Easter Sunday 2022: The Strips of Linen
Today we are celebrating the wonderful freedom and abandonment of the Easter message. He is Risen. And in this we find hope .. for He is the forerunner .. the prototype the first fruits of a resurrection every human shall share in. There is such immense freedom in the message of liberation .. even death itself cannot contain the human spirit and the human experience. This truth should give us freedom and liberty to live life in the face of. All will be well .. He is Risen.
It is a message of salvation and joy yet many in our society and I have no doubt even some of us here in Church might feel that the traditions and apparent requirements of religious life can seem more like constraints than freedom. We have just been through a season, the season of Lent which some of you may have found rather tiresome or stifling. The ancient rituals of a season of penitence seem to contradict the Easter message of freedom and abandonment.
So how can I convince you that being committed to the traditions of the church in the months to come is an authentic expression of the joy and freedom of the Easter Sunday prayers and liturgy.
I want to point you towards the strips of linen in our reading this morning. We read the disciples peered into the tomb and the strips of linen which had bound the crucified Christ lay folded to one side. No longer needed yet respectfully resting by themselves in the tomb. I wonder what we can learn from this nod towards the things of this world which became unnecessary yet not unimportant on that first Easter morning.
Let us imagine that these linen strips which bound the crucified Lord were part of an important and integral act to emphasise the reality of the death Jesus suffered. They were physical signs of the sorrow and death of our Lord. And yet on that Easter morning they were removed and laid aside as the further reality of the resurrection took precedent over the symbols of this world. Is it not true that sometimes we need the traditions and symbols of this world to allow us to truly believe and understand the realities of heaven.
This is what the writer Charles Eisentein says about the rituals and symbols of our world .. ‘Perhaps one day, a fully healed humanity will no longer distinguish something called a ritual, because all actions will be sacred. Until then, prayers remind us of the sacredness of all speech and holy sites can remind us of the sacredness of all the earth. So rituals serve to remind us of the sacred, world-creating power of all we do’.
So far from binding us to drudgery and rote, the prayers and traditions and symbols of the church remind us of what we are free from. There is no doubt in my mind that one day , just like the linen strips, we will put aside the ritual and tradition of the church, when we experience the final liberation from our earthly sojourn and know the freedom of heaven. But we must deal with these things respectfully and in the knowledge that they remind us of what it is we have been freed from.
We might say that the tradition and ritual of the church contain and support us, binding us as the linen once bound Christ, holding us tightly in the death of this world, But our freedom comes from knowing that one day all this will be removed. All of life will sacred and all of humanity will be free as we live in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth risen and ascended. But until then our freedom from fear and of judgement is found in the containing life of the Church here on earth.
Let us always remember the linen strips folded respectfully in the tomb and find strength in their message that one day we will live in complete freedom and joy. Until then we may have to rely on the physical signs and symbols of this world to carry us through. Ours is an Easter faith made perfect in the experience of a Lenten journey. Let us rejoice the care and the freedom God offers us on earth and in heaven.