Good News for the Poor, Bare and Forked

     This past Monday morning I was out for an early walk. The air was crisp, the sun bright, the dogwoods and redbuds and azaleas in full bloom. It was just one of those perfect mornings. I passed an older, slightly doddering lady and asked her how she was doing. She paused, cocked her head slightly to the side, and said with a wink in her eye, “Why, I’m just bathed in good feelings!
     Well, that’s what we all want on Easter Sunday, to be bathed in good feelings. This is the day that there’s plenty to feel good about – the day, as we sing in our hymn, “death is conquered, we are free, and Christ has won the victory.” All that, plus Easter Baskets for some and Bloody Marys for others.
     Somewhere in between the Easter Baskets and the Bloody Marys, throngs of people come to church. People often tell me that they feel a little shabby coming to church only for the red-letter days.  They wonder if God thinks badly of them when they only show up in some kind of need, or when they’ve encountered some sort of personal sticky wicket. On the contrary, is my reply – that’s what church is for, and that’s who God is!
      As author Mary Karr says, “The would-be believers that sometimes ask me for help often say it seems hypocritical to turn to God only now whatever crisis is forcing them toward it – a kid with leukemia, say, husband lost in the World Trade Center. But no one I know has ever turned to God any other way. As the old adage says, there are no atheists in foxholes. Maybe saints turn to God from innate righteousness. The rest of us tend to show up holding out a tin cup. The church I attended said it best on the banner stretched across it’s front: SINNERS WELCOME.”
     That same banner is metaphorically stretched across Christ Church, every Sunday. For every Sunday we say, “A very warm welcome to one and all.” And I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t satisfy the description of “sinner”
– in other words, somebody who is in some need of God’s help in some way. I, for one, would never be allowed in the door, much less up in this pulpit, unless sinners were welcome. Ultimately, we are all brushed with the same stroke -human need.
  Think about it. When you ask a child to draw people, he or she always draws stick figures. A poet named William Matthews noted that these figures evoke King Lear’s “poor, bare, forked, animal,” which, spiritually speaking, illustrates every last one of us. Describing his young sons at their artistic endeavor, he writes,
They were powerless enough to know/ the radical equality of human
     souls, but too coddled to know they knew it.
     They could only draw it, and they blamed
     Their limited techniques for the great truth
     That they showed, that we’re made in the image Of each other and we
don’t know it.
    That below our Easter frippery we are poor and bare and forked makes us prime and perfect candidates for the Good News of Easter, News meant to generate a veritable bath of good feelings even in the poorest, barest, and forkiest of us all. The Scripture this morning tells us that when Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome went to the tomb early on a crisp and bright morning to bathe Jesus’ poor, bare and forked corpse with burial spices, they were shocked out of their socks at what they found. Or, rather, what wasn’t found. Jesus was missing.
     Mark writes,  “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” They must have wondered who slipped what into their morning coffee. And as the text testifies, they never did recover, for they bolted from the tomb, dumbstruck and unraveled. And here ends the reading.
     Mark’s narrative of the resurrection is the original account. His gospel ended there in the tomb – with a young man dolled up in white, 3 nonplussed women, and a Missing In Action Jesus. The resurrection account ends without us having seen the, well, resurrection! What is the Bible telling us here?
     One thing I feel sure the Bible is NOT telling us is that Jesus’ resurrection was mythical or metaphorical. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth
was raised bodily from the dead. I agree with John Updike, who says in his Seven Stanzas at Easter,
Make no mistake: if He rose at all /it was as His body;
     if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
     reknit, the amino acids rekindle, /the Church will fall.
     Or as the Apostle Paul says, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain, we are still dead in our sins, and we of all people are most to be pitied. The fact that in Mark’s account Jesus is in absentia in no way indicates that He isn’t really flesh and blood Risen, or that He didn’t really burst His 3 day prison. Make no mistake -the stone was rolled back, the burial linens were cast off, and He strode out of the tomb, laying His eyes on the morning sunrise.
     So, in the Bible’s account, we don’t see Jesus. Just like in life, unless you happen to be given to St. Teresa type ecstasies. So if don’t see Him in the flesh and blood, then where is a poor, bare, forked sinner to look for God? At a dinner party recently a friend asked Syri, the wizard woman on the new Iphone who answers any question you can throw at her, “Where can I find Jesus Christ?” Syri answered, “I am not qualified to answer questions of a spiritual nature.” For that, I suppose, we can be thankful.
     The Bible, on the other hand, being God’s inspired Word, is qualified to tell us where to find Jesus Christ.  Mark tells us exactly where to look. Or actually the young man in white does: “Look, there is the place they laid Him.”
     I take that to mean that we are to look for God in the tombs of our lives. The very thing that draws you to Him in your need is the only thing you need to be welcomed and received by Him. Across your poor, bare, forked form He lays the banner: Sinners Welcome. Just hold out your tin cup.
     God does not need the life you keep trying to stitch together with the hapless needle of your effort. He doesn’t care a fig about the good works you try to put on His refrigerator in exchange for a gold star. And, He urges you to discover that the Fool’s Gold of success you’ve been stuffing in your pockets, won’t in the end, make your poor form rich, fill your bare form up, or straighten your forked form out. And your success certainly doesn’t bathe you in any kind of good feelings that will last more than a day.
     The big cosmic joke is that the only thing anybody ever needs to be raised is the only thing every single one of us has – our deaths, in this case both real as well as the little metaphorical deaths we experience from cradle to grave. All we do is trust in Him who has been raised from the grave. We just hold out our tin cups and watch Him fill them with trust and faith.
 “Look, there is the place they laid Him.” Children can usually draw little round heads on top of our stick figure bodies, and on our little round heads, our two little round eyes. That’s all we need. For through the eyes of faith we look in the tombs of our lives and see that the tombs will sooner or later empty out into the morning sun. “Just remember that the twilight looks a whole lot like the dawn.
     And on each side of our little round heads, children draw little half-moons, which pass for our ears. That’s more than enough, for with the ears of faith we hear the young man robed in white, sitting in the tomb saying, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus – He has been raised.”  Words welcomed by a sinner – that “Jesus Christ is risen today, who endured the cross and grave, sinners to redeem and save.”
Christ Episcopal Church
120 W. High Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
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Charlottesville, VA 22902
phone: 434.293.2347

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