©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Isaiah 25:6-9; Ps. 118: 1,2; 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8
On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it! AMEN!
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
Holy Monday, I got a call from a nurse friend, out of the blue, asking whether I might come bring communion to someone in the hematology/oncology unit at Boston Medical Center, out at the other end of Massachusetts Ave. The patient was awaiting a test that would determine if, as all the staff attending him thought, he was nearing the end of his life. He was Roman Catholic and had had last rites from a priest, but he was asking for communion and no one was available from the Roman Catholic Church to bring it.
My nurse friend knew I was Episcopalian but he had an instinct that I might be acceptable to this very faithful lifelong Roman Catholic, so he offered my services, diffidently, checking to make sure that a woman Episcopal priest might be an acceptable substitute for a Roman Catholic. The patient was happy to have communion from anyone who would bring it.
So I arrived, communion kit in hand, to meet this complete stranger, thin to the point of translucency, and translucent too to the light of grace, shining in his kindly face, nearing – if not AT the end of his life – awaiting me in an examination room with his partner of 30 years, both of them so eager to be held in the bonds of the Eucharist. Hospital staff, who had been attending this man for more than fifteen years as he combated the blood cancer that was finally getting the upper hand, clustered into the tiny room to share in the communion.
What we did together in that sunlit room was very simple indeed. We prayed the Collect for Holy Monday, reminding ourselves that God’s dear Child went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified, and asking God mercifully to grant that we, too, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace. Though I had not yet focused on the fact that it is our Easter Sunday First Lesson, we read this very Isaiah passage we read today – the story of God’s ultimate Feast, the Feast to End All Feasts, full of rich food and fine wine – chocolate & strawberries for all – all gathered, not ONE left out of Eternal Life. We reminded ourselves that if eternity really is eternity, it is NOW & ALWAYS, not some time in the future. We reminded ourselves that even as life is slipping away, we held in that eternity if we act toward each other in love. That even though the patient and his partner – faithful Catholics that they are – had chosen, as people of the same gender, NOT to marry each other, they were held together in the bonds of love and would ever be so. Then, seeking a palpable way to remember that Jesus’ kingdom of the resurrection does not exist in some abstracted, purified realm but is OUR LIFE HERE & NOW, IN OUR MIDST, imperfect and broken and painful and wounded and left out and overlooked as we often are, and that we are ALL included in that kingdom, that commonwealth of love, that we don’t have to “qualify” into it but are invited in AS WE ARE, forgiven, loved & free, we broke the bread and shared it and the wine, partaking of – PARTICIPATING IN – Christ’s resurrection together.
It was as simple as is our little tribe of seven parishioners who are bringing eye drops to our frail elderly congregation member this week following her cataract surgery, because she cannot be trusted to remember that she needs them. For decades here at St. James’s, she devoted every Wednesday night to rehearsal and every Sunday morning to choir, never missing a one, until she stopped remembered what day it was, or even that it was day and not night. So every evening for a week, a different congregation member is traveling to her house in the dark of night to put the drops she needs in her eyes. A little testimony of its own to the power of love, to the power of resurrection.
Let’s reflect for a moment on Mark’s own strange little resurrection story, which ends with the women at the tomb amazed, stunned, afraid. “Gob-stoppered,” as my mother used to say, referring in a terrible image to the huge balls of sugar candy sold to children in the England of my childhood, so-called “gob-stoppers” because if you inhaled at the wrong moment, they could “stop your gob!” In our lectio divina prayer group last Tuesday morning, one of us pointed out that the women, who had been on their way simply to tend the body of their beloved Jesus, had absolutely no idea whatsoever that he would be alive again. It was as radically far outside the realm of possibility for them as it is for us now! They wended their way to the stone-blocked tomb with no hope whatsoever that they would find anything but a corpse there, if they could even get in past the huge blockage across the tomb’s mouth at all, which they doubted.
But here’s what moved me this time that I read this story. Before they had any idea of finding anything but obstacles and death, the women went to the tomb anyway. Even without hope. They packed up their ointments and headed for the tomb purely out of love. Hopeless love, perhaps. Jesus, after all, was dead, and with him all their hopes for the Messiah to save them or their benighted, oppressed country. It would be hard to express how deeply hopeless they would have felt, they, whose hope had risen so fiercely in support of Jesus’ campaign through the Galilean and then the Judean countryside, all the way to the Temple seeking triumphal victory in Jerusalem, the seat of power. Instead, Jesus had been deeply dishonored and humiliated, and then killed. A crushing outcome to all they had expected. But still they came to the tomb. They ACTED HOPE even if they didn’t FEEL HOPE. They ACTED IN LOVE. And they LOVED Jesus despite his dishonor and his disastrous death. And lo: when they arrived, the stone was rolled away, and the tomb empty. Jesus had gone before them. Jesus – the resurrected Jesus – is going before us, inviting us to follow.
I don’t always turn to the Boston Globe for my theology. But this week, thanks to a tip from our usher and Vestry member Nancy McArdle, I read the opinion piece Brandon Ambrosino wrote on “Jesus’ Radical Politics.” Ambrosino had much of value to say, but his final words are these:
“Open your eyes. This kingdom you’re talking about — where the last are first, where the outsiders are preferred — is not here. There is war. There is evil. There is death and rape and racism and unemployment and sex trafficking. There is a brutally agonizing world here and now, and to pretend otherwise is either naive or morally bankrupt.
But Easter doesn’t deny these things. After all, even the resurrected body of Jesus contains crucifixion scars, which are Jesus’ eternal reminder that he was murdered by the very people he came to save. What Easter teaches is this: Even in the midst of the kingdom you’re living in, it’s possible to actually pledge loyalty to a different one. By feeding the hungry, forgiving your enemies, and providing shelter for the homeless, [by bringing eye drops to our frail elders and communion to those left out of the circle of communion and to those who are dying, by companioning those who have no companions at all], you can actually choose to live in the kingdom Jesus established.
Hope, then, is not a spiritual thing, or a reflective exercise; it’s decidedly physical. If you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, the obligation that Jesus puts upon you is to meet people’s physical needs. ‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair,’ said Pope John Paul II. ‘We are the Easter people, and alleluia is our song.’”
Pack up your ointments, dear Easter people, even when your anointing seems utterly useless and pointless. Assemble your communion kit. Jesus is risen and you are inhabiting his kingdom of love. ACT LIKE IT, EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT! You have NO IDEA HOW THE STONE WILL BE ROLLED AWAY, let alone how NEW LIFE CAN POSSIBLY COME. How healing can come. How meaning and joy can come. It’s in God’s hands. And those hands – Jesus’ hands – are full of love and promise for you and for us all. AMEN. ALLELUIA!!!