Great Vigil of Easter, 2016 – resurrection people

We are a resurrection people. But this is not something easily come by. We are at the other end of a journey that has been on the move for over 2,000 years. One of my seminary professors told our class that in all likelihood, the first Good Friday did not just last until Easter morning. Rather, it likely lasted year. Even though some of Jesus followers were there to witness the empty tomb, and to then see him after that as well, in the face of what culminated on Good Friday, it took years for the early church to come together. They did not come out of the gate running. It was in dribs and drabs. In secret. Slowly as the came together and were able to galvanize around the stories of hope that they dared believe, they started to live it, and the movement of the early church began, and grew. But make no mistake it was excruciatingly difficult. We have the blessing of hindsight from this end of history. We know where the journey has ended up so far. We are inheritors of that faith and lived experience of what it means to be a resurrection people. It has been a long hard journey.
But tonight we continue to look through Mary’s eyes at the events as they unfolded.
For a short time, Jesus disappeared. There was a trace, left in the tomb – the linens that his body had been wrapped in.  A sense of disbelief is shared among the disciples when they hear the news. “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” In one of the other Gospel accounts we are told that Mary Magdalene assumed that his body had been moved. Or stolen.
On Holy Wednesday I spoke about a group of Argentinian women – Los Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, of the disappeared – Los Desaparecidos – their children – men and women who disappeared without a trace during Argentina’s dirty war. Almost always assumed murdered. And not just without a trace – but all records of them were wiped out – bank accounts, social insurance number, birth records – all gone. As though they never even existed in the first place. Can you imagine the pain, anguish and grief of those women? I imagine they would know what Mary, Jesus’ mother knew. Those women marched and those women chanted – We want our children. I suspect Mary wanted her son – back from the dead, back from the hands of the empire.
The disappearances didn’t just happen in Argentina in their war, but in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and many other countries throughout the world. It happened in the 1970,s and 1980’s – but remember too the 60;s scoop in our own country and the first nations children, stolen from their communities, some never to return home.  Sri Lanka in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. And the crazy thing is that it keeps happening today. People disappear without a trace leaving questions unanswered for ever with no closure.
What would Mary have thought, upon hearing the news – could it be? Could it be true? Is he alive, and not dead? The darkness has not swallowed him up? Surely he is gone, and now the Romans or someone has stolen his body, so they are denying us even that. And yet – “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
Thankfully Jesus did come back and inspired his mother, his friends and companions, his apostles, his disciples to stand in the face of the darkness – the evil that people disappear into – to speak truth, to shine the light of Christ in that darkness, to not give in to the fear, and the hatred, pain and the anguish. But instead to turn to forgiveness, and the love that Jesus exemplified.
Sometimes, we don’t even know, and yet the living proof is right in front of us.
I would like to tell you the story of Mary – but Mary from Argentina. Mary’s brother was smart. He had all kinds of potential and promise, and despite what was happening in the country around him, had a great future ahead of him. And then one day he was gone. No trace. Nothing. Every record that he had been a citizen and alive, bank accounts, health records – everything – just gone. He was disappeared. He became one of los desaparecidos. Mercifully, this happened after his mother died – because either it would have killed her, or she too would have joined the women in the Plaza de Mayo – meeting every week, and demanding justice for their disappeared sons and daughters, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews. Mary was out of the country when it happened. She did not return. She couldn’t. To face that emptiness, to face that blackness – that evil that had swallowed up so many, and now her brother too. It took Mary 27 years to go back and face the disappearance of her brother. And in the end, there was nothing they could show her, but the torture chambers and the detention cells where he likely spent the last hours of his life. But Mary came to a place – not without difficulty, and anguish and sorrow, but Mary came to a place where she found peace. She found the love of Christ that has allowed her to live as a person of the resurrection, that lives life and not death. She has been able to entrust her brother to that same resurrection – she alive, and he dead. She has been able to live into a forgiveness that holds those responsible for his murder to account, and yet find closure, and to find God’s grace, love and mercy in the midst of it all. She said to me – there is great beauty in the world, and yet the world is an ugly place. And we see this paradox with our eyes. Where evil like the crucifixion happens, and where people are disappeared. She said, we are moulded by life, by the world – but we play a part in that. Mary, Maria from Argentina, knows what it is to see with the eyes of Mary. She knows what it is to be wracked by questions, and hope and despair at the same time. And yet in the face of that, she knows what it is to find life, hope, love and forgiveness. Mary said that she has never really told her story before, but that it is important – not for pity or sympathy, but so that people learn, so that it doesn’t happen again. Like the survivors of the Holocaust, like the Reconciliation process in South Africa, like the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada – Never again. That Mary, is Mary Crawford, from here at St. George’s. You might never know the amazing stories of strength and hope and grace in our very midst – the amazing witness of the Gospel at work in the person sitting next to you in the pew. The eyes that have seen with the eyes of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Tonight, the challenge, as we come to celebrate Easter and the joy of the resurrection, the challenge as we celebrate the confirmation of three amazing individuals in our very midst tonight is this – to live as resurrection people. To live out the Gospel. To stand in the face of the darkness, and evil, and to respond with grace, love, mercy and justice that are the foundations of our faith.

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