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An Easter sermon

April 10th, 2012 by isaac · No Comments

“In search of a body”
Isaiah 25:6-9, John 20:1-18

Isaac S. Villegas
Easter 2012

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We are a good at making meals. There’s nothing like a Chapel Hill Mennonite potluck, and our Easter potluck is just the culmination of all that is good from our various meals throughout the year. And its not like we keep our food to ourselves. We don’t horde it. When it is our turn to provide lunch for our homeless neighbors, I have no trouble finding people from our church to make food. And it’s always good food; the people who live in the woods behind Walmart and Home Depot, they associate us, our church, with good food, with a delicious meal.

When the prophet Isaiah longs for the day of salvation, he talks about eating and drinking, he talks about fine wine and hearty food. Isaiah says, “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” (Isa 25:6). “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (v. 9). Salvation is described as a meal, as people from all the nations, from all peoples, neighbors and strangers, eating together, sharing food and wine, talking, forming relationships, deepening friendships. That’s what salvation looks like, Isaiah prophesies. When God’s kingdom comes, there will be a feast, a banquet.

Last week at the prison in Butner, I wanted the students to work on descriptive writing, I said that I wanted them to write about something and make it feel like I was right there with them. So I asked them to write about the last meal they had. As they read aloud what they wrote, I realized that this exercise was especially hard for them. The problem wasn’t that their prison food was disgusting; it would have been easy to describe, in detail, how gross a meal was. Those kinds of descriptions almost write themselves. The problem, the reason why the assignment was so hard, was that the food they eat is so bland, so flavorless, so blah. No matter what the menu, the food tasted the same, monotonous — the same texture, the same color, the same smell, the same taste. They didn’t have very much to say. Then I asked them to use their imagination, and remember a favorite meal. Of course, they had a lot more to say; they kept asking for more time to write. As each person read about his meal, I could hear groans and sighs from the others as they listened, longing for a time when they could eat delicious food again. One thing surprised me, as I heard their talk about their meals: Yes, the food itself was important, but they also talked about the people who would be at the meal, the friends and family who would be there. Food and fellowship were tied together in their imagination, as they waited and longed for a time when all things would be restored, when their lives would be put back together, when their wrongs would be made right, when life, true life, joyful life would be possible again:

“The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines… It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (25:6, 9).

On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb because she longs for the life she had, life with Jesus and the rest of his followers, a life that meant something, that meant everything. She wants all of that back again, but she can’t have it back because he’s dead, Jesus is dead. So she goes to the tomb to remember and to mourn. When Mary finds out that the tomb is empty, she assumes that the body was stolen. “They have taken away my Lord,” she says, “and I do not know where they have laid him” (Jn 20:13). When Jesus appears to her, as a gardener, she asks again about the body of Jesus: “Sir,” she says, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him” (v. 15). But the gardener reveals himself as Jesus, her friend, her rabbi, her Lord, and tells her to find the other disciples and to join them, to tell them the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Mary doesn’t get Jesus back, and neither do the disciples — at least, they don’t get Jesus back in the same way he was with them before. “Do not hold onto me,” Jesus says to Mary. Jesus won’t be present to Mary, present in the world, just like he used to be. Instead, Jesus tells Mary to join the other disciples, to return to the group of followers, to fellowship, to eat, to wait.

This was the moment that the church was born — we are all followers of Mary Magdalene, the one who was told by Jesus to return to the community of followers and share the good news; to find the rest of Jesus’ followers and tell them the good news that death did not have the last word, that God raised Jesus from the grave. Our faith was born in the wake of the empty tomb, at the disappearance of Jesus, at the loss of his body.[1] And we remain “until the end of time, a people in search of a body: in search of the body of the risen Christ.”[2] That search is what draws us together as the church.

When Jesus tells Mary to let him go and to return to the others, Mary shows us that Jesus will not be present in the same way he was before his death. Instead, now, after his resurrection, Jesus is present as a way of life, as a way of being together, as a people who gather around at the table to eat, where strangers and friends are invited to share life; now, Jesus is present as learn how to be at peace with one another, as we break bread together.[3]

Still, I can’t help but wonder, with Mary, who stands before the empty tomb and says: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” In all of our rejoicing, as we celebrate Easter with a feast, “a feast of rich food,” as the prophet Isaiah said — we are still marked by loss, by disappearance, by an absence: for Mary Magdalene and those first disciples, they had to learn how to go on without Jesus’ human body, without the undeniable presence of Jesus; and for us, our Communion doesn’t feel complete because we also know loss, we are also marked by real absence, missing bodies — either friends and family who have passed away, or people who our society separates from us, like prisoners.

So, our feasting, our Communion points us in a direction; this meal isn’t complete in and of itself, because our fellowship awakens a hope, the hope of Easter: that death will not have the last word; that God raised Jesus from the grave, and with him God will gather all the sisters and brothers of Jesus; that the family of God will be restored, the body of Christ reunited; that, one day, all of God’s children will be together, breaking bread; as Isaiah says, “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.”

For now, as we eat, we are like my students in prison, dreaming of a future, waiting for salvation, waiting for God’s new life, the resurrected life of Jesus, to heal every wound, to mend every broken heart, to disarm the violent and reconcile enemies.

For now, we are in search of the body of the risen Christ, who comes to us, again and again, as we gather, as we Commune, as we share our lives: the One who has come to give us hope, not only for ourselves, but to invite us into hope as a new way of life, hope in the form of a new society, the body of Christ, where death and fear and violence no longer exercise dominion, where all will be remembered, where all shall be forgiven.[4]



[1] “Christianity was founded upon the loss of a body—the loss of the body of Jesus Christ, compounded with the loss of the ‘body’ of Israel, of a ‘nation’ and its genealogy.” Michel de Certeau, The Mystic Fable; quoted in Nicholas Lash, Seeing in the Dark: University Sermons (London, UK: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2005), 159.

[2] Nicholas Lash, Seeing in the Dark, 160.

[3] “Jesus says: don’t go looking in the tomb for my body, don’t go looking up to heaven for my risen body, don’t go looking anywhere, look amongst yourselves, look at the food you eat together, look at the life you share together. This is the kind of thing that my bodily presence is: when you break bread together.” Herbert McCabe, God, Christ, and Us (London, UK: Continuum, 2003), 84.

[4] “To search for the body of the risen Christ is to search for a society which would be the reconciliation, in justice and in peace, of all humankind.” Lash, Seeing in the Dark, 160.

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