17 April 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint Agnes Churches in Naples, FL
Acts of the Apostles 10, 34-43 + Psalm 118 + 1 Corinthians 5, 6-80 + John 20, 1-0
There was one of those reality TV shows that I watched once or twice before deciding it was far too sad to be entertaining. It may still be on air, but not because I’ve supported the sponsors. It’s called “Hoarders”. As you may know, the show profiles individuals whose obsessive fear of loss causes a compulsive accumulation of unneeded things. I’ve known a couple of people who suffered from that obsession, and it was truly sad. One of the saddest consequences is how it drives people away, family members, neighbors, and old friends leaving the victim alone and fearful. What is clear about those who suffer from what is obviously an issue of mental health is that the compulsion began with a catastrophic loss, the death of a spouse or some childhood trauma. Memories of some tragic loss drives them to cling to anything that might protect them from another loss. Their only relief is overcoming their fear.
The fear of loss is all around us everywhere. The fear of loss sells security systems and employs security guards. The fear of loss tells us to lock our cars and buy that ever increasingly expensive insurance. That fear of loss leads us to pay nearly as much for a storage unit somewhere as people pay in rent. The fear that we might no longer look young fills medical schools with plastic surgeons, and the fear of dying finds many unprepared, unable, and unwilling to even talk about it, leaving those with faith enough to look forward to what is to come seem really odd.
We don’t have to be a hoarder to feel the chill of death’s shadow because we know deep down that everything we love and rely on will pass away. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, even fear of change can numb our emotions, cloud our vision and make us grasp at things that will rot and wear out. That fear makes us do crazy things and make bad decisions.
God’s answer to this is what draws us all together on this day and in this place. This day, at the very heart of our faith tradition, reveals God’s plan to transform our doubts, worries, and fears into hope and joy. We are here celebrating Easter not because something wonderful happened for Jesus. We celebrate because what happened for him is given to us: life forever with God and one another. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that we no longer have to live with fears that too often keep us apart leaving us filled with confusion, doubt and frantic efforts to hang on to stuff that will rust and decay. God’s plan in Jesus is far bigger than our puny imaginations. We can face an empty tomb and see something no one else might see.
John’s Gospel is oddly specific about a detail whose meaning we might not ever have thought about before. It is the condition of those burial cloths. For John they are evidence that death has been defeated. Someone who moved or stole that body would have kept it wrapped up. The sight and smell of a body would have caused disgust, and an unsecured corpse would have been a clumsy burden. Realizing this, the two apostles took the discarded winding-sheet and veil s symbols of the resurrection. The man who bore them needed them no longer. They saw and believed, even though they did not understand how it could have possibly been true.
It is that belief that transformed them and allowed them to move forward even though they did not understand, and forward we go, all of us who believe. We have nothing to lose, those of us who believe. We lose nothing when we love enemies, bless our persecutors, forgive our transgressors, and beg other for forgiveness when we must. Because there is nothing to fear, we can be generous and welcoming to all. When that truth seizes us through faith, we shall suddenly realize that something wonderful is happening to us, and God’s plan is for this to happen again leading us to “go around doing good” just like Jesus did because he still lives through and within us all.
This is not something we have to intellectually understand, but it is something we must believe if there is to be any hope in our hearts and any hope of this world in God has chosen to be revealed. And so, what more is there to say except: “This is the Day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. Why? Not because something wonderful happened for Jesus, but because what happened for him is given to us.