I' m sorry that we won' t be having any sheep this morning. Just us, and I' m so glad to see you all.
We' ve just heard Stuart read the story of the original Easter morning, when Jesus' dear friend Mary of Magdala, and another friend named Mary, went to his tomb where they had the sad task of burying him. That was woman' s work back in the ancient times. But, as you know, they found the tomb empty, and an angel announcing that Jesus was alive. The best way to describe their reaction in today' s language, children, would be to say that they "totally freaked out" and ran to tell the other followers of Jesus, or the disciples.
Now, it doesn' t say this in the gospel of Matthew, but it does say it in several other versions of the same story that the other disciples thought that the women who came running to them with this news were absolutely crazy. They didn' t believe them at all. I suppose they figured that the women were suffering from being over-tired and they had cried so much their eyes were playing tricks on them. They brushed the women off. The gospel of Luke says, "These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."
It wasn' t until the other disciples experienced the living presence of Jesus themselves that they were able to enter into this miracle and believe.
And that' s really how miracles work
One person may experience something tremendous, life-changing, even seemingly supernatural, but it' s when a community of people hears the story and chooses to enter into it with full faith that a miracle occurs.
I bet some people here today are experiencing the miracle of resurrection in their own lives. In fact, I know they are. The rest of us can share their joy and when we do, some of that resurrection rubs off on us. I know, and you do too, that it' s one thing to have a wonderful blessing happen in your life, but when you bring it to your community, it can take on miraculous proportions.
Maybe a baby is born. The parents hold that baby and they think, my god, this is beyond belief! We have made ourselves a baby, or we have got ourselves our very own baby! But when they bring that baby to the community, the community knows that this is more than just their baby; this is a new person who needs to be loved and nurtured and urged into being a good member of the human race. Everyone who sees that baby sits up a little taller in their seat, feeling the responsibility of making a good example for that child, thinking about what they have to teach him or her, what values they will pass on to him or her. When this happens, a very personal miracle becomes everyone' s miracle.
Maybe someone get news from the doctor that their latest tests show no signs of a disease they' ve been struggling with for a long time. It' s amazing, they sit in wonder and awe that this could have happened. They are so grateful. Then they bring this news to the community, and others who care about them feel the joy and wonder with them. Everyone who hears the news has their heart opened in relief and gratitude. Their news isn' t so personal any more, it' s everyone' s miracle.
Or maybe the news from the doctor isn' t good. Someone is going to be facing a very difficult time, health-wise. They are worried. They bring that worry to the community and everyone who hears it puts that person in their heart, holds them there, worries with them, thinks about ways they can share their strength with that person. Some do it silently, with prayers or loving thoughts, and some do it out loud and in tangible ways. They write cards or they bring soup or they make a phone call or they give backrubs. Either way, that person' s spirit gathers all this in, and they have moments where they just know they can endure whatever comes. They know that they are not alone and they are not forsaken. There is a Spirit of Life and Love that is with them even as they lie in the hospital bed recovering from surgery, or enduring some other painful trial. How do they know they are not alone and not forsaken? They know it because they' re a part of a community, and because they are, their own body is just a smaller part of one bigger body. That' s a miracle, too. We just don' t think of it that way, because we' re the ones who make it happen.
The Bible is full of ancient stories about God making miracles happen. Some of them are quiet miracles that happen to one person, and some of them are big Cecil B. DeMille productions like the parting of the Red Sea, where a whole community of people experience the miracle together. The thing is, though, even those little miracles that occur to just one person always and I mean always have an impact on a community of people. If the miracle is, for instance, God speaking to one person, that you can bet that that one person is going to go on to be a great leader of a larger group of people. If the miracle is one woman praying for a baby late in life, and getting pregnant, that child is going to be a real gift to humanity. That' s how it works in the Bible, and I think I' ve finally figured something out about miracles, something that the Bible means to teach, and it' s this: the miraculous thing isn' t God doing some big supernatural magic trick. The miraculous thing is how a community of people changes for the better because of something that happens to all of them together. A miracle is something that cracks us open so more love can get in.
A second-grade boy once asked me a great question. He said, "If Jesus came back to life, why didn' t he stay alive and be with his friends?" I said, "That is an excellent question. I think the story goes that way because Jesus didn' t need to be the star anymore. He had given all of that wise advice about how to care for one another because God wants us to love each other the way that God loves each of us. And Jesus wanted us to get going on doing that together without relying on him. He said, when you are good and loving people and you care for and heal with, and share with, one another, I will be there. Don' t worry about it. I will be there. ' " My second grade friend asked me if I believed that was true. I said I definitely did. He said, do you see him? And I said, I do. I see him all the time. I see him in the people in our church, doing the work of love even when it' s hard. I see him in you, asking these wonderful questions about important things.
My mother and I went a few years ago to the American Bible Society in New York City a few years ago to see an exhibit of art based on Biblical themes. It was one of the best exhibits I' ve ever been to. There was art by artists all over the world, and my Mom and I split up for awhile to look around.
When I went to find her, I found my mother looking at a painting that showed a barrio scene, maybe Spanish Harlem or the Bronx. The painting showed the aftermath of a gang fight, and one man lay in the street, bleeding and dying of a gunshot wound. Other guys stood around looking tough and upset, and a woman was weeping. But there in the painting, Jesus was down on the ground holding the dying man in his arms, and grieving him. I know it might sound a little corny, but it wasn' t at all. It was really beautiful and very sad. And I saw that my Mother had tears in her eyes. We stood together and she said, "I never imagined Jesus like that." "What," I said, "You mean in New York City in the middle of a street fight? Really? Where else would he be?" And she said, "Yes. I never thought of him like that, right down in the street with the people."
I said, "Ma, honest to God, what did they teach you in Sunday School? Jesus was never anywhere BUT in the street with the people!" I suppose she had always thought of him all holy and pure in a white robe, preaching on the mountaintops or sitting around in heaven.
Jesus was a man of the people. I think Jesus was THE man of the people. He was a man of the people and he' s not here anymore. Like any other enlightened teacher of a spiritual path, he gave his insights to a community despite the frustrations of trying to do so and he hoped that they would be practiced by a community. Like any other community, we can argue about who the teacher was, or we can practice the teachings.
I remember the brouhaha when the National Catholic Reporter held a competition for Jesus 2000 ("How do you envision Jesus for the new millennium?" said the call to artists) and the winning image was artist Janet MacKenzie' s beautiful depiction of a Jesus for our times: a black man or was it a woman? hard to tell dressed in a traveling robe and wearing a simple crown of twisted twigs and a fairly weary, knowing gaze. The portrait had a pink background, and also featured in the painting was the image of a feather (maybe an American Indian reference, I' m not sure) and a kind of yin yang symbol, representing balance and harmony, and the Eastern wisdom tradition. Some folks had fits. They hated the pink, they hated the feather and the yin yang symbol. They hated the earthiness of the Jesus, they hated that he was so feminized, or non-gendered (in fact, Janet MacKenzie had used a woman as her model).
These outraged traditionalists wanted one of those idealized, white European Jesus' with the Breck Girl hair and a tasteful halo. They didn' t want this regular person Jesus. It was a huge controversy. I loved it.
The story Stuart told us earlier is so right: the messiah is one of you. If we can hear that and take that in, how much that can change us! What a miracle that would be, to live every day as though the messiah was one of us. It could be you. It could be your irritating neighbor or co-worker. It could be your child. It could be your mother-in-law. What if we treated one another as if one of us was the most blessed and holy person this broken world was waiting for? What would our communities look like? Our nations? Our planet?
Here is another story, also told by my friend Carl Scovel (Never Far From Home: Stories From the Radio Pulpit).
You remember that El Salvador was a nation on the verge of civil war in 1980. This is a story of one of the major events of that time.
On March 24, in 1980, the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, was celebrating mass in the small Chapel of Divine Providence attached to a small hospital. He had just finished reading the Words of the Institution: This is my body, which will be given for you ' when a man waiting in the back of the church shot and killed him. Those were terribly dangerous times. He knew he might be assassinated. But Bishop Romero believed in resurrection. He believed in the miracle of community. He said, "If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people."
At that time of his death, there was a traditional crucifix hanging in the Chapel of Divine Providence where he said his last mass. It was a carved figure of Jesus with a crown of thorns. But at some point after Romero died, the crucifix was taken down. In its place the nuns in the hospital put up a cross, and at the intersection of the crossbar and the vertical, they set in a frame of golden rays flaming out from the center, where we usually see the figure of Jesus, a mirror.
When the people saw the cross and reflected on the triumph of love over violence, they didn'
t see Jesus. They saw themselves.
A miracle doesn' t have to be a big supernatural production to be a true miracle. A true miracle is something that cracks us open so that more love can get in. A miracle happens when a community of people hears the sacred, ancient call to love our God with all our hearts and souls, all our minds and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and chooses to enter into that sacred story with full faith, letting it change them for the better.
You want to know how God works the greatest miracles? (Hold up mirror to the congregation)
It has never been any other way.
My friends, believe me when I tell you that truly, you are the resurrection and the life. Take that good news with you. Believe it, share it, and live it, today and all the days of your lives. Happy Easter, alleluia, and amen!