Seen and unseen
“Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
He went home. Huh. I guess we can give Peter some credit for going over to the empty tomb to see for himself what the women had reported, after the apostles dismissed their report as an idle tale that they did not believe. But it sort of floors me that after seeing what he saw, his response was to just go home.
Tonight we celebrate the central event of Christianity. Tonight we have heard many stories - how God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, how God showed the prophet Ezekiel that God could breathe new life into what was given up for dead, how God calls us to seek wisdom and will provide for those who have waited for salvation, how God will restore those who have come through sorrow and disaster.
The story of Jesus is the continuation of those stories, and seen in the context of them. The story of Jesus is a story, like those that came before, that shows how God from time to time intervenes in the world to liberate God’s people. It is, like those Old Testament stories that came before, about salvation.
When Peter looked in that tomb, though, he surely did not know what he was seeing, the Good News of God in Christ, the news that death does not have the last word. Because otherwise, why would he just go home, maybe read a book, watch a show, fix a snack? Peter did not recognize God’s work that was taking place; he saw, but also he didn’t see.
The resurrection is both seen and unseen. To see it we must seek signs of of salvation - the footprints of justice, a trail of reconciliation, a gentle rippling wake of grace - so we can say, “there it is. There is Jesus, there is God at work.”
But we need a guide, a teacher, a method by which we can sift through and grasp such elusive information.
This is why we come here tonight to hear these stories, and to understand that they are not just stories that we can hear, say, yeah, that’s nice, and then go home and fix a snack or watch a show. Tonight we gather to hear these stories to help us learn to see, to find lens through which to look at the world and interpret it, and to learn what to do in the wake of it. Because we have to learn to have the eyes to see and recognize God’s work in the world.
And just as we have to look deeply into the stories, we also have to look deeply into the world around us. We have to look with wondering eyes and hear with marveling ears, and risk believing in what we can neither see nor really explain. To be able to know the love of God that created all things, seen and unseen, and to obey the God who made outrageous and solid promises, and to trust the God who saves.
We start here in this place where we have gathered together by a fire and prayed and sung and listened to our stories together; where we will promise together to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Where we will promise to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Where we will promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship and the breaking of the bread.
And where we will see and not see Jesus in the Eucharistic feast.
Just as we will have to look for Jesus, we also will have to look for those neighbors we are called to love, those humans whose dignity we must respect. We will see and not see them every day: on the street, lined up outside the food pantry, shopping at the market, playing in the park; and inside, in our homes or offices or schools; or far away, those neighbors whose pictures we may see or whose stories full of sorrow and pain we might read in the newspapers before we turn the page or scroll on by.
We will also have to look for ways to promote peace and to recognize the need for justice. For we will see and not see justice and peace. We will see justice given and we will see justice denied, we will see times of peace and we will see times of no peace.
But whether we can perceive, or not perceive yet, here is where we start. To look and to see in the midst of our not seeing. To look at and into the world more closely to see what resurrection God is bringing into being. To see an empty tomb and recognize that it means new life.
We are starting already, here, this night: through our gathering, our hearing our story, and our proclamation of our most basic beliefs. By our promises to act in the world as if we know that God is good and that God has brought us through the waters and saved us.
By looking deeply into our stories with wondering eyes and listening with marveling ears, by looking deeply into our own lives and into the lives of those around us with astonishment and awe, by looking deeply into the world around us that is so broken and yet so beautiful, perhaps we can imagine that such a mystery as this - Christ is Risen! - can be seen here, or anywhere, can even be seen in us.
Perhaps we can see that now that we know, we can’t just go home and call it a day - that we can and must tell about it, respond to it, in our world, in our lives. That we can and must continue the marvelous story ourselves. For it is in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ that we have come here to say: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed!