April 4, 2021•970 words
What do video conferencing, bicycles, Netflix, and jigsaw puzzles have in common? That's right. They all became wildly popular during 2020. A recent survey of puzzle retailers found that sales went up over 300% when compared with 2019 figures. Those little boxes of dusty, carefully cut cardboard were flying off the shelves as cooped-up people were looking for something to do. And, I will admit that the Alexander household helped to grow that percentage. During any given week last year our dining room table would be littered with images--in various states of deconstruction--of everything from abstract landscapes to Star Wars battle scenes. My wife, Kate, got particularly good at piecing these images together. She used the classic method: assemble the edges first and then sort the rest by color and then after some time and focus an entirely new world begins to emerge, and the plain wood of the table gives way to a lush countryside or a Norman Rockwell masterpiece--suddenly the mundane becomes wondrous. That's the idea, at least, until our cat, Pete, sits on the puzzle and undoes the work, or our dog, Maeve, makes off with a few pieces which we find soggy and shapeless on the floor a few days later.
I bring up puzzles this Easter Day for a couple of reasons, the first being that our gospel lesson is from Mark, which is a literary puzzle of sorts. In order to gain a fuller understanding of the resurrection passage we just heard, we need to jump back a few chapters--grouping by color, as it were--and recall another story Mark tells, the story of the blind man at Bethsaida. During Jesus' travels throughout the Galilean countryside, he comes upon a blind man. Jesus famously spits on the man's eyes, lays hands on him, then asks, and I quote, "'Can you see anything?' And the man looked up and said, 'I can see people but they look like trees, walking.'" Jesus' lays hands on the man's eyes again and restores the man to full sight. Which brings me to the second reason I mention puzzles today. With Jesus' help, this man went from seeing nothing--a bare dining room table, if you will--to a distorted image, and finally to clear sight of the world around him. For this blind man in Bethsaida that day, the mundane became wondrous.
There is a particular Greek word in this passage that carries a lot of interpretive weight, and that is the word for "looked up," as in the sentence, "And the man looked up and said, 'I can see people but they look like trees, walking.'" That Greek word for "looked up" appears one other place in Mark's gospel, and--you guessed it--it's in the resurrection story we heard today: "And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?' When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back."
Let's put the puzzle pieces together now. When the blind man at Bethsaida looked up, that is, when he began to look with the eyes of faith, the eyes that Jesus had given him, his life was forever changed. What was once unthinkable for him was now a possibility. He could see the beauty in the sunset and gaze into the night sky. He could look into the faces of those that had loved and cared for him. He could learn to read, or paint. An entirely new world of possibility and wonder had come alive.
Mark seems to want us to understand that the women at the tomb had also been transformed so as to see the world in a dramatically new way. "When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back." When they looked up, that is, looked with eyes of faith, eyes that Jesus had given them, they discovered that the wondrous had happened. A heavy stone had moved itself. And much more than that, a dead man--whose unforgettable demise they had witnessed just two days before--had been raised.
This Easter Day we are reminded of our central charge as Christians. Like the man at Bethsaida and the women at the tomb, we have been given new eyes through which see this world. You might call them "resurrection eyes." And Jesus means for us to use them. I don't know about you, but it seems that having a set of those could help these days. There are a lot of stones out there that people can't seem to move. Before they looked up, the women at the tomb grumbled and worried about the stone's weight. For us, the stone could be any number of things: personal grief we are having trouble moving past, deep weariness from worry about pandemics or politics, or even fear in this community of St. Mary's about how to manage a return to church after so long away. These are heavy stones. And yet, Easter reminds us that not only can these stones be moved, but that they have been moved.
Maybe that's why puzzles were so popular during 2020. Whether they knew it or not, people longed to see with the hopeful power of resurrection eyes. If a bare, wooden dining room table could be transformed into a Swiss alpine meadow, what more could God do with a bare wooden cross?
Look up. See with new eyes. See the stone rolled away. Jesus, resurrected, has gone ahead of you and is waiting for you to follow. Indeed, anything is possible.
The Rev. Canon Jason Alexander
St. Mary's, Monticello | April 4, 2021
Easter Day, Year B