Easter Lingering

You may listen to Mother Erika's sermon here.

In case you haven’t noticed, in the Episcopal Church, we have a real thing for nicknaming Sundays. Last week, the second Sunday of Easter, we often call “Low Sunday,” and next week is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” We have Laetare Sunday in Lent and Gaudete Sunday in Advent. And then there’s Septuagesima Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday – even the lesser well-known Quasimodo Sunday. (Ask me about that one after the Mass if you’re curious).

This week we celebrate Déjà vu Sunday. Déjà vu is taken from the French phrase that means “already seen.” It was coined by a 19th century psychic researcher named Émile Boirac to describe the phenomenon of experiencing something that seems eerily familiar, something that you remember, but you can’t possibly remember, something that…okay. You’re right. I cannot tell a lie; there is no Déjà vu Sunday. (There is a Quasimodo Sunday, though, I promise you.) But if there were ever going to be a Déjà vu Sunday, this would be it. Because as you stood there a minute ago listening to the proclamation of the Gospel, wasn’t there a little voice in your head saying, “Something like this has happened before…this Gospel seems weirdly familiar…”? Something like this has happened before, like, last week, when we heard John’s Gospel telling almost the exact same story. The disciples are shut up in a room, hiding, or regrouping, or something, and Jesus appears among them and says, “Peace be with you.” They are astounded and amazed, and so Jesus shows them his wounds to prove that he is, in fact, their Lord – the same Jesus Christ who was crucified, dead, and buried. Same Jesus Christ; same story. There are some differences, of course. Thomas is noticeably, noisily absent from the group in John’s telling of the story, but in Luke, everyone seems to be present and accounted for. And Jesus is hungrier in the Gospel of Luke, taking time to eat a piece of fish, reminding the disciples of other times they have watched him enjoy his food – sitting by the sea of Galilee, breaking the loaves and the fishes, offering his body and his blood.

But for the most part, these two Gospel stories are remarkably similar. So similar, in fact, that it’s a little surprising that the Church asks that we hear them two weeks in a row. Could you imagine doing that at other times of the year? Coming into church in July and hearing the story of Jesus’ calming of the stormy sea from the Gospel of Matthew, and then the next week hearing the same story from Mark, the next week from Luke? That could be quite interesting, actually, but the Church lectionary doesn’t usually behave that way – except for these weeks in Eastertide when the readings repeat themselves a bit. And so two full weeks after Easter Day, we find ourselves back at Easter evening with the disciples who are just hearing the remarkable, ridiculous news of the resurrection.

Now, there may be a little part of us that feels ready to move on. Where does the story go from here – what happens next? When do we get to hear about the breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when will Jesus ascend into heaven, when does that great Holy Spirit dive down on the disciples? What’s next? But the very purposeful repetitiveness of today’s Gospel reminds us, invites us, encourages us to linger a moment. Today’s Gospel asks you – and me – if we would be willing to linger in Easter one moment longer – not just in the stories and celebrations of Easter Day, but in the very presence of the risen Christ.

This is such a timely invitation. Because this concept of lingering doesn’t always come easily for us, and at this is a time of year, lingering can be a particular challenge. In the past couple of weeks, I have heard countless people say to me, “If I can just make it until….” Sometimes this is about being hassled and worn out and tired. If I can just make it through these exams, if I can just get this project finished at work, if we can just finish painting the house, if I can just get to the end of the fiscal year. But sometimes this feeling is about being in a particularly difficult and stressful season of our lives. If I can just get my mother safely settled in a home, if I can just get this second opinion, if he can just find a job, if we can just hang on until summer…. We in the church are not exempt from this way of thinking, of course. If I can just get through Corpus Christi, if we can just make it through this current budget cycle…. If we can just make it past fill-in-the-blank, then…what? Then, we imagine, we’ll have time, and peace, then we can breathe in and linger all we want. But now? Right now we don’t have the time or space to be still and know that God is God.

Of course, we know that this is a kind of magical thinking. We know that there will almost always be something else over the horizon, some other task or tension that will run up on us all in a rush and consume as much time as anything we’re involved with now. There is a natural up and down and back and forth to these cycles, of course, but we know that the ebb quickly turns into a flow, and we’ll find ourselves once again flooded out and wishing for that still, small isle of peace that we can see just out there, if we could only get to it.

But look again at the Gospel for this week – and last week, for that matter. Look at how and when Jesus chooses to show up. He doesn’t wait until the disciples have waded through all of their fears and doubts and panic to make an appearance. No, he shows up right in the middle of the storm of their anxiety, when they’re all whipped up like a sea squall about the rumors of the resurrection. Right in the midst of that foaming tempest – wham! – Jesus appears, breathes “Peace be with you” and the waves are still. He invites the disciples to take a breath, to linger with him as he shows them his wounds, picks the bones from the flaky flesh of a freshly-broiled fish, and opens the scriptures for them page by page, like petals.

And that Jesus, who was the same Jesus who was crucified, dead, and buried, is the same Jesus who is present here in Word and Sacrament and in this people gathered together. Jesus is the same now as he was then; he steps right in the middle of your whirlwind and whispers “Peace be with you.” He invites you to take a breath, to linger with him, to take real time to sit and be still, to chew over the scriptures with him until they taste sweet as honey in your mouth, to savor the taste of his meat and drink. He invites you to linger in Easter each and every Sunday at the weekly celebration of his resurrection, to sit and to sing and to pray and to take eat and to proceed in peace. But Christ also invites you to do this every day, every moment. Right in the middle of your life – ebbing or flowing, stormy or still – he invites you to take a breath, to see, to notice, and to linger a moment with the love that is all around you.

This takes practice, of course. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly overworked or overly stressed right now, the truth is that this lingering always takes effort and attention and commitment. But don’t worry – Christ is happy to stay with you as you figure out what this lingering will look like for you. Maybe it will be silent, contemplative prayer. Maybe it will be the slow, prayerful study of scripture. Or maybe it will be taking time to really listen to what your co-worker is telling you about her child’s report card. Maybe it will be really looking at the person who sits outside the steps of this church asking for money. Maybe it will be paying attention to the earth, stopping and smelling the flowers, noticing the beauty of spring that reminds us that, in the words of Joan Chittister, “hope rages, hope rages, hope rages in this world.”

This kind of practice, this cultivation of a still heart, is what Easter Christians are asked to do every day – to linger long enough that we can open our eyes to see all of Christ’s redeeming work. How else can we possibly be a witness to the good news if we haven’t really seen it ourselves?  Of course this isn’t always easy – sometimes the waves crash against us and we feel as if we’ll never reach the shore. But these waters cannot quench the love of Christ, neither can the floods drown out his speaking, Peace, peace, peace. 

So right now, take a breath. Practice some Easter lingering.  Practice resisting the temptation to rush along to the next part of your story, to look only over the horizon at the oasis of calm that you imagine there. Practice opening the eyes of your heart. Look here. Taste this. “This flower,” writes Thomas Merton, “this light, this moment, this silence – the Lord is here. Best because the flower is itself, and the silence is itself, and I am myself.” Peace be with you. Here. Now.

Preached by Mother Erika Takacs

22 April 2012

Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia

Posted on April 24, 2012 .