April 21, 2019

Series: April 2019

Category: Easter Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

John 20:1-18

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.  


          A special welcome to visitors and guests today.  We hope you feel at home here.  We’re glad that you are with us to celebrate, to flower the cross, and to bear witness to the mystery of the resurrection.  It’s actually a difficult day to visit a church.  I don’t mean that parking lots are more full, but today they tell a story today about a tomb being empty.  Like Christmas, on the surface it seems Easter requires a significant leap of faith. 

          However, those who are on the front end of that leap may be closest to those who experienced the first Easter.  As Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us, the first followers of Jesus, those who were his contemporaries, didn’t have the benefit of any resurrection account.  The world’s cathedrals and creeds have been constructed on a conviction about what happened that morning.  The first disciples didn’t have any of that, so you’re in good company if you’ve yet to come to the resurrection.  Look at how they reacted when they heard the strange news.  It’s a veritable relay race to the tomb:  first Mary Magdalene, then she runs to Simon Peter and “the other disciple”–there’s such a hurry it just says the one Jesus loved.  Simon Peter and the beloved one take the baton from Mary and race to the tomb.  We’re even given the detail that the beloved one outruns Peter.  No wonder Jesus called him a rock.  At the finish line, they find the wrappings from Jesus’ body, shed like a pair of warm ups, and the disciples believe.  Another good translation is, they “trusted.” 

It might have been better to say trust reached new heights or depths, because we know they already believed, already trusted.  They didn’t have resurrection from the dead, what they had to go on was the encounter with the living.  Bourgeault reminds us that there was something they had seen in Jesus that drew them to him, and when people encountered him, the course of their lives were changed forever. [1]  The gospels are filled with stories of Jesus recognizing the divine imprint in those around him.  What a presence.  People were so touched by their encounters with Jesus, his teachings, his deeds, his healing touch, that they only way they could express it was through the language of miracle. 

          Bourgeault says this way of Jesus is not beyond our reach.  In fact, she understands Jesus as inviting us into practicing this Christlike presence.  That’s everything.  If you are searching for a spiritual path, that’s it, finding a sacred way of being present at the heart of every moment.  If you want to do justice in the world, its best done through by learning to recognize the divine light all around, how it’s being shut out unfairly and harmfully, drawing upon the divine capacity of the self and better the beloved community. 

It leaves me to wonder if our faith has been somewhat misguided.  We have focused on worshiping Jesus rather than participating with Christ.  As Bourgeault puts it, somewhere along the way “Christianity was changed into a religion about Jesus rather than a religion of Jesus.”[2]  Christianity has expended so much energy and resources into being a religion about Jesus that it has had precious little reserved to invest in being a people of Jesus.  And, wouldn’t you know, the problems that most people express about Christianity are “about Jesus problems,” not “of Jesus problems.”  I’m not sure I’ve heard a critique of Jesus’ way of being in the world—serving, healing, reaching across barriers, forgiving, being in solidarity with the left out and pushed aside.  What people have trouble with are all the things they think they’re supposed to think and say about Jesus.  So, let them go.

Let them go so that you might grasp hold of Christ’s way of being, a way that would rather endure the worst the world has to offer than surrender its integrity.  On Easter, that way, that love…wins, and is lifted up for all to see.  It’s a signal that this way is not undertaken in vain.  Your journey, your struggle, your pain is not in vain.  Nor are your tears.

Consider Mary.  While Simon Peter and the other one were running around, Mary goes back stays.  There’s something about someone who comes back and who stays isn’t there?  Mary stays at the tomb and she offers the gift of her tears.  There is so much to cry about.  It’s tempting keep moving so we don’t have to face it.  Mary is brave enough to be still.  In her waiting around, she is rewarded with an encounter of the risen one.  When we can stop and see the disappointment, the brokenness and betrayal, the ugliness that can sometimes reign, are we in a position to fully appreciate the beauty when it comes.  What is life without beauty?  The Celtic teacher John O’Donohue reminds us that we doubly impoverish the poor when we rob them of beauty.

The church building where I first-served as an associate was beautiful.  A giant gothic structure, its windows to give every color to the light.  Its acoustics, clearly tuned for music, were equally colorful if I can make such a mixed metaphor.  Who needs to hear the sermon when there is a song to be sung or played?  I was used to being in the sanctuary during the morning hours, and so I noticed the difference, the darkness even, of sitting there one afternoon on an overcast day.  The occasion was a concert by a visiting organist named Philippe Lefebvre.  He was a master of improvisation and at one point he was given the prompt, the challenge, to interpret the creation in music.  He proceeded to play, improvised, for 37 minutes.  Even the novice musician could feel where he was at times.  In fact, right near the beginning, at a place that just felt like, “Let there be light,” the clouds must have parted because the sanctuary suddenly filled with color.  The crowd audibly gasped.

Lefebvre was, and still is, the principal organist at Notre Dame.  The state of his instrument remains unclear, having endured the fire so many watched in horror and helplessly this week.  Notre Dame is 856 years old, which means that for about 40 generations, people could wake up and rely on the fact that would be standing.  When that spire fell, and that organ was silenced, something happened, though, spontaneously it would seem.  People came to see the stone building, just as they did that morning to see the stone rolled away, and wouldn’t you know they picked up the tune the organ could no longer play.  They started singing hymns, singing beauty in the face of the ugliest of destructions, placing, as it were, flowers, upon an instrument of death.  From a religion about Jesus to one of Jesus.

It has been interesting to watch the response to the fire unfold.  In the moment, heartbreak.  In the moments since, enormous rallying and generation of considerable financial resources to rebuild.  And then, some backlash, or at least strong and understandable questions – where’s the outcry and outpouring for the African American churches in Louisiana purposely burned; Al-Aqsa, the Jerusalem mosque that began to burn the same day as Notre Dame—would the outcry and outpouring have been as great?  And the list goes on, raising uncomfortable questions about who has resources, what prompts their rapid flow, and in what circumstances the well is inexplicably dry.  Don’t run from them.  Be like Mary.  Come back.  Stay.  Weep. 

Bring flowers.  Bring flowers to all of it, to the remains of all of it, to the iconic cathedral and its precious art to the more ordinary sanctuary and its precious place in a local community, flowers and the commitment to resurrection to the remains of beloved sacred sites of people of every color and from every culture, mosques, synagogues, and countless indigenous sites disregarded and destroyed into anonymity, flowers for the destroying of God’s great cathedral of the earth herself.  We bring flowers to the cross of Jesus and to the unjust crosses so many carry, flowers to his grave and flowers to every grave of everyone you’ve ever loved still awaiting the great resurrection.  Flowers to all the death and destruction we see all around us, and to those right outside our door we’ve trained ourselves not to see anymore.  Let us bring flowers to all that is fallen in the world so that we might join in with the Christ who proclaim has risen today and evermore, who has risen indeed.  Amen.

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Encountering the Wisdom Jesus:  Quickening the Kingdom of Heaven Within, Audiobook.

[2] Ibid.