that the resting-place is prepared, and lead us ever forward in confidence. That resting-place is, indeed, fellowship with the Lord, more full than before, as he says “that where I am ye also may be.”
This is how Christ served and continues to serve us so well. Like Moses’ heavenly gesture over the Red Sea, Jesus’ love forged a path through a place we thought was impassible. We thought that sin and death would overcome everything. And yet, in Christ, we witness the contrary. Through the black sea of death, like a new Moses, his loving life and loving death split the dark waters in two, lifting them up on either side, exposing the sea floor. Not only has he prepared the place for us ahead, he has forged a way for us to get there. But instead of a prophet’s staff, Jesus has a different sort of wood to offer, the wood of the Cross. And if we make our way down into the deep, with the dark waters looming on either side, we find planks of that hard wood have been mystically multiplied and laid down side by side on the muddy sea floor, the stones from his empty tomb are there, as well, “by his tomb, Christ makes room,” signs of his death, signs of his rising, that provide our caravan a firm path through the deathwater to the promised land on the other side.
The Church has given us fifty whole days to reckon with the meaning of Easter. And it is still not enough. Easter is not just about Jesus coming back, it is about all of us and the path we are taking together, a path established by him. It is about Jesus going ahead into the total darkness of this world, and the total darkness of death, not being extinguish, far from it, coming back, and then leading us with his eternal light to the place prepared for us, the True Place.
The Resurrection was a dynamic time. We are told that Jesus appeared to the disciples multiple times, appearing, disappearing, and reappearing; also in several places: at the tomb, at the Upper Room, at the beach of the sea of Galilee, on the road and at the table in Emmaus. It is as if Christ is phasing in and out of presence. In heaven with God, in earth with us, going back and forth, like the angels on Jacob’s ladder, until that pathway is secure for us and made vivid by his visible ascent into heaven, and the visible descent of His Spirit upon the Church and the world, such that it is revealed that there is something like an eight-lane interstate of the Spirit connecting two great cities, it runs from earth to heaven and back, and also from Christ’s heart to our heart.
He who made everything through which the Way traverses, prepared that Way by going ahead, and then he came back to lead us, he gives us Holy Food and Drink, rations for our journey that are his full presence with us, and by his life, death, and resurrection, He has become the Highway itself. The Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This Eastertide, may we ever more follow the One who has made it back alive, the One who made us, the One upon whom we take our next steps, and the One who will evermore lead us to True Life with God, both now and in the age to come.