“The glory of the lighted mind”Katerina K. Whitley Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-8; Matthew 28:1-10 Year A – Easter Day – The Resurrection of the Lord
There is a stunning scene in a play called “the King Comes to His Own.” The playwright, Dorothy L Sayers, makes it clear that Jesus had left the tomb before the stone was rolled away from its opening. The molecules of the transformed body reassemble themselves outside the tomb taking the form of a person.
The two guards who are warming themselves by the fire a few feet away, feel this natural (electrical) disturbance as an earthquake. They don’t see anyone, but the flame of their fire flattens as someone walks over it. By the time the body passes the fire, It has already solidified. This is how the guards describe it to the elders:
“. . . then we were flung apart with a great shock, so that we fell to the ground. And the flame of the torch streamed out flat, as though a wind had gone over it from the sepulcher.” And the second guard adds: “I heard a pebble spin from the path, as if a foot had struck it; and something passed between me and the brazier, blotting out the light of the fire.” The elder asks if that something had a form, and the guard adds: “. . . the shadow that followed it was the shadow of a man.”
Later, for the sake of the fear-filled disciples, the stone was removed by the angels to reveal an empty tomb with the funeral cloths undisturbed—the longer ones still rolled in the shape of the body and a separate cloth, in the shape of the head. A stunning detailed image that fills us with awe. Note that the dazzling, otherworldly angels in their brilliant white fill the women with fear. By contrast, the appearance of the resurrected Jesus confuses them but does not frighten them. His shape is familiar, though in his new state, he is not immediately recognizable. His voice and his words make him known to his friends.
The various stories of the resurrection thrill and delight me. The differences do not confuse me. They reassure me. Something so enormous, utterly unique, cannot be seen or told in similar fashion by the various witnesses. It is impossible. Everyone confronted with this joyous and fearful reality is going to see what matters to her or to him, according to the previous relationship the witness had with the Master.
Mary Magdalene recognizes him when he calls her by name. It was the voice that had rescued her from the demons of fear and sin, the beloved voice that had liberated her and taught her, the one who had called her his own.
The rest of the women fall on their knees to worship him the moment they encounter him in the garden.
John, the beloved disciple, believes as soon as he sees the empty tomb.
Thomas sees the wound and cries out in recognition, professing the presence of the Godhead.
Later, by the lake, Peter dissolves in tears because of Jesus’ repeated questions to him.
On and on the various reactions confront us with their reality.
And, finally, Saul of Tarsus, soon to become Paul the Apostle, is utterly and dramatically converted from a killer of Christ-followers to the one who makes Christ known to the whole world.
To recognize all these appearances one must lose spiritual blindness. This is beautifully expressed in John Masefield’s poem from The Everlasting Mercy:
I knew that Christ had given me birth
To brother all the souls on earth,
And every bird and every beast
Should share the crumbs broke at the feast.
O glory of the lighted mind,
How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind,
The station brook to my new eyes
Was babbling out of Paradise
The waters rushing from the rain
Were singing Christ has risen again. . .
The new eyes given to us when we are confronted with resurrection allow us to see the world anew. This happened to St. Peter, as described in the portion of the Acts we heard today. Of all the disciples, Peter was the most fearful during that terrible night of Maundy Thursday when he denied his best friend and teacher. So Jesus appeared to him to solidify his faith in Jesus and in himself.
After Peter started his own ministry of proclaiming the risen Christ, he still was of the opinion that Jesus belonged to the Jews alone. It took a very dramatic occurrence in Caesarea, in the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, to convince him otherwise. Cornelius had gathered God-fearing people to hear what God had to say to them through Peter. This is another evidence that there were God-fearing people everywhere before they had heard anything about the gospel. Peter understands this truth through the help of the Holy Spirit and makes a proclamation to the Gentiles gathered to hear him:
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Hear the astounding words: every nation, anyone. . . is acceptable.
Why have we ignored this passage of truth again and again? The church took the news of the resurrected Christ and appropriated them for only those “who look like us,” “who talk like us,” who are respectable, white, and descended from Anglo-Saxon or some northern European blood.
We have committed the terrible sin of thinking that Christ was someone who could be limited and who had preferences that matched our own while Peter has been in our ears crying out, “God shows no partiality.” In our country, today there is a strong effort to keep out those whom Peter called acceptable to God because they fear God and do what is right in God’s sight.
The resurrection happened. The resurrected Christ appeared to those who had known him intimately, who had traveled with him, who had eaten with him, who had laughed with him. In other words, he appeared to all those who had abandoned him and fled on that terrible night in the garden.
He appeared to them to take away their fear, to fill them with the Holy Spirit, to prepare them for the long, long struggle of speaking truth to a hostile world. And they were changed. From then on they were filled with courage enough to change the world.
But even they, at the very beginning of this new era, did not fully grasp that Jesus was not someone who could be limited, who could belong only to them. It took Paul’s experience and courage to emphasize what Peter proclaimed in Caesarea. Even during those early days there were quarrels and arguments among them, before the truth broke through. Christ came to welcome each one of us as children of God.
A few years after the resurrection, years that were of immense physical and spiritual struggle for St. Paul, he was able to declare the revolutionary truth of the resurrection:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
When we are confronted by resurrection, when we lose our fear, then and only then are we able to understand and to act on this truth.
Note: The play, “The King Comes to His Own” is from The Man Born to Be King, by Dorothy L. Sayers. The portion of the poem is from The Everlasting Mercy by John Masefield.
About the writer:
Katerina Katsarka Whitley has delved into resurrection stories in her book Seeing for Ourselves: Biblical Women Who Met Jesus and in all her other books. Her focus on St. Paul is found in her novel, A New Love, published by Material Media, LLC. A dramatist, retreat leader, and public speaker she lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her web page is www.katerinawhitley.net
Scripture and Music:
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
We Welcome Glad Easter
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
The Day of Resurrection
Now the Green Blade Riseth
Hail Thee, Festival Day
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Thine Is the Glory
Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious
Christ Is Alive
Christ the Lord Is Risen Again! (John Rutter)
O Be Joyful for Christ the Lord Is Risen (J.S. Bach)
Christ Is Alive (arr. Hal Hopson)
This Is the Day (Blankenship)
In Thee Is Gladness ( arr. Kallman)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Martin or Mallory)
He Is Alive! (Buryl Red from Celebrate Life!)
Hallelujah (G. F. Handel from Messiah)
Hallelujah (Beethoven from Mount of Olives)
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel)
Rise Again (Holm)
Were You There (spiritual)