April 16, 2017, Easter, The Weight of Heaven – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000019
There is a ridiculous, but sometimes very funny, BBC show from Scotland called Limmy’s world. And there is one short skit that begins with the narrator, Limmy, asking a question, “I have a question for you: which is heavier, a kilogramme of steel, or a kilogramme of feathers?” A little clock appears and ticks off the seconds, and after a minute, he gives the answer, “That’s right, a kilogramme of steel, because steel is heavier than feathers.” The rest of the episode is Limmy in utter confusion as people try to explain to him that a kilogramme of steel and a kilogramme of feathers weigh the same, because they’re both a kilogramme. They even show him a large scale, perfectly balanced, with a small hunk of steel on one side, and a huge bag of feathers on the other. And even then, he doesn’t get it. “That doesn’t prove anythin,” he says, “steel is still heavier than feathers. And look at the size of this,” he says, pointing to the feathers, “that’s cheatin.”
It’s way funnier if you watch it instead of me telling it, but the point is this: we have a hard time recognizing the real weight of something if we don’t think of it as a weighty thing. Today, take a close look at Matthew’s description of the coming of the angel that the two Marys met at the tomb. “There was a great earthquake,” Matthew wrote, “for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled back the stone and sat on it.” This is not the same earthquake we read about at the time of Jesus’ death on the cross, when the earth convulsed at the enormity of the death of Christ, when the curtain of the Temple tore in two and the graves around Jerusalem opened and the dead were shaken back to life and walked into the city – I’m sure to the terror of its inhabitants. That was an amazing earthquake.
But this was something else, another kind of earthquake altogether: caused by the approach of a creature so solidly real and so enormously heavy, that when he arrived, and rolled back the stone, and sat down on it, the ground shook from his weight. He sounds more like a giant than what we normally imagine when we think of an angel. Most people have very fluffy images of angels – we think of them as glorious creatures of light, with feathery wings and diaphanous robes – more like fairies than giants. But here is our real Easter angel at the tomb, and we find he is not at all fairy-like, but so frighteningly real that he had to reassure the women. “Don’t be afraid!” In fact, angels seem to have to do that a lot in the Bible.
We are so used to thinking of reality in terms of the visible creation around us that we are very prone to relegating everything else to the realm of the almost make-believe, even the things of the Spirit that are the source and foundation of our very lives. This week, as we contemplated the Passion of Jesus Christ, we were fully – awfully – aware of the weight of his humanity. We could well imagine the agony of the whips and thorns, and the crushing weight of the Cross. It is very nearly too real and weighty for us to hear about the nails that pierced his hands and feet, and the sword that pierced his side. We are terribly, sorrowfully aware of the weight of his dead body as Joseph and Nicodemus took it carefully down from the Cross and carried it between them to lay it in the tomb.
But then, today – in the chill and gloom before dawn on the first day of the week, comes the angel giant, whose sitting down shook the earth. And what about Jesus? We must not make the mistake his friends made when they first saw him, thinking he was a ghost. “Of course I’m not a ghost,” he reassured them, “touch me, feel my bones and flesh. Do I feel like a ghost?” He ate with them; he built a charcoal fire on the beach; in Cleopas’s house at Emmaus he held the loaf of bread and broke it to share with them. He was as solid and real as the carpenter’s son-turned-teacher they are knew, and yet he was so different his close friends had a hard time recognizing him at first.
But he wasn’t a filmy, glowing, spectral version of his old real human self. He wasn’t even a radiant, glorious, spiritual version of his old real human self. He wasn’t less real in any way – he was more real, more solid, more alive, than any human being had ever been. C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, about a bus that takes a group of people from hell up to heaven. And they all have the option of staying in heaven, or going back to hell. The brilliant thing – or one of the brilliant – things about the way Lewis describes heaven is that everything is excruciatingly real in heaven. The blades of grass are so real there and so solid, that the hell-dwellers can hardly walk on it. Heaven is more real than anything they have ever known.
And that, I believe with all my heart, is the truth of the Resurrected Christ: that the risen body of Jesus, the glorified body that is the firstfruits of the bodies we will all have when our Lord returns to heal and restore everything, the body that is in the Presence now of God the Father, is more solid and weighty than anything we can even begin to imagine. The Jesus we worship is fully God and yet, amazingly, still fully and permanently human flesh – God’s real Creation made everlastingly and unshakeably real.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!