Text: Mark 16:1-8 (the empty tomb)
Imagine walking on a spiritual path all your life. Then imagine achieving your goal. What happens when you reach a pinnacle of spiritual development?
This summer, we have reflected on the stages of spiritual growth. I started with baptism in early July. Baptism marks our arrival as physical beings within a family and culture. It is a sacrament that blesses each newborn as a child of God and a spiritual being of unlimited potential.
Last week, we reached a crescendo with death and rebirth. We heard St. Paul exclaim that he has been crucified with Christ and that he no longer lives. Instead, it is Christ that lives in him. In this statement, Paul teaches that ego is an illusion and that at the end of life’s journey we reunite with the Divine. Paul has stumbled into a state of enlightenment.
But what happens to people like Paul who become fully awake? When one reaches a state of ecstasy like Paul’s, then what?
I believe that after such moments, we return to where we began and restart the journey; and this idea is one that I see in today’s reading.
In these last eight verses of the Gospel of Mark, a group of women come to the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday. As in the other gospels, they find his tomb empty. But unlike the others, in Mark’s account there are no resurrection appearances.
Instead, a mysterious man dressed in white tells the women that Jesus has been raised and that they will find him back where they began, in Galilee.
This is what happens after resurrection, I believe. We return to the place where we began, and we resume life as family members, friends, and partisans of Love. But we do so with the insights gained in previous journeys toward enlightenment.
The path to enlightenment passes through many stages. First, we confront our physical reality in a specific family, time and place and with all the blessings and wounds of our body and our ancestry.
Then, we learn to handle the various sensations and emotions that arise within us and which give us the energy and motivation to act.
We establish our individuality as we try to effect change in family and wider world. We start new relationships that reflect our origins, but which move beyond them.
We create conversations, communities, and cultural products of a thousand kinds that reflect our desires. We grow in knowledge and seek new ways to live out our sacred values of love.
Finally, sometimes we glimpse the Source of Love from which we have come and to which we return. In such moments, we may feel both humble and free.
But then what? Then, I think we start over again. As born-again followers of Jesus, we still struggle with questions of physical, emotional and intellectual identity. But we do so with gifts of spiritual growth.
Our struggles to balance body, mind and soul in complex conditions remain. But having climbed a spiritual path, we have a greater capacity to live with compassion, kindness, and respect. We have a greater ability to act as the hands and feet of Christ in the fight for God’s realm of Love on earth as it is in heaven.
When I introduced this series on June 25, I said that my aim was to reflect on practices that might help us move from fear to faith; from shame to humility; from egotism to charity; from grief to love; from judgement to honesty; from illusion to reality; and from greed to union with God.
I was motivated to undertake the series because of how unsettled I have been by the sharp increase in racism in our world. I don’t know how useful the series has been either for myself or this community. But I am glad I undertook it.
Last November, when a person who panders to racism was elected to the most powerful position in the world, I set Labour Day 2017 as a deadline. Until that date, I vowed to try and not worry too much about this development. But if by Labour Day the U.S. President was still secure in the White House — including his command over 10,000 nuclear weapons — I imagined that I might want to re-evaluate pretty much everything about life, love, and work.
As you know, Labour Day is one week from tomorrow. And despite breaking every rule in the book and exposing his racism at every turn, it seems highly likely that the 45th President will still be in the Oval Office next Monday.
And then, the day after, I will return to work after a week’s study leave. Life will continue and our joint ministry will go on.
This summer, I have touched on the stages of spiritual growth that can lead to repentance and enlightenment.
I hope that some of this has been useful. Unhappily, it hasn’t changed the social context in which we live, a context that continues to stun me. But it has reminded me that with greater enlightenment, we can continue our journey with courage.
After the women run from the empty tomb, I imagine that they return to Galilee. There they resume their lives as humble peasants and followers of Jesus.
Their journey with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem has transformed them. Although their dreams of a new King David have been dashed, they find themselves closer to Love. Although unable to continue the journey with Jesus of Nazareth, they carry the Risen Christ in their hearts; and so, they build beloved communities filled with hope and joy.
Two thousand years later in this beloved community, we continue our work as followers of Jesus. So, as we enjoy the last days of summer and prepare to resume life’s many activities after Labour Day, I pray that the peace of the Risen Christ will rest in our hearts. May it encourage us to continue our struggle for Love and against racism and violence in this sacred world of woes and wonders.
May it be so. Amen.