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Shining like the sun. . .

Easter Sermon based on Mark 16:1-8

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” 

Those words describe an experience of the late Father Thomas Merton. If this is the last Easter sermon I ever preach what do I want to say to those gathered on this most sacred day in the Christian calendar. Since for thirty five years I have tried to preach the gospel, I suppose that is a good place to start.

The story is familiar to us. Three women arrive to discover an empty tomb and a young man declaring astoundingly that “he has been raised.” But I am haunted by the white robed man’s words that follow, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 

It leaves us asking the question where is Galilee? I don’t think it is a geographical question. Perhaps it was when this story was first told roughly thirty years after Jesus earthly live had ended. But where is Galilee for us? Does this ancient story still have meaning for us or is it a story that has become rather bland after all these centuries? 

When Thomas Merton stood at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky and had that mystical experience, I think he may well have discovered Galilee for our time. Fr Merton was a monk who was also the abbot of the Gethsemane Monastery. But it was not in the monastery, as he and his fellow monks, devoted their lives to daily religious practice that he was forever changed. It was on a busy street corner in Kentucky’s largest city that he suddenly was able to speak the unspeakable, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

It almost makes us want to travel to Louisville and stand on that same street corner. The good news, the Gospel, is that we don’t have to make that trip. You see, our journey to Galilee is a journey to our own hearts. It is opening the eyes and ears of our hearts to that which surrounds us in the eternal now. It asks us to see reality in a new way. That’s what the young man was proclaiming to the three fearful and amazed women on the first Easter.

Resurrection is all around us if we can only get beyond all of the distractions and commotion that can make us oblivious to the everyday Galilee’s that surround us. A generous member of our congregation and our Board of Christian outreach sent $11,000 to Rural and Migrant Ministry this past week. I received an email from Richard Witt, the Director, when he was made aware of our gift. He wrote, “This gift leaves me speechless, except to say that bearing witness to love of God leads to the power of the resurrection. …time and time again.”

Resurrection isn’t fully realized in an empty tomb. The fullness of resurrection can only be realized when we journey to the Galilee that is always present. Mark’s empty tomb was insufficient to tell the whole story. Resurrection requires us to have the courage to journey to the Galilee that begins in our hearts. To paraphrase Fr. Thomas, “ We have the immense joy of being human, a member of a humanity where God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm us, now that I realize that we all are shining like the sun. 

As that hymn of my childhood reminds us, “You ask me how I know he lives -He lives within my heart.” May our hearts be opened to the Galilee that can only be seen with the eyes of our hearts. 

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