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Shekinah – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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Mark 16:1-8

Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week.  Today our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead.  Alleluia!

Today is a day for rejoicing.  He is risen!  Alleluia!

It has been a wonderful Holy Week this year.  But during the week I thought back to one particular Holy Week I once spent as a parish priest in England, when a friend of mine came to stay for the whole week.  Richard and I used to teach together, and it was great to have him to stay.  But Richard was not a person of faith.  It was a very strange experience to be immersed in all the preparations and liturgies of Holy Week, and then to go home to someone who wasn’t really very interested.  Perhaps some of you have that experience, with a spouse, a child, or a close friend.  I actually used to feel a bit of a failure.  He and my other non-believing friends know me so well – so why don’t they believe?  I can’t be a very effective Christian – and a priest as well!

But I also remember one afternoon Richard and I took a walk through the churchyard.  It was very beautiful.  There were lots of very old gravestones.  I remember there was a woman carefully tending a grave, tidying up and placing new flowers.  It was all so peaceful, and also full of primroses and daffodils.  We wandered through, stopping to read worn inscriptions, and make out the dates.  We didn’t speak for a long time.  After a while, he turned to me and said, “You know, this is a place where I feel I could believe in God!”

I felt within me a sort of electric charge.  I felt a trembling, a kind of holy fear.  We were on holy ground.  We weren’t alone.  The Lord God had drawn near.  And we spoke of things we had never spoken of before.  Important things, things that matter.  Perhaps you have had such an experience?  I should not perhaps have been surprised.  For the graveyard is where our new life in Christ began.  The tomb is where we find ourselves now this Easter morning.

Very early in the morning, St. Mark tells us, on the first day of the week, three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, came, carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ body.  They weren’t expecting to find anything unusual.  In fact, their main concern as they walked slowly and sadly in the half-light, was whether anyone would be there to help them move the stone so that they could get into Jesus’ tomb.

Their walk in the graveyard started out as uneventfully as my walk with my friend Richard.  But God was waiting for us, and God’s presence expressed in Richard’s words, “This is a place where I feel I could believe in God,” made me tremble.

And God was waiting for those poor unsuspecting women.  They crossed a threshold unawares and came to the place where God had just raised Jesus to life, with great power.  The presence, the shekinah, the glory of God was in that place, and as they entered it they saw and felt things that did not just make them tremble, but filled them with holy terror!  The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.  As they entered the tomb itself, the very place where Jesus had been lying, they were overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord, and saw a young man dressed in white.  “Don’t be frightened,” he said, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised.  He is not here.”

Those poor women.  When Moses saw God’s glory in the burning bush he hid his face, afraid to look.  When the prophet Ezekiel saw the glory he fell down on his face in terror.  When the shepherds were surrounded by the angels of the Lord, and a multitude of the heavenly host, and the glory of the Lord shone around – they were sore afraid!

And now these three women had entered the very place where God had just enacted the greatest deed of power in our salvation history.  They may well have been very familiar with all the stories of how God had acted in power to save his people in the past.  The stories of salvation history which we have just been reading: The Great Flood and Noah’s ark, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Valley of the Dry Bones, the Return from Exile.

But nothing had prepared them for this.  And all they could do was run away as fast as possible.  “They went out,” Mark tells us, “and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.  They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid!”  And there we have it.  Mark ends his Gospel right there – with two Greek words: ephobounto gar – for they were afraid.

I love Mark’s Gospel.  I love its raw, unpolished narrative.  This is what it was like he says.  No carefully phrased theologically elegant conclusions for Mark.  Just the raw data.  Three terrified women ran from the Presence as fast as they could.  Mark, I think, helps us get in touch again with the sheer, mind-blowing wonder of the resurrection.

‘Resurrection’ is so much an ordinary part of our vocabulary now.  Easter has been domesticated with eggs and rabbits.  We need all the help we can get to keep us awakened to the wonder and significance to us of this momentous event which has changed the world – that “because he lives, we live also.”  “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!”  We need all the Sundays of the year.  We need all the liturgies of Holy Week.  We need to get up at three o’clock in the morning and hear the story again and again, to reawaken us to the wonder, the shock, the holy terror, the joy of the Resurrection.

We, like those women, are standing on holy ground.  The Risen Lord is here with us now.  The glory of the Lord is all around us.  If we had any sense, we should all fall on our faces – or run away as fast as we can!

Or stay here, and allow the Lord to fill us with his life, to allow our hearts to burn within us.  For this is the day on which the Lord has acted.  This is the day that God with great power raised Jesus to life.

As you come now to receive the body and blood of the Risen Lord, in bread and wine, let your hearts rise with him – and give joyful thanks.  Thanks that the same God who raised Jesus to life will also raise us to life.  Death, the final enemy, has been conquered.

In the words of St. John Chrysostom proclaimed at the Easter Vigil in every Orthodox Church:

“Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free.
Christ is risen and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.”

Alleluia  Alleluia  Alleluia!

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24 Comments

  1. a city monk on April 6, 2016 at 12:21

    Sitting between the sure-ity of Mary and John, like a child abandoning myself to their peace, we bear witness to the Love of the Blessed Trinity and are swept up… raised to new life.

  2. anders on April 6, 2016 at 12:11

    Thank you. I have always had a hard time believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus, like it’s some cosmic magic trick and I can’t muster enough faith to be a full-fledged Christian. Now I have embraced this view to be given a wonderful view of resurrection in daily life outside of church. I get teary eyed at the beauty of my childhood friend’s wife getting a liver transplant. She was a heavy alcoholic facing death and now is a sober engaged mother of young children. She lives! He lives! As an Easter person, I am deeply humbled to see the signs of resurrection in the often disheartening if not tragic circumstances I may encounter.

  3. Gloria Mokwatle on April 6, 2016 at 10:49

    Wow, thank you Brother Geoffrey. I’m inspired, revived and born again. Alleluia

  4. Polly Chatfield on April 6, 2016 at 09:14

    Susan, I feel for you. None of my children is a church-goer, though they are all good, good people. God works in utterly mysterious ways, as Geoffrey’s sermon suggests, and we must wait and pray and bring what gifts we can for the others whom we serve in God’s stead.

  5. Walter Edgar on April 6, 2016 at 08:29

    Powerful! Wonderful! Inspiring!

  6. Susan on April 14, 2015 at 06:41

    I’m a bit late in reading this, but I’m so glad I did. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I always feel alone in my faith even when my family is with me, and I have a position in my church as the director of the church school my children attended. I feel as though I failed them miserably. And how many more? I told my husband this year that it’s like me sitting beside him on the couch while he’s watching a Red Sox game – I’m there and yet I’m not THERE. But I have experienced those little moments, especially with my son. My role is not to be their savior, but to notice and be open to God’s presence when the opportunities arise.

  7. JCF on April 10, 2015 at 19:52

    “The Risen Lord is here with us now. The glory of the Lord is all around us. If we had any sense, we should all fall on our faces – or run away as fast as we can!”

    This reminded me of this Annie Dillard classic:

    “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982

    Alleluia—and duck! :-0

    • Suzanne Haraburd on April 6, 2016 at 19:20

      Yes! I remember well when I was 30 years old and a young mother, praying again after many years of not praying, yet aware that I might be unleashing a power that I was not prepared to deal with. And so my prayer was, “God, I will let you put your toe in the door of my heart. Only your toe.” I was afraid. 30 years later, I wonder, “Have I let God all the way in yet? Am I ‘all in’?”

  8. Michael on April 9, 2015 at 14:53

    I guess I’m not much of an evangelizing kind of person. Our journey to understand God and what it all means in our lives is, at its core, the journey of the individual. While being with others that share our beliefs adds a certain comfort in our lives, encouraging and allowing them to find their own way is essential When and how God makes himself known to us differs for all. Enjoy the person as they are and let God do what God does in all our lives

  9. Lisa on April 9, 2015 at 11:24

    Your sermon breathes new insight into me. I am so thankful I have found the Society of St John the Evangelist at this time in my life. Your daily meditations and sermons are poking and prodding at the edges of my spirit in a way that I need.

  10. Rowley Hartley on April 9, 2015 at 10:28

    Thank you Brother Geoffrey for your splendid sermon! I have a brother that is a atheist. He has come back into my life after two years of total separation!
    I am a woman of faith and attend a beautiful Episcopalian church in a small town in California. Now that we are joined together I pray that he see the light as I have. Your story of Richard, moved me to tears. I hope that my brother can receive the gift of faith. Thank you again.

  11. N on April 9, 2015 at 10:12

    Thank you so much, Brother Geoffrey. May we always be surprised by the news of the Resurrection and may the story never grow old in the telling.

  12. Marta e. on April 9, 2015 at 08:12

    Shekinah! I pray that I may be active and give more depth in my joy and in spreading joy and presence.
    To Christina: sometimes it is enough and all that God asks that we do the traditional and stable life activities to build and maintain the family and religious traditions. I pray for you that the opportunity for depth and presence will come.

    • Christina on April 6, 2016 at 10:16

      A year later on. Thank you for your good thoughts. I wish I had read them before this Easter. Blessings. Christina

  13. Christopher Engle Barnhart on April 9, 2015 at 07:36

    I awake this moring at 4 am to read my Daily Lectionary. What an amazing Truth, what an amazing story. I too like your friend for much of my life have a non-believer. This Lenten Season, this Easter Tide, this Easter, this Resurrection and now these 50 Days have changed me, something has happen. I believe this Truth, this greatest story ever told.

  14. Dorothy J Smith on April 9, 2015 at 07:19

    Your sermons always help me imagine the living moments so fully, that I feel like I was there walking with your friend and there at the tomb, spices in hand. Yours is a great gift given freely and I am grateful.

  15. Anne on April 9, 2015 at 07:16

    I continue to be uplifted by the amazing power of the Eucharist . ..praise God! I experienced the same trembling of the Presence unexpectedly . ..isn’t that always the case . ..at Stations of the Cross . ..Station number 8 . ..to be specific . ..this Holy Week . ..thank you, Br. Geoffrey, for so aptly describing this . ..I didn’t tell anyone . ..I just went away in wonderment . ..and I still don’t find any way to articulate what happened . ..writing helps . ..

  16. Christina on April 9, 2015 at 06:38

    Dear Brother Geoffrey:
    How mind blowing – your words. Thank you.
    I was awake early: 4:30 – mulling over things that have been bothering me. The play and movie, Fiddler on the Roof, came to mind. Tevi, the father, wanting to hold on to his religious and cultural beliefs while his daughters were yearning for something different.
    It seems to me that gradually this is what is happening to my family. We gather together for Christmas and Easter. But celebrations are tainted with unspoken tensions; eggs and bunny rabbits, presents under the tree, all – presents bought hurriedly – or not – with someone being left out. After grace, which possibly embarrasses some or is recited without any thought, the meal is consumed.
    It all seems so utterly pointless. Those gathered pretending to get along with one another for that short time.
    Food for thought. Like so many more believers, and perhaps unbelievers, it is time for change. I don’t know what that might be, but I know that God will whisper something to me. I hope that I will be listening.
    Blessings to all the Brothers. Christina

    • Sarah Acland on April 9, 2015 at 07:50

      God bless you, Christina. I pray that you will find the change you need

      • Christina on April 6, 2016 at 10:13

        And, God bless you too, Sarah. // In a different sense from my letter above, I find Easter increasingly difficult. It is the joy of Palm Sunday, followed by the downward spiral of Holy Week. I used to find the Thursday, and Friday, over-whelming even before I became as deeply committed as I am now.// Each year seems to get more difficult. So, Easter Day, is overshadowed by the pain and mourning for those who stood at the Cross; those overwhelmed by guilty at their desertion; and those now hiding – afraid that they too will be swept up by the authorities.
        I hope you had a blessed, joyful Easter. Christina

  17. Muriel Akam on April 9, 2015 at 03:12

    May we all find the presence of the risen Lord at this Easter time .
    Thank you.

  18. Tracy on April 8, 2015 at 04:35

    May we all bump into Yahweh, stay and be filled to share! Thank you so very much, too!

  19. Patrick Smith on April 18, 2012 at 16:35

    Wow. Thank you.

  20. elizabeth wright on April 12, 2012 at 08:03

    thank you brother geoffrey.

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