Br. Keith NelsonJohn 20:1-18

Running in the dark
a stone out of place
a broken seal
an open door.

Sweat evaporating on necks and ankles chills the skin of of two men who followed Him everywhere.

Tears well up and spill over in the eyes of a woman who loved him above all else.

Hearts beat faster
hands tremble
reason flutters, falters, and fails

in the face of a
where He who said I AM seemed not to be

and yet
Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Words whispered in the beginning return
a new song gathers within the silence.

He is here, because He was there:
implausibly, illogically, mysteriously
tangibly, palpably, materially
personally, lovingly, victoriously

The Presence of our Crucified and Risen Lord,
made manifest as gradually and steadfastly as the rising sun

Love stronger than Death. 

Why have we come here?

We, runners in the dark,
trembling, fluttering, faltering, failing?

To stand again
in His Presence:
a new beginning
a new song gathering within our silence.

What do we find here?

Is it a poignant metaphor,
a beautiful idea,
a sophisticated allegory, or
a universal archetype?

The Resurrection will not fit into any of these boxes,
however lovely.

Metaphor, idea, allegory, archetype
will inevitably shape any language we use to describe it.

But The Resurrection is the naked Reality to which they point,
the white beam of light passing through the prism,
refracting its rainbow of color.

The Resurrection is the parent: they are her children.

Metaphor, idea, allegory, archetype:
these can plant a seed,
point us in the right direction,
inspire art and music and culture,
or give us ground to stand on for a time
but they cannot save us from the grave.
They do not add up to Easter hope.

Only our trust in a living person
who has died our death
who has opened and emptied our hell
who breathes our name
in the cold morning air
as sweat drys and tears fall
only that trust prepares us to sing into the mouth of the grave,


This we have come to believe. This we hold fast, this we cherish, this is the Light by which we see the world, one another, ourselves, and our God. We: the fragile, pilgrim church, bearing the Paschal flame.

If we look for historical proof, we will not find it. If we bend all the powers of our logic seeking an explanation that is more convincing or less embarrassing to the world, we will fail. If we turn to science, we will find plenty of eccentric theories, but nothing conclusive.

So a voice may reasonably ask – and has reasonably asked since the first century:

If this is real, if this is to be trusted,

how has this resurrection you speak of made me or the world any better?

If death is still my companion
if I am still lost in a cave
or locked in a cage,
if the cold morning air is
breathless and silent
to my hearing –
what difference has it made? 

The Resurrection does not take these experiences from us. You know this. I know this. It does not exempt us from the suffering that is the lot of every human being, the suffering that was the lot of Jesus in sharing our humanity. The Resurrection is the unbreakable pledge that our suffering can become like his.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is, in the words of Rowan Williams,

“the open door that exists in the heart of every situation because of God’s freedom.”

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, neutralizes the power of every cave or cage and fills them with the raw potential for good and glory.

Death presents to the world a final door that is locked and sealed forever. The crucified-and-risen Christ has wrenched that door from its hinges, so that we may pass through it, as he did, into the heart of God. Beginning today. Beginning now.

We run and run in the dark but fail to see

except by the light of this candle

That he has been running toward us from the beginning:

The light shines in the darkness

and the darkness has not overcome it.

With this light as our torch, we bend under the low archway of the dark tomb and look within.

What do we see?

A stone out of place
A broken seal
An open door

And yet something else
Something More
Some Thing so significant yet so ambiguous at first glance:

The cloth that had covered the face of Jesus, “rolled up in a place by itself.”

Something as real as the veil of a bride, as trustworthy as a handkerchief at a funeral, the first cloth diaper enfolding a naked infant, or the blank sheet of paper
poised on the desk before the words flood forth.

Then the other disciple…saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture…

Perhaps this beloved disciple remembered the moment his Lord and Friend had raised Lazarus from the dead, and commanded the witnesses to remove the linen wrappings binding the hands, the feet, and the face of the man who had been dead for four days.

Perhaps he remembered the veil that Moses wore on his shining face each time he returned to the people after speaking with God.

Perhaps he remembered these things alongside a rush of other memories, of Jesus manifesting the glory of his Father in and through those simple, good, and ordinary things: water jars now filled with wine, mud smeared on the eyes of a blind man, the towel he wore as he washed their feet.

The Disciple did not yet understand, but he did not need to. Rather, he believed because he grasped, with the intuition of pure Love, where and in whom to place his trust.

Sandra Schneiders offers the following perspective on the verb “to believe,” as it is used in John’s gospel:

It is fundamental openness of heart, the basic readiness to see and to hear what is really there, the fidelity to one’s experience no matter how frightening or costly it appears to be, the devotion to being that refuses to tamper with reality in order to preserve the situation with which one is familiar…

To believe in Jesus is to accept him, to identify with him, to follow him, to grow in discipleship….This is not a theological position, an assent of the mind. It is a life stance which could only be legitimate if Jesus is indeed who he claims to be, the one sent by the Father.[1]

To believe is to step out into open space in the trust that we will not fall but be caught and held, loved and led home.

The deepest moments of Truth in our lives – the moments that inspire or awaken this kind of belief – are often inaccessible to us the instant they make impact. They evade the direct perception of our senses, our memories, thought, or language. In a white hot flash of self-forgetfulness, all is elided or suspended. Truth – living Truth, to whom we belong – reveals Himself to our awareness as afterglow, as a fragrance that lingers in the soul, as a tender bruise upon the heart where grace has found its target, as feather or footprint or furrow in the tall grass of time.

A cloth still warm with Presence, rolled up in a place by itself.

How do we know?

Even Holy Scripture does not describe the exact instant that white hot flash quietly exploded into the world we know. The eye of the storm is perfectly still. It is only in the moment after that we ever really know: The running in the dark. The stone out of place. The broken seal. The open door. A warmth in the breast, a gush of tears, a peal of light-headed laughter, a dumb-struck, slack-jawed stammer. The child-like jangling of a tiny bell. The first or five-thousandth moment you knew: I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. And so, I believe.

In the wake of such real and trustworthy signs, to doubt that Something has happened, to doubt that we have been changed, to doubt that Love is stronger Death would be to doubt that we are alive, for it is these Moments of encounter that give purpose to our living.

This is Resurrection knowing.

And the Moment that crowns them all, that moment from which they all proceed and into which they all return, is here. And we are gathered within it, like a new song gathering in the silence. Here, where time and eternity meet. Now, where earth and heaven mingle, and melt. He is here because He was there. And ever, ever, shall be among us. Amen.

[1]  (Sandra Schneiders, Written So That You May Believe, 88).


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  1. marta engdahl on April 23, 2019 at 22:40

    There was a Holy Saturday service at a nearby Episcopal Church in the graveyard. We were all confused. Would it happen, where would it happen, etc., expressing the confusion of that same morning centuries ago. Yet, it filled in the space/time between Good Friday and Easter Morning, so comforting.

  2. Jane on April 22, 2019 at 15:57

    Your exquisitely chosen, poetic words have been enlivened by the Spirit to reveal the Word. How beautifully you have used your God-given gift to lift us all beyond human words. I have shared this with many others. I have re-read it, and heard even more in the re-reading. I will keep it, and return to it many times. Thanks you for bringing blessing through your gift.

  3. The Rev. Dr. Virginia W. Nagel on April 22, 2019 at 15:17

    So beautiful and so true. Thank you, Brother Keith. (Are you a poet? Because this is surely free-form poetry.)

  4. Jeanne DeFazio on April 22, 2019 at 10:42

    To believe in Jesus is to accept him, to identify with him, to follow him, to grow in discipleship….This is not a theological position, an assent of the mind. It is a life stance which could only be legitimate if Jesus is indeed who he claims to be, the one sent by the Father.[1]

    Thanks for this powerful message!

  5. Carol savoie on April 22, 2019 at 09:46

    Astonishingly powereful! To overcome the resistance of the logical mind, allowing one to sift willingly into trust , wonder and confident faith… Thank you.

  6. diane on April 22, 2019 at 05:53

    Amen, Amen. A keeper to read again and again. So bealitful. Made me weap with joy.

  7. Hane on April 22, 2019 at 02:40

    Beautiful, powerful, life- giving words that touch my soul and leave me changed, bringing hope, wanting more, wanting to share, warming cold places in my heart…. Thank you. Thank you.

  8. Janis on April 21, 2019 at 19:47

    So moving and I am one who is not easily moved. I want to save this one to read over and over. Thank you.

  9. Ginny Edwards on April 21, 2019 at 12:08

    This is a beautiful sermon Br Keith, I love the poetry and felt so moved by your words. I especially love the last words that He is here because He was there. And ever, ever shall be among us. Amen to that and thank you so much for your inspiration which inspires me. Godd bless you.

  10. Cynthia Sand on April 19, 2018 at 08:50

    Profoundly moving and stunning in its beauty. I wanted to memorize it, carry it next to my heart so I arranged the verses so I could sing it to a chant with a melody through the “song” verse. Thank you so much for placing us in the dark of the morning at the tomb. I’ve shared it with several who were as moved as I. If you would like my arrangement and tune please just ask. Blessed be! He is Risen!

  11. Eben Carsey, FSJ on April 8, 2018 at 16:12

    Beautiful! Inspiring! We stand in this resurrection knowing in this here and now, where time and eternity meet, staring at the prison door of death and destruction and suffering that has been wrenched from its hinges, remembering, this past week, the assassination death of Martin Luther King 50 years ago, who said that he might not get there with us but that “WE, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” May we ask God to give us the grace of courage and commitment to step through that unhinged door. Once again, Brother Keith, as you have said before, “Our prayer becomes ‘We’.” Thank you.

  12. Ruth West on April 5, 2018 at 23:26

    I love the poetic gliding of your words in this homily. It gives pause and power to the account.
    I believe! I believe in the Holy Spirit; the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING! Thanks be to God!
    My daughter is a poet who composes very much in the style you have used. I want to share
    this with her. She will love it. Thanks.

  13. Missy on April 1, 2018 at 18:43

    Poignant when heard, powerful when read
    in poetry form, each thought on its own and together bound.

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