A garden of grief and resurrection: A Homily for Easter, 2014

Yesterday morning, my wife and I came downtown at about 8:30 am. I was coming to participate in our brief and moving liturgy for Holy Saturday. Corrie was going to participate in one of Madison’s annual rituals: the first Dane County Farmer’s Market of the season. As we were driving, I remarked to Corrie as I was looking at the bare trees and the few signs of new life in people’s yards and gardens, that it was hard to believe it was April 19. After a long, hard winter, it’s still not quite clear that spring has arrived. Perhaps by tomorrow the bulbs will be begin to bloom. But who knows? It might snow, too. Continue reading

Mortals, Can these bones live? A Homily for the Great Vigil of Easter, 2014

“Mortal, can these bones live?”

It’s a wonderful passage of scripture, powerfully evocative of resurrection and new life, full of earthy and eerie images. The reading from Ezekiel 37 practically shouts itself out and as a lector, it’s hard not to succumb to the temptation to add one’s own dramatic effects. We imagine ourselves Lawrence Olivier, or Maggie Smith, or Morgan Freeman declaiming it from the stage. Continue reading

Today there is a great silence over the earth

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

‘The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.’

–From an ancient homily preached on Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

“… does the precise locus of this Saturday, at the interface between cross and resurrection, its very uniqueness as the one moment in history which is both after Good Friday and before Easter, invest it with special meaning, a distinct identity, and the most revealing light? Might not the space dividing Calvary and the Garden be the best of all starting places from which to reflect upon what happened on the cross, in the tomb, and in between? The midway interval, at the heart of the unfolding story, might itself provide an excellent vantage point from which to observe the drama, understand its actors, and interpret its import. The nonevent of the second day could after all be a significant zero, a pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything.” Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Eerdmans, 2001).

God’s Silence: A Homily for Good Friday, 2014

“Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

We have come together today as Christians do each year on Good Friday, to remember Jesus’death, to hear again the reading of John’s story of the crucifixion, to remember our sins, the broken-ness of our world, and above all to remember the great love of God in Jesus Christ that comes to us through God’s self-giving. Continue reading

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward, by John Donne

GOOD-FRIDAY, 1613, RIDING WESTWARD.
by John Donne

LET man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th’ intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.

Good Friday

So when we bend and venerate the cross on Good Friday, there are several things that I think we must be clear, if John’s gospel is right, that we are not doing. We are not assenting to ongoing injustice, violence, or abuse in our world: that would be negligence or cowardice. We are not voting for a passive acceptance of the misuse of power: that would be masochism. We are not saying that human agony and suffering are alright after all, or that by some magic of mind-over-matter I can grit my teeth and see them through to the other side: that would be stoicism.

No, when we make this bodily obeisance each year, we are saying in the only way we can – not just with our mind (which is often confused and doubting) but with our whole being – that all our hope resides in something already done, done by the God/Man on a dark hour long ago and once for all. Often we cannot feel it for the darkness, let alone see it. Often we are overwhelmed by our own pain and that of others, our own sin and that of others. But God has done what only God can do, and in the eye of the storm there is already that still place of triumph which John calls Jesus’s cosmic “glory,” and which he holds out to us also. It is the “finishing” that Jesus does, which is not just a finishing but the reaching of the goal.

–Sarah Coakley