(An excerpt from a sermon Bill Lewellis preached on Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, Grace Church Allentown]
Christ is risen, Alleluia! I’m tempted to tell you how that happened. But that would simply be my imagination working overtime.
We don’t know how the resurrection happened. Whatever we can imagine is surely not what happened. For we are in a dimension of mystery, of hidden presence, a dimension far beyond our wildest imaginations.
We aren’t supposed to explain the resurrection. God’s resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, our Lord, explains us. The message of Easter is always in the present tense: He is risen! We are risen!
The gospels ground our faith not on the argument of the empty tomb, but on the presence of the risen Lord in human experience. It is not the persuasive power of the empty tomb that leads to faith. Personal encounters with the risen Lord lead us to faith and hope and love and action.
A reminder of those personal encounters with the risen Lord is front and center before us today in this sanctuary – and, hopefully, in our hearts. It is the paschal candle, the light of Christ. We will see this lighted candle before us at every service over the next Great Fifty Days of Easter. It will lead our way at baptisms, at eucharists and at funerals. It is a symbol of the risen and living Christ leading/modeling us, in death and resurrection, to our transformation as a new creation in Christ.
(I heard this story first from Father Charles ????. I believe he served in San Francisco before retiring at Nativity Cathedral. I suspect someone here will remember his last name.)
A long-time legend from the artist's colony of Rome says that more than 500 years ago monks from Milan discovered a young artist painting the ceiling of a chapel in Florence. Deeply moved by his work, they asked him to paint a fresco on their dining room wall.
When he completed his work in Florence he went to Milan. He talked with the monks. He felt the wall. He asked about everything in the bible even remotely connected with meals. He listened. He thought. He imagined. Then he sketched out a rough drawing.
Because he always worked with live models, he began looking for 13 models from whose faces he would paint Jesus and his apostles at table. Easily enough he found 11 faces that matched his conception of Peter and Andrew, Matthew and Bartholomew… Thomas, James, John…
Imagine Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, however, with two blank faces. He had not found models for Jesus and for Judas.
He searched for more than a year. One day he watched a procession entering the Milan cathedral. Leading the procession was a young man with a determined yet peaceful face. Da Vinci saw the young man's face through the light of the candle he carried in front of him. Da Vinci found the face of Jesus.
Then there was only Judas who had no face. Leonardo DaVinci searched for Judas. Twelve years later, Da Vinci was still looking for Judas.
In the meantime he had begun to do some work in Rome. One day, while walking through Rome's Trastevere section, Da Vinci heard loud shouting and cursing. A muscular man with a mean look that takes years to develop pounded his fists into the face of another. He beat him, robbed him, and probably killed him.
Weeks later, Da Vinci saw the hoodlum again. He asked him to go with him to Milan — to model. This was the face he had been looking for for years. Da Vinci told him he would provide a place for him to sleep, provide all he could eat, and some gold besides — and all he would have to do would be to sit still for a few hours a day. The man agreed.
They went to Milan, to the monastery where a drape hung over the unfinished masterpiece. The mean, muscular mugger sat still for Da Vinci for weeks — but did not see the fresco.
When his work was finally completed, Da Vinci unveiled it and pointed to each face. Peter, Matthew, Thomas, James John… Jesus. Finally he pointed to the model's face in the fresco — Judas.
The hoodlum stared at the fresco. He looked at Judas. He looked at Jesus. Again at Judas. Again at Jesus. He backed away. He began to cry. Finally, gaining some composure he said to Da Vinci: “You don’t remember me, do you?” “No," Leonardo said, “I don’t."
“Years ago," the hoodlum said, “years ago, as a young man, I was your model for Jesus.” He whispered, “I want to be Jesus again.”