Scripture: John 20:1-18
Given on Easter 2014 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
It seems that our lives are all made up of tapestries of memories that serve as the foundation for each present moment. Different snippets of moments that have been woven together to form the person that you have become. Moments of triumph and tragedy, happiness and sadness, love and loss. Moments that dwell in that part of your mind that remains untouched by the passing of time. Those moments that if you lived to be a hundred you could perfectly describe what you were wearing, the smell of new fallen rain, the temperature in the air. Moments that live on into eternity. My life is filled with those moments from times growing up. So many holy days spent with my parents, my brothers, my grandparents. And when those holy days came we had certainly earned the right to celebrate them. My family, each of us, took Lent very seriously, faithfully giving something up each year in an effort to understand the experience of Jesus giving up his life. It was imparted on each of us early on that one could not get to the new life of Easter morning without the death that had to occur on Good Friday and so it was that we each in our own way experienced the movements of the Lenten season and the crescendo of Holy Week. And because we had each faithfully kept watch during Good Friday and Black Saturday when the sun did rise on Easter morning there was little chance of reining in the unfettered emotions of three boys rushing to the backdoor to see our Easter basket sitting on one of the lower steps of the patio with three abnormally large chocolate bunnies dwelling in the basket awaiting their demise at the hands of McLeod boys who were allowed very little chocolate growing up. It was our one proof that the Easter bunny must be real because there is no way on God’s green earth that my mother would have signed off on the consumption of such copious amounts of milk chocolate, especially before Sunday worship. Additionally, just past the basket, lay a yard that had been filled to the brim with hidden Easter eggs. And with each passing year, the eggs would become increasingly difficult to locate as each previous year we had demonstrated an unmatched prowess for locating eggs hidden amongst the thick grass and hollowed out longleaf pine tree that sat just off our back door. As we boys three would make our way through the yard each trying to out do the others in finding as many eggs as we could what would ensue was 15-20 minutes of the unbridled chaotic energy of resurrection playing out under the guise of a hunt for hardboiled and freshly dyed easter eggs. And this same episode played out over and over again in my childhood with the the strategic location of the eggs becoming increasingly more well covered until the year in which the level of difficulty met the inevitable diminishing return of not being able to find every egg on Easter morning. As I mentioned before, one of the prime hiding locations for the Easter bunny to use in her efforts to fool the brothers three was the thick grass that grew to the right of our patio. Truth be told, it should have not been as thick as it was but I, as the oldest McLeod brother, was in charge of grass management growing up and so it was that I would put on my headphones and pop in a tape of Motley Crüe or Guns N Roses or any of the other 80’s Hairbands that my dad hated and I would spend an hour or so every couple of weeks mowing the yard. Until that one Easter when I, in my lack of desire to mow the grass, had allowed it to grow much longer and thicker than was usually the case and that Sunday morning, the same episode transpired with the excitement of the Easter basket, followed by gorging on chocolate, followed by the chaotic search for Easter eggs in the backyard, and each member of the family was sure that we had found every egg and so it was that we left the backyard, had breakfast, and went to church. By the time we got home from church it was time for Sunday dinner with my grandparents and watching television and before too long, the magic of the Easter morning had worn off and things had returned to normal in the house. As it was on this year, as with most years in southern North Carolina, it was exceptionally hot in the days and weeks that followed that Easter Sunday and the grass was clearly not going to mow itself and so one day I put on my headphones, and started mowing the backyard until I heard a rattling coming from the mower, followed by the ejection of colorful shell throughout the backyard. What followed after that can only be described as the most ungodly smell I have ever encountered in my life as a lone Easter egg had survived the initial search and spent the next couple of weeks cooking in the North Carolina sun and exploded from under my lawnmower and filled the neighborhood with a stench that still brings tears to my eyes today. So it was, on that year, that all the preparation that had gone into Lent, all the agony that was experienced through Holy Week, and all the magic of Easter morning, had been reduced to a singular Easter egg rotted to the core some two weeks later.
I sometimes wonder about the tapestry of memories that made up the life of Mary Magdalene. Seemingly always on the margins of Jesus’s recorded life, a place, as a woman in that society in that time that suggests that she was of great import to the telling of the story of Jesus. While the actual nature of their relationship has long since been lost in the sands of time that cover 1st century Jerusalem she was clearly one who had great affection for Jesus and was in Jesus’s inner circle of followers. And we can piece much of this together because we are told that it was she who went to the tomb on that morning. Why was she going? Again, the reasoning was unclear. In other gospels it is suggested that the women went there to further prepare the body for burial but in John that task has already been undertaken by Joseph of Arimathea. Perhaps she was going to sit in the peace and solitude of the garden in which they had laid the body so that she might pray, or cry, or try to understand everything that had transpired over the past week. And so it is that she goes to the tomb only to discover that the large stone which had been placed in front of it had been removed. And the confusion she felt is palpable. So she returns to those to whom she was closest and recounts her findings of the moved stone and with the chaotic energy of three brothers trying to find as many eggs as they possibly can in a backyard, Peter and the one whom Jesus loved race to the tomb to see this thing for themselves. And it seems pretty clear that race was the operative word as we are told two separate times that the one whom Jesus loved (and probably the author of the gospel) had reached the tomb first. And we are told that seeing these burial clothes laying on the slab that just the previous day had the lifeless body of Jesus laying on it, that they believed. But this did little to address Mary’s confusion and sadness. We are told that she continues to stand there with tears running down her face desperately looking for the body of the one that she had loved all this time. And through the pain and confusion, through the emotional exhaustion and the tears she bends down and sees two angels sitting at the place where Jesus once lay. “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.
The world had been forever changed and yet we see the world in which we live and we know that much still needs to be changed if we are to be the people of the resurrection, the people of the revolution. Because make no mistake, what was started some two millennia ago, in an unremarkable country, in an unremarkable part of the world, little more than a region the size of a postage stamp on the edge of the mighty Roman Empire, what was started there continues to challenge the world today. Continues to change the world today. And we can either be a part of that change, we can either work for that change, we can either give our lives for that change or we can get out of the way because change is coming. Movements throughout the history of the world have almost always come when a single person, a single group, ceases whatever it is that they were doing and says with a single voice, “Stop!” “¡No más!” Movements throughout the history of the world have come when people sense the movement of the spirit and allow her to take them further down the moral arc towards justice. Movements throughout the history of the world have come when people are willing to live for something but more importantly are ready to die for something. Movements come when people no longer “doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.” Movements come when people organize with one another, when people get involved, when people stand up and speak out together, and create a power that cannot be suppressed.-* What started with an empty tomb in another part of the world can never be contained there, can never be a static moment in time, frozen forever in books and something we tell our kids so they can tell there kids, something that happened back then. If that’s all the Easter story is than all we are left with is a rotten egg cooking in the Carolina sun.
But here’s the good news, that’s never what it’s truly been about. The disciples were transformed from a quivering mess to revolutionaries of love, bravely going wherever they were called. The earliest Christians faced brutality and death because they knew in the end the were revolutionaries of love. The reformers, the counter reformers, each spoke truth to power because they knew in the end they were revolutionaries of love. Those in the civil rights movement peacefully faced police dogs, batons, and firehoses because they knew in the end they were revolutionaries of love. And we are called to take up that challenge today. To boldly step into the future seeking to be the loving hands and feet of Christ for a world desperate to know of light in darkness, hope in the midst of despair, peace in the midst of war, and love. That’s us. We are the hands and feet of Christ, the light in the darkness, the hope in despair, the peacemakers, the revolutionaries of love, and the revolution starts today. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen, indeed!) Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, amen.
*-This started a run of quotations taken from Martin Luther King,Jr., Margaret Mead, and Howard Zinn