Scripture: John 20:1-18 & Isaiah 65:17-26
Given Easter Sunday 2013 (March 31, 2013) at UPC of Amsterdam,NY
You have to imagine that every step that morning was pure torture. Though Mary may have been in a complete fog, complete shock pondering over the events that transpired over the past week. From his triumphal entry into the city, to the last meal shared with those closest to him, to his betrayal and arrest, trial and beating, crucifixion and death she had to have felt like she didn’t know whether she was coming or going throughout much of the week. But none of that mattered, now. She had all the time in the world to consider everything. It was over. His life, his ministry, the movement that he had started three years ago of which she had been such a crucial part. It was over and there was nothing left to do but ritually prepare the body, view the horrific wounds inflicted upon him, the nail marks, the place in his side, the holes that dotted the crown of his head. She wondered, “had they even taken that torturous adornment off his head before they laid him in the tomb.” Unlike the others, she did not have a traditional relationship with Jesus. It was and remains difficult to know what to do with this character who the gospels records so many times that it is impossible to dismiss her as someone only on the outer edges of Jesus’s life and ministry. While most of the women in Jesus’s life were either friends in whose house he would stop in, persons who Jesus would use as an example of right living, those who needed Jesus in the depths of their brokenness, or his own family, Mary defies to be placed into any of those categories. And yet, it remains clear that she and Jesus shared an intimacy, a bond, that moved beyond casual acquaintance or out of town friend to a place of unity of spirits. And knowing all of that, we can, if close our eyes picture the agony and confusion that she must have been feeling as she walked towards that place.
Until, she reached the tomb. And agony was replaced by confusion and fear. The stone, the giant rock that had covered the entrance of that hewn tomb, it had been rolled away. And as she peered inside, it is clear that the very place that she and the others had laid Jesus down not two days ago was completely empty, like no one had ever been there before. “Where is Peter?,” she thought to herself, “He would know what to do. I have to find him.” And so we are told that she runs from the place of the tomb, presumably outside the city to the place where the disciples are huddled. And you have to know that if she was sad and confused, they were scared with a crystal clear understanding of what could befall them next. And so as Mary gets there and uses the secret knock or password she is allowed to come in and she finds a room full of disciples still paralyzed by fear. Still not sure if it is even safe for them to leave the place in which they are staying to buy food. Still being overwhelmed by the darkness and who can blame them? They had just seen the one whom they had followed for the last three years, the one with whom they shared a brotherly relationship, from whom they had been given the gift of sight to begin to see the world from a slightly different perspective, they had just seen him killed by an occupying force that would have thought nothing of continuing to wipe the entire movement out. You challenge the old order of the day, the sitting order of the day, and it will respond in kind. You hang out with Jesus too long and eventually you might get arrested.
And so she tells them everything that she has seen up till this point and confusion sweeps the room up again. And Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who just a couple days ago had been grafted into Jesus’s earthly family, “Woman, your son. Man, your mother,” they react to this news by tearing out of the house with little regard for their safety and head towards the outskirts of town where they had just left Jesus a couple of days ago. And the recording in John of the events is great, even a little humorous, as we are told that the two disciples, Peter and the “one whom Jesus loved” race to the tomb with the one whom Jesus loved winning. And we know they raced because we are told in three separate occasions that the one whom Jesus loved won. And as the one whom Jesus loved arrived there he bent down to peer into the darkness of the cave with the first light of morning beginning to make things previously hidden by the darkness apparent and as he peers he can see the linens which previously had been around Jesus lying on the stone tablet. And in a world and a time in which ghost sightings were neither uncommon nor thought of as that odd you have to know that as he is looking in there that a fear of uncertainty grips him until Peter who is always portrayed in the gospel as a little quick on the draw reaches the tomb and without even thinking runs in. And we are told that seeing the empty tomb with the burial linens lying to the side, upon seeing the cloth that had previously been placed on Jesus’s face seeing all that with the sunlight of a new days now cresting over the tree line and shining on everything they saw and believed but they did not understand. And indeed faith is a bit like that. Faith is a practice of seeing but not understanding. Of sensing deep in one’s heart of the movement of God, the presence of God, the love of God without actually being able to put to words that experience that you are having. The two disciples, Peter and the one whom Jesus loved, saw, and believed, but they did not understand. And so they left. Leaving Mary behind in her confusion and her sadness with tears still streaming down her face and now even more trapped in the darkness even with the sunlight of a new day streaming brilliantly around her face. Until she bent town, having now composed herself to the point that she could even look into the tomb, she sees two angels sitting at the place where Jesus had been laid, one at the head, and the other at the feet and they immediately begin the work of comforting her. “Friend, why are you crying?,” they said to her. And she manages to get out in the midst of her tears, “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where he is.” And maybe this was just the last straw, maybe her emotions from the day that had transpired, from the week of ups and downs and torture and death and crowds for you and crowds against you and now this empty tomb with two people in dazzling white clothes asking her why she is crying, maybe all this simply became too much and so she turned to leave almost immediately walking into the person standing behind her. But her grief, her confusion, maybe just the tears in her eyes clouded her vision to the point that she had no idea who it was that stood in her midst but, presuming him to be the gardner, begs him, implores him, “Sir, please. Sir you have to help me. Look, if you have taken away the body, if you have moved him somewhere else because he is too much trouble to look after here, just tell me where and I will go get him.” Jesus, with the all too familiar look of compassion that all who had grown to know him, but especially Mary had grown to love, looked down at her and all the love that had dwelt in his whole being and he pours everything, all of that into one single word, “Mary.” And just like that, the light that the other two disciples had seen came streaming into her eyes and the eyes of her soul. The light which had been obscured by darkness since the middle of the day on Friday now beamed with so much intensity that it seemed like all the world was bathed in its holiness and beauty. The light that had been covered by the darkness had been revealed. And the darkness could never, ever overcome it. “Mary,” he said. “Rabbouni!,” she responded. And all the weight that had been weighing her down all the weight which had been weighing down all the world, all the brokenness and pain, all the frustration and doubt, all the death and hate and violence and discontent and brother against brother and father against father all that became awashed in the light of redemption, in the light of holiness, in the light of love until all that was wrong with the world, that all continues to be wrong with the world becomes made right in this simple two word interaction. “Mary.” Rabbouni!” And after being told to let the others know, she departs having been forever changed. The world had been forever changed.
So here we are some 2,000 years later. Gathered in this place, at this time. When once again the forces of brokenness, the forces of the old order of the world, collect to focus the world on it sin, on it worthlessness. The forces of darkness continue to gather leading us to forget that we are children of God. That they are children of God. That we all are children of God. That we have all been redeemed by God. Let me say that again. We have all been redeemed by God and so we have nothing in the world to fear anymore. Nothing in the world to doubt anymore. We have spent the last few weeks walking in the midst of gathering darkness and that has been made all too real during that time for many of us but we gather here today, not in the darkness, but in the light. The light of a new day, the light of a new era, the light of Christ.
But even as we gather here some 2,000 years later and recount the story of a tiny second-rate country in which the plans of God for the world are made manifest we are tempted to leave the power of that moment back there. We are tempted to tell the story as if what happened was a one time occurrence in which God, having sent his special child with a message of love, crowns the whole affair by bringing him back to life that we might know that everything he said was true. We are tempted to look at the empty cross the empty tomb and say that is the even that happened then at that time to become the foundation of our faith. But in doing so, in looking back we fail to be thrust forward. And so we turn to the book of Isaiah that we might be given a glimpse not of our past but of our ongoing future.
“For I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth,” says God, “the former things shall not be remembered or brought to mind.” “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight.” The joy of Easter morning does not remain simply relegated to a story in the past in which a person died and then was brought back to life but rather it is a constant and beautiful reminder of the ongoing work of redemption both in our hearts but also in our worlds. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says God.” The beauty of the Easter moment, the joy of the Easter moment, is not a thing in another place in another time but rather is right here, right now, as we are blessed to be part of the work of God’s redemption in the world. Awashed in God’s holy light and filled with the love of the Holy Spirit for all people.
What comes after the resurrection is not looking back to a time way back when that we will tell our kids and their kids about but rather is an event that pushes us forward in faith. Believing that with God’s help we might bring about the peace in a war-torn world. Believing that with God’s help we might bring about the justice in a world in which too many of God’s children still are marginalized. Believing that with God’s help we might bring about love in a world that too often tells us we have to worry about ourselves and let other people worry about themselves instead of being the family of people, the community of people, that God created us to be. What comes after the resurrection is a time of constant motion, constant striving, constant reaching out in love and hope. What resurrection calls for is a permanent revolution in which we are always moving with the spirit, blowing where she will, and making all things beautiful, and holy, and new. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.