First reading and psalm: Acts 10:34-43 or Isa. 65:17-25 • Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24
Alternate: 1 Cor. 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43 • John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12
Every funeral is an occasion to stare down death; we bow to look into the tomb (John 20:11). Under the pall in the casket rests a body, lifeless and still. The living weep and grieve with a deep heartfelt humanity, and then, by an inexplicable grace, they utter the defiant words of a saved people. “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (BCP, p. 469). Yes, of course, this seems to some an idle tale (Luke 24:11). But not to us. Not to us who “were chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:41). We looked for death, ran to it, wanted to touch it and anoint it, but when the fullness of time touched the course of our small lives, something happened. Looking and straining at death, we saw and still see a strange and sacred absence. Angels flank the place of death, like the cherubim of old hovering over the unseen God. This very absence is the fullness of God; for God is not a thing or object of our knowing. God is. Jesus is absent. He says pointedly, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). He is gone.
When faith is not yet full (which it never is), it is easy to conclude that he is gone only because he was stolen (John 20:2). Death has moved, but still death is death. If we watch Mary’s sorrow, however, we see that she is turning toward a living Christ, though at first not knowing it. “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (John 20:14). Faith is not yet. He reached into the heart of her sorrow, into the marrow of her being, and he told her who she was. He said her name. Being so named, she had to turn yet again, as if facing something new. Did she turn away from Jesus? If she did, it was not a rejection but a deeper consideration of his identity and her identity in him. She said, “Rabbouni,” which means teacher (John 20:16). Precisely at the moment of this confession, Jesus says, “Do not touch me” (John 20:17). She cannot hold onto him as if he were a man, like all men, marching to death. She cannot so hold him for he stands alive and ever new.
The absence of Jesus is testimony to his transformation, his victory over the grave and death, his journey toward the Father. In a sense he is gone. In another sense he is not. As deathless life he reveals himself to human eyes, and he gives himself as bread and wine (Act 10:41). This giving, like the resurrection itself, is pure gift. “My faith invokes you, O Lord, which you have given me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son, and the ministry of your preacher” (Augustine, Confessions, I,i).
It is a gift, but the preacher must preach. Since the Spirit will do all the convicting, let the preacher freely wave this announcement in the present tense. “Everything that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world, we know not only in the history of past events, but we sense it indeed in the power of present works” (Leo the Great, Sermon 12). Do not recede from this present power! Doubt may chew on your soul, but let it not come from your lips this day. Let the living Lord say his own truth. “It is I myself” (Luke 24:39).
Look It Up
Read Isa. 65:17-25. Joy, delight, length of days.
Think About It
Fix your attention on faith, which, after all, is not your faith.