An Absence of Clamor

Alleluia, Christ is Risen. 

The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Happy Easter! It’s been a beautiful weekend. You never know what kind of weather an early Easter will bring. But God was good to us this year. So nice to see everyone. Welcome.

On Easter Sunday, we put on a good show -- with trumpets and brass, lilies, egg hunts, Easter brunches, anthems and all the pomp the Episcopal church is known for and does so well. With all this fanfare, you almost don’t notice that the Easter story itself, on which all this pomp depends, is not a very dramatic one at all. 

The earliest account of the resurrection in our Gospels comes from Mark. Mark’s telling of the events of Easter morning was so understated that later scribes felt the need to add onto it. We never read Mark’s account on Easter Sunday. There’s just not that much there. 

Moving a few years on to Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, there’s a bit more happening. They mention angels, frightened Roman guards, even an earthquake, in Matthew’s telling.

By the time we get to John, the last Gospel to be written, we have quite a lot more detail: Mary Magdalene arriving early at the tomb, Jesus walking around in gardener’s clothes (dare I add my annual joke (sorry) that Somewhere in this story is a naked gardener?). 

But it’s still a quiet story. An empty tomb, Jesus walking about unrecognized, loving words spoken to his dear friend and companion, Mary Magdalene.

No one is ever there when Jesus comes out of the tomb. It’s only afterwards that the disciples see him, and those first encounters are typically met with confusion, or mistaken identity.

In the late 19th century in the Egyptian desert near the city of Nag Hammadi, where decades later a huge trove of well preserved and unknown early Christian texts were found, a smaller set of manuscripts was unearthed. One of them was a fragment called “The Gospel of Peter.” There’s not much to it, but it does contain a slightly later telling of the Resurrection. And it’s dramatic. 

First, there are throngs of people standing around the tomb before Jesus emerges. As we know it from our Scriptures, there was maybe a guard or two there, sleeping, but not really witnesses, and certainly not throngs waiting for something to happen. 

After that, in the Gospel of Peter, with all these onlookers present, the stone, sealing the tomb, as if by magic rolls itself away. As we know it from our Scriptures, there’s no mention of how that huge stone covering the mouth of the tomb is moved. No one was there to see it. It’s just not in the story.

I hesitate to confess this, but years ago I went to a place called The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, where there was a staged reenactment of the Resurrection offered every hour on the hour. It reminded me of the Gospel of Peter. There were peals of thunder and a light display, a cheering crowd, drumroll, and an actor playing Jesus springing forth from the tomb. [Whatever happened to that guy, I wonder?] [I trust you know I”m not recommending this!] 

Anyway, back to Peter’s Gospel. Once the stone is out of the way, in the Gospel of Peter’s account, things get really bizarre. Three men emerge from the tomb, but not ordinary men: they’re giants, actual giants, their heads and shoulders reaching up the heavens, and the third man--Jesus--with his head and shoulders overpassing the heavens.

As we know the story from our Scriptures, this is a private moment, Jesus exiting the tomb with no one around. And once they do see him, he’s so ordinary and unremarkable that they hardly notice him or they mistake him for another--like Mary mistaking him for the gardener.

What comes last in the Gospel of Peter has no parallel in our versions of that morning. Behind the three men comes, also out of the tomb, a gigantic walking, talking, cross. The cross on which Jesus was crucified has also come alive! 

For reasons I don’t think I need to explain, the early Church fathers, in their wisdom, chose not to include this Gospel in our Holy Scriptures. But it shows us the discomfort from very early on with how quiet the story of the resurrection is--to quote the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas “remarkable merely for the absence of clamor.” 

The resurrection of Christ is a dramatic event, of course; it’s resurrection. It needs no embellishment. And that’s how it is with things that are so real, and true they don’t need to labor to convince us how important they are. They just exist in ease. We come to their truths, as we mature, become more pliable, and understand more. 

I’ve always loved how peaceful, and unconcerned the risen Christ is in John’s Gospel, walking around the garden, happy to be unrecognized, and as far from making a display of his resurrection as can be. The quiet confidence of Easter morning almost seems to ask, Why wouldn’t you believe in life? Why wouldn’t you trust? What is there to doubt? 

Our Easter story raises another question: What do we miss, when we train our gaze on the dramatic and attention-grabbing, but fail to notice the quieter, more ordinary miracles God puts before us each and every day? 

Last night at the Vigil, Mother Eliza in her sermon shared something she got from a fellow Episcopal priest. It was so extraordinary I thought I’d share it with you here, too. This priest wrote: 

“Resurrection and new life can happen to anyone, any time. Every time we struggle and manage to choose the good or embrace healing rather than growing cold and bitter; everytime we learn from our mistakes, forgive our enemies, forgive ourselves, seek out justice and mercy, and reach out to those in need, we [live] out that promise of resurrection, of new life, and new beginnings.” (The Rev. Rebecca Hansen)

Today we celebrate a story that reminds us of the need to pay attention. To seek truth in what’s simple, near-at-hand. And to live out our faith in quiet acts of kindness and mercy.

And now to celebrate that simple story, not because it needs it, but because it’s fun, and it brings us joy, we continue with our pomp and pageantry. Happy Easter. Amen.