“Shattering Love”

April 9, 2023

Series: April 2023

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon


“Shattering Love”


First Reading
Isaiah 25:6-9
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
   This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Second Reading
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 a 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.

Shattering Love

          The Irish poet and theologian Pàdraig Ó Tuama reminds us of the quiet entrance the risen Jesus makes to a gathering of his disciples described later in this chapter of John. They’re afraid, they’re gathered in an upper room and locked the door. Jesus comes and stands among them. We don’t know how he gets there, but when he does, he simply says to them, they who had abandoned him, “Peace be with you” he says (20:19). Ó Tuama says we hear that as pious and serious, but they would have heard it as just an ordinary greeting, the equivalent of Jesus showing up and saying, “Hi.” No grand entrance, no condemnation, no demands. “Hi.” 1

          It’s a welcome quiet moment in an otherwise noisy saga. In one telling, when Jesus was crucified the earth itself shook (Mt. 27:45). There had been all this shouting, by crowds who supported him and those who wanted to crucify him, crowds which may have had some membership in common. Jesus comes to them bearing a quiet gift. Having died, he breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit,” (v. 22). It’s the same word, breath and spirit. We’re so quick to turn to trumpet fare today, rightfully, we can blow right by it. It’s the equivalent of Jeus breathing out and saying, “Here, have some God.” The only thing the disciples have to do in order to receive that gift is exhale so there’s room. That’s sometimes easier said than done, to let it out. Every exhale is an act of faith, if you think about it, that if you do there will breath, Spirit, to replace it.

          Prior to catching their breath, the disciples had their lives, their dreams, that for which they had given up their lives, shattered. The one who was supposed to swallow up death was devoured by it, and far from wiping every tear his death only generated them. This was not how it was supposed to go, at least in their minds, in the stories they told themselves. We are governed by the stories we tell ourselves. There had been signs, but they hadn’t been able to see them or didn’t want to see them or accept them, and so they were surprised when Jesus was taken. Of course he was taken. His way of being so threatened the established order of things. It shocked them when the one they had come to exalt was humiliated and killed. They didn’t know what to do, so they gathered together. They knew enough to do that. That’s when they were surprised again, though there had been signs. They just didn’t see them. Jesus came back and with an ordinary gesture shattered their nightmares, the new stories they had already started to tell themselves about how it was all lost.

          That’s how the divine comes to us sometimes in ordinary gestures. We may have in our minds a voice from thunder clouds, a triumphant battle over our enemies, a moment when play he hero and we feel chosen…and then life doesn’t play out that way. We’re left afraid and confused, weary and locked in our own rooms of despair. Then God, Spirit, love, possibility shows up in the tenderness of the moment and say, “Hi. It’s me. I’m right here,” but that’s not the only miracle of Easter.

          Do you know there were two miracles at least? If the first was Jesus walking out of that grave, the second was Mary Magdalene walking to it. Why? Oh, I know the women went to anoint the body, but of all instances to skip the ritual, I would understand? Why bother? It’s over. He’s dead. He’s gone. Mary Magdalene, this Tower of faith, shows up anyway because love isn’t bridled by outcomes. It compels her to go out in the dark of night before there is a visible way forward and she brings everything she’s carrying. We’ve been taught faith is about being a rock, but Mary is more of a well. She brings everything to the surface and pours it all out as an offering. She pours out her grief at her lost teacher, she pours out reverence for what has been though defeated, she pours out her sadness for the world, and for what those who inhabit her are capable of. It’s all written in the inkwell of her tears and Jesus enters that story and says, “Why are you crying?” Don’t misunderstand the question. He’s not scolding her. He’s assuring her what’s most important, what’s most real isn’t lost. “I’m right here. I’m right here.” Mary takes her experience and goes to preach the first Christian sermon in recorded history, “You’re not going to believe this (true), but I’ve seen the Lord (true). The Lord isn’t gone (true).”

          We are not, at last, abandoned. Maybe you know this and that’s why you’re here. Maybe you’re here unsure or afraid, maybe terrified it’s all coming apart. Let’s be honest, maybe you’re here because someone you’re sitting with wanted you here. That would be the most ordinary thing ever, but be careful because the ordinary is where the divine operates. We all, traditionally faithful or not, probably have some experience of God, love, grace, breaking in to our lives. Frederick Buechner, this wonderful author and theologian who we lost this year, wrote,

We try so hard as Christians. We think such long thoughts, manipulate such long words, and both listen to and preach such long sermons. Each one of us somewhere, somehow, has known, if only for a moment or so, something of what it is to feel the shattering love of God, and once that has happened, we can never rest easy again for trying somehow to set that love forth not only in words, myriads of words, but in our lives themselves. 2

            I take very seriously my charge to preach long sermons. Easter, as you might guess, is the day the preacher is to give everything they’ve got, to say it loudly, to offer the most rousing message, the kind that binds up wounds, plants hope in fields of despair, stirs up grand social movements against injustice, shouts from the mountain top, all of which can be good. Oh, did I want to shout this week. The problem is we can get so caught up in the sound of our own voice that we forget to take in the divine breath that is being offered to us.

          So, I’m going to resist the temptation to add more noise to this already noisy season, as if my shouting would be just what was needed to sort this all out. Together, we’re going to do something far more daring than that. We are going to have the audacity and the humility to make room into which another voice may speak, as the poet Mary Oliver would say. 3 We’re going to make some quiet, trusting that perhaps God will meet us there with something we each need to hear, something I couldn’t possibly offer each of you.

          One solitary minute of silence. I’ll watch the time.

          I’ll tell you a story, one some of you may have heard, others surely not. That’s okay; you don’t learn the alphabet after hearing it once. The boy was in young elementary school, popular 2 Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat. 3 Mary Oliver, “Praying” and happy, when his father converted to another religious tradition. I am not here to disparage other traditions nor doubt the convictions of the father, but it was difficult for the little boy because among other things no longer was he allowed to celebrate many holidays, no Christmas and no birthdays. Every time his class at school had a holiday party, a birthday party, he had to leave the classroom, and he experienced that as terribly isolating, crushing really. His own birthday had to come and go without acknowledgment.

          One day the boy arrived to school and his now habitually downcast eyes met his teacher’s which bore a twinkle. The teacher, smiling gently at him announced that there was going to be a party that day, and before the boy could take his cue and get up and walk out, his own mother walked carrying cupcakes for every child in his class. There were rules against birthday parties, but nothing about just ordinary parties. That ordinary gesture of love shattered the shame of his childhood. For him, that shook the earth, and that kind of love is more powerful than even death.

          Put yourself in that classroom, or perhaps that upper room, or any room of your making. See the Christ enter in and greet you. “Hi,” he says, “I’ve got something for you...” (Breathe).



1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlxWmB9jTYY