There was conception here.
Sometimes I come into this church late at night. It is dark, very dark. I feel with my feet for the steps of the sanctuary, with my hands for the nearest pew in which to sit. Out there, behind the glass stained blue and red: the sounds of cars rushing by, a siren, an occasional laugh.
I cough, and it echoes across the hard surfaces of floor and walls and ceiling, the emptiness.
Sometimes I think about how this place used to be filled with people, every spot taken--not just on Easter or Christmas, but every Sunday. Now, well… you know: not so many. Without them, the place starts to feel a bit like a tomb. You cough, lots of echoes. I understand why. I really do. I have been living and working with college students for over 20 years, and I see how they regard the church. It feels like death here sometimes. It feels like there is no life here. For many, coming here is only about obligation, and for many, that is not enough. And to be blunt: the Church (and maybe our church right here) evidently is dying.
But today is Easter. And it is possible for a tomb to be filled with light.
So just for a moment, bear with me. Just for a moment, assume we are in a tomb. Let me be your guide, OK? Let me give you a tour, OK?
This was where they laid his body, right here on this slab. They prepared it, of course, cleaned off the blood and the sweat and the spit, all the filth. They combed the hair, they put perfumed oils on it, head and feet and hands, someone donated a fine piece of cloth and they wrapped the body up, and the head. The normal preparations, stained with tears of sorrow, this death more tragic than most.
Don't forget the week before, all the hoopla, all the wild cheering, palms and everything, coming into the city on an ass. Swiftly, unbelievably fast, the whole thing turned around, and they were beating the life out of him. Sweet dreams turned to nightmare.
The body fit the slab perfectly, like it was made for him. Here was the head, there the feet. A pillow for the head. When they laid it out, the body was still a little warm, some hint that life once dwelt there, but the stone was really cold, the whole cave was cold, and damp, and had the smell of mildew, well, it smelled like death, so it was fulfilling its function then, wasn't it, this cave of death?
After the prayers, more tears, after the prayers, there was this enormous---and I mean ENORMOUS---stone: it took maybe five, six men to fix it over the entrance. Sealed it up completely, not a breath of air, not a crack of light could enter. And lucky the light that could not enter because the black darkness of this cave swallowed everything, and left... nothing.
And yet, and yet.
This was no barren womb, there was conception here, out of nothing, the impossible: life. Here. What secrets this cave holds, those hours of utter darkness out there beyond those windows, and in here, what miracle was occurring within these walls! What I would have given to have been hidden in a corner, chilled to the bone and wet, no matter! What happened here? How did life flame up? How did warmth return to the flesh? What blinding light filled every inch, what sweet fresh smell incensed the air, how many heavenly bodies lifted him up, what angelic voices sang divine tunes?
Something I've often wondered: did he wake up and rub his eyes, did he stretch and yawn as from a deep sleep? Was there a plate of food, a cup of nectar wine, did he break the fast with a feast?
I hope--this may seem foolish---I hope he danced around the room a bit: a jig, a tarantella, a line dance with a hundred angels, swinging his wrappings around and around and around and around, hey, hey, hey!
Why not? Why not a party within these walls to celebrate the greatest victory anyone has ever known? Why not indeed! What I would have given to have been here to witness the victory, the bright, blinding, joyful triumph of life, 0 miracle, 0 fantastic mystery, 0 sweet love.
The word came to the mother about the empty tomb. Several rushed to tell her, early in the morning. She was taken here, they brought her here to see for herself. There was a choice to be made, a matter of, well... belief. The stone, that massive thing, was rolled away, the place inside a shambles, over there a piece of funeral cloth, over there some more, the wrap for the head way over in the corner. All the careful burial preparations cast aside.
No body, an empty slab.
There was a choice to be made here. The aftermath of a robbery? A great hoax?
Or... perhaps, what remained after a wild, joyful celebration of victory, party cave after the party?
The mother, his mother of inconsolable sorrow, she stood before the cave... consoled. Those eyes, which had gone black on Friday, those eyes now reflected light back out, no black holes those, her eyes were filled with bright radiant light, light of a cave now washed in sunlight.
She went in, picked up the cloth and held it to her face. Those hands, the same ones that swung him up into the air amidst delighted giggles and squeals, picked him up and held him when he cried, those hands that combed his hair, washed his clothes, cooked his food, picked up his toys, those gentle hands, those holy hands, holding the cloth his triumph had discarded.
She said nothing, nothing needed to be said, the eyes said it all, where there was sadness there was now only joy.
That was all that was needed, just to see her eyes, his mother's eyes told the truth.
I make no bones about it, I believe that what happened here happens to all of us as well, that on this slab of cold stone there is life come from death, up from all our diminishments and failures, despite our sinfulness and our lack of love for others and ourselves, regardless of how unfaithful we are and how unbelieving--- up springs life with a stretch and a yawn and a plate of food, a cup of nectar wine, and of course, a wild jig, a tarantella-- hey, hey, hey?!
We all of us, have something to celebrate, don’t we? Something so wonderful, so miraculous, so fantastic... that nothing, nothing at all can ever truly darken our eyes or, more importantly, our heart. There can be no true disappointments for us who believe, no deprivation of material goods or physical health or worldly popularity can touch us or hurt us, we need not have any fear at all, not even in death, because the one who got up from this slab is alive and forever in love ...with you.
This cave, this place that sometimes seems like a tomb, this church we call Epiphany, this holy place is also filled with light. I can feel it right now, can’t you? Can’t you feel His Spirit filling these walls, and filling our hearts? Don’t you believe that something wonderful, fantastic, miraculous will occur here? Don’t you believe that Jesus Christ will raise this church up again, fill its pews with our brothers and sisters who need to be with us to experience the holiness, to become disciples, to be apostles to the world that needs resurrection? He will raise it up again, he will raise it up again, he will raise it up again, he will raise it up again, he will raise it up again, he will raise it up again, and again, and again and again. The tomb will be filled with light, and life, and Him.
0 happy day, this, what a wonderful cave turned inside out we have here to party in, what a lovely table to set out our meal! Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, hey, hey, hey!