A year or so ago, there arose a very big social and political action that has come to be called the Occupy Movement. We don’t hear so much about this movement today, but for a time what we saw and heard a lot about this happening. The Occupy Movement featured a very large number of people who gathered ad hoc at various places and camping out there as a way of re-making our economic and political systems, to make them less top-down and more evenly distributed. Their claim is that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy, and is unstable.
Now, from the first the Episcopal Church has had difficulty with this movement. On the one hand, in many ways the Episcopal Church epitomizes “the system.” We have members who are stockbrokers and politicians and judges, high-level public servants —owners of brokerage firms, American Presidents, and Supreme Court Justices, even—people who MAKE and enjoy and greatly benefit from the systems that exist. They are God’s people, people who try to do what Jesus would have them to, as best as they understand that divine direction. On the other hand, though, the Episcopal Church is chock full—or maybe half full—of people like you and me: the more ordinary folks who have very little social or political power, who are just trying to get by on what they can scrape together from all their hard work. They, too, are God’s people, who try to do what Jesus would have them to, as best as they understand that divine direction.
Nowhere was this dichotomy between the “haves” and the “have nots” more evident than when the Occupy Movement decided to camp out in lower Manhattan to call attention to the global financial system. Perhaps you know this little-know fact, that thanks to a fortuitous land grant in colonial days Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street actually OWNS lower Manhattan. This meant that the occupiers—famously headed by an Episcopal bishop—were locked out of a park by other Episcopal leaders.
Right about now you may be thinking, “The Occupy Movement? What a STRANGE thing to be talking about on Easter. This movement is OVER, gone the way of the hoola-hoop. Let’s get to Jesus, the empty tomb, you know: EASTER.”
Well, I have been thinking this week of how, as with so many things, Jesus actually was the first Occupier. As God looked around his creation, he couldn’t help but notice that the world he had created wasn’t functioning as he had created that world to be. He first noticed this in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve hid themselves from him, and that was only the beginning of things being very wrong. All of this was God’s fault, in a way—God had built free will into all that Christ had made (from before the foundations of the world, as we say in the creed)—and we, God’s creation, had chosen POORLY.
God has reneged on free will only once, when he sent a flood to destroy most of our world, but God has promised to never again abrogate (take back) the free will that he has given us. So, what was God to do? THAT is when God created the Occupy Movement. He decided that he, himself, would Occupy our world and by his very presence here we would understand how our own very wrong choices had distorted creation. God sent himself, as Christ, to occupy Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that God and humans were one. Christ chose to come, to show the world what we were created to be.
Jesus’ message? Occupy life! Live life for others, as God-come-Jesus showed us how to do.
The thing is, we humans appear to LIKE the mess that we have created of our lives. “At least,” we think, “the mess is familiar and the consequences are our own.” So we live in the middle of the trash-heaps of our lives and, after a while, even manage to forget that we are living in the middle of a dump. When left to our own devices, we don’t so much Occupy life, as endure life.
Well, Jesus came into this world and said, “ENOUGH. I understand that what paralyzes life is fear of death, so I’ll transform that, too.” This is when Jesus Occupied death as well as life. By doing do he declared that death wasn’t what was supposed to be, either, and by Occupying death Christ Jesus made a way for us to overcome death and live beyond the grave.
All of which (at last) brings me to our gospel lesson for today. When Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter morning, she had no idea that she was part of an Occupy movement. She came because she loved Jesus, and out of that love she wanted to anoint his body as a last act of devotion. As John tells the Resurrection story, Mary didn’t even enter the tomb on that first visit. Instead, she noticed that the stone had been removed from the entrance and she assumed that someone had stolen the body. Maybe her sense of smell was involved, as well as her sense of sight. Maybe, not smelling the stench of death, she knew the tomb was empty without having to look. In any case, Mary ran back to tell the other disciples.
This is when a foot-race ensued between Peter and John. As John tells the story, he won the race, but Peter managed to get into the tomb first and discover that no one was there, just the used burial linens folded up all nice and neat as if to say, “I don’t need these any more.” That’s when Peter and John also believed that Jesus’ body had been stolen, as Mary Magdalene had guessed.
They went home, but Mary stayed at the tomb, eventually Occupying the tomb as well, when she discovered that there were two angelic beings there, and then the Risen Christ himself, Jesus. In this way Mary of Magdala (according to John) became the very first person to witness that God’s Occupy Movement had succeeded: Jesus the Christ had risen from the dead, forever transforming not only our lives, but our deaths as well, so that we, too could have eternal life.
You know THIS story, or you wouldn’t be here today. Maybe you hadn’t thought of Jesus’ life and death in terms of an Occupy Movement, one that managed to transform human history, in this life and the next. But, I submit, the end of this story has not yet been written. Jesus began the original Occupy Movement, but Mary left the tomb and told others, “I have seen the [risen] Lord!” Mary spread that movement far and wide, reaching so far and wide through time and distance to us today that we, ourselves, are Occupiers.
Who will you tell that you have seen the Risen Lord, and that the Risen Lord occupies your life? Will you, yourself, stay in the tomb, or choose life?