Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014 Reflection - Two Angels, Weeping, and the Temple

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)" (John 20:11-12).

There are so many Easter significances that should roll through our mind. Jesus, being raised forever as the sign of the new age and eternal life, has paved the way through sin and death to God's Kingdom. First century Jewish women were chosen by God to have the resurrection revealed to the them. The early church referred to this day as "8th day" because it was the beginning of forever. The list could go on.

What I can't get out of my mind this year are the angel appearances in each gospel account. In Matthew (ch. 28), the angel comes down like lightening and thunder with a mega -earthquake, sits above the rock like the Bethlehem star at the beginning of the Gospel,  the sight of this angel causes the soldiers of death to fall down like dead people, and the angel commissions the two Marys to be the first evangelists of the Gospel. This angel gets all the lines in Jesus' post-resurrection scene.

The Mark version has a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side of the tomb. The group of women find this person as they come to do their burial duty. The identity of this young man is unknown, let alone we don't even know if this is an angel or not. He commissions the women to spread the good news but the short version of this gospel has the women fearfully disobeying.

Luke also mentions a group of women taking care of the business of dying with their spices and anointings. As they are in the empty tomb, two angels suddenly appear and tell them that this was all foreshadowed by Jesus. Luke plays up the marginalization of women by having the disciples initially disbelieve these faithful few.

Finally, John has something more to get to. Mary, alone, immediately tells the disciples and Peter immediately runs to the tomb. But after Peter and the "beloved disciple" leave, Mary remains weeping alone. As she stoops down to look in the tomb, she sees two angels strategically placed where Jesus was. They ask her one question, "Why are you weeping?" This word "weeping" occurs in a few strategic places and draws our memories back to John 16:

"Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:20-22). 
After the angels speak and she replies, she turns and sees "the gardener." A similar exchange happens with the gardener about weeping and Jesus' whereabouts until Jesus hauntingly says just her name, "Mary." We remember John 10, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me." She lovingly calls him teacher and becomes the first person in history to see the risen Lord.

The Angels 
The Angels perform different theological functions in each account. Each Gospel has a theological bone to pick with the angels, their words, and locations. This year, John's angels have given me the most thought. First, unlike Matthew's account where there is one angel who steals the scene, there are two angels with one line (in stereo?).  

"Why are you weeping?" - This question is so important. First, it draws our attention back to Lazarus' tomb when Mary, the mourning Jewish friends, and Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus. In chapter 11, Jesus is "the resurrection and life" able to raise Lazarus from the dead. This helps us see that Jesus' isn't missing -  he's risen. This idea also points back to John 16 to help us recall Jesus' words about his leaving and returning, why it is good and necessary, and how our tears will turn to joy (see above).

"They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."- For the Gospel of John, this question is so ironic. Through the whole gospel the religious leaders who hated Jesus continually asked where Jesus came from. This faithful women asks where Jesus went. The first try to discredit Jesus, the second wants to be with him. And this faith allows her to immediately encounter Jesus.

Jesus as the Temple
If you remember the Old Testament descriptions of the temple - in the center was the Holy of Holies. Here was the room where God was. In the room was a chest called "the Ark of the Covenant" - "Ark" seems to be a fancy word for "box." In the box was a jar of Manna, Aaron's staff, and the 10 Commandment tablets. On top of the Ark there were two Angels at each end facing each other. God says concerning this, "You shall put the mercy-seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. There I will meet you, and from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands..." (Exodus 25). 

What does this have to do with Easter? A major theme in the gospel of John is that Jesus is the embodiment of God's eternal life. To begin his ministry, Jesus clears the temple and then makes his boldest Easter claim that eventually leads to his death, "Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken" (John 2). Jesus' burial in chapter 19 gives a ton of allusions to this temple theme, but nothing is more striking than these angels. Like the Ark of the Covenant, Mary sees "two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet." Where the Synoptic Gospels speak of Jesus' temple work with the tearing of the temple curtain (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk 23:45), John's Gospel records no such event. Instead, John places these two angels at the head and feet where Jesus' dead body was. John uses these angels to remind us that Jesus is more than a dead man brought back to life - Jesus is the new temple of God.

What does this mean for us? For the world? Jesus' death and resurrection brings about the New Creation in such a way that God is revealed and encountered most fully in Jesus Christ. The temple, a place where we brought our sacrifices, atoned for our sins, and sought God, now gets eclipsed by Jesus. Jesus is the place where our sins are atoned. Jesus is the place where we meet God. Our conception of God is no longer confined by the box buildings and blood of animals. God is no longer "over there" somewhere and there is no longer a payment required to be near and with God. We are free of the tyranny of sin and death, more so, we are free from the notion that God is distant and with "those" people. These are the ideas that hinder us from experiencing a full life with God and others, but now, God, through the Holy Spirit, lives in us. God is for us and with us.
 

May we be free from any notion that God is far away and confined to the religious elite. May our weeping be turned to joy as we are released from sin and death, as we see Jesus' victorious and redeeming work. May we seek the Lord and hear him call our name. And may we come to experience the Easter blessing of continually dwelling in and abiding with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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