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Apr 12, 2020

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: April 2020

Category: Easter Sunday

Keywords: easter

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.

 

Colossians 3:1-4

1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

“Hide and Seek”

            Our family went for a hike this past week.  Like so many of you, we’re fortunate to live near open space.  We don’t have to walk far to be on a hilltop trail or down in a slowly filling creek bed in forested valley.  It’s so good to be out there.  You can breathe.  The air seems clearer these days.  With the heaviness of the world these days, it is good to go where you can breathe.  These days we’ve gotten to know the landscape of our neighborhood better, since we only get in the car for groceries.  Having visited this same forested spot, I’ve gotten to know the trees, how different they are; nature is seemingly infinite in its creativity.  There’s so much to see.  I often find myself standing still in the middle of it all, while my son scampers around not unlike the other forest creatures underfoot and overhead.  I hear the birds and try to make out their calls.  Is that a hawk or a kestrel, a raven or an American crow?  I stand still, and it all seems to come to me.

            Well, it all comes to me except for a glove which I lost on the hike.  By the time I realized its absence, I was already home, and I had neither the time nor the energy to set out again, so I had to leave it.  I wondered if it would still be there when I returned, and if so, what shape would it be in.  After being exposed overnight, would it still fit? 

These are the questions we’re asking on a bigger scale, aren’t they?  What will we find on the other side?

            I have to say this way of celebrating Easter is a first for me, and yet it’s probably closer to first Easter than was last year or any year I’ve had.  It’s not like on that first morning they were gathered in celebration in some grand worship space.  Few had encountered the resurrection.  Most were disbursed, frightened and hiding out, “hunkering down” you could say.  Those that went, the women, went to attend to a dead body, and what they found was an empty tomb.  Bill Brown, Old Testament Scholar, and a former professor of mine, posted recently about the prospect of worshiping at home on Easter.  Acknowledging the disappointment of not being able to gather physically in church, he pointed out the profundity of celebrating churches remaining empty on Easter.  The empty churches, like the empty tomb, will save people.  As Brown put it, “The empty tomb, after all, marked the beginning of the Resurrection.  Let’s linger over it this year; let’s revel in it.” He describes this emptiness as “life-giving.”  He writes, “By abandoning our sacred gathering places, we are not abandoning the gospel.  Far from it.  We are testifying to what the white-robed messenger announced at the tomb, ‘He is not here.’ ”[1] In our absence, we are reveling that on that morning Jesus was also absent from the realm of the dead. 

            Revel may feel like a strong word for what we’re doing right now.  What we’ve been experiencing, or fear we might experience, hardly feels like material for revelry, this looming death.  As you know, I sketch out worship services well in advance.  Do you know what I had titled this sermon months ago before the virus broke out?  I called it “We Died Too.”  It’s a little eerie to think of now.  I do not consider myself a fortune teller.  I took the line straight from today’s epistle, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  While running to the resurrection this morning, we tend to gloss over its necessary precursor, death, and just as we say we share in Christ’s resurrection, we also share in the death.

            What we’ve experienced these past weeks is a death of sorts.  For some this has been tragically literal, physical.  For many, still tragic, it is economic, and all that comes with that.  We have all experienced a social death of sorts, as our ability to be close has been dramatically altered.  In the face of these sorts of death, we cling to signs of new life.  My work has become to support you virtually.  In addition to helping organize online gatherings, I have been posting a fair bit of content on social media, trying to offer both some substance and some regularity.  Wouldn’t you know, though, the post that may have received the most attention was not the morning Scripture readings I’m doing or the evening prayers, as important as they may be, but the pictures and videos I posted two Sundays ago of a mother deer who’d given birth to two fawns just behind our house.  The same thing happened last year, right beneath our bedroom window.  There was something about these two young innocent animals, their bodies not yet in proportion, struggling to stand, nursing from their mother, that touched people on such basic level.  There’s something about life carrying on, life that likely has little awareness of what’s happening with us, aside from the fact we’re a little more absent.

            I experienced a similar feeling when a friend circulated a gorgeous picture of their newborn grandchild.  Still as yet unnamed, “Mr. Baby” as they’re calling him, he came into this world with no concern about all of this, with no capacity to be concerned.  I have even been taking inspiration from the number of plants and flowers I’ve seen on hikes growing right out of rockfaces, life where these seems to be the possibility of none. 

            Perhaps you’ve seen signs such as these that give you hope.  Drink them in like chicken soup for your soul.  You may need it.  Of course, there will come a time, and you may be in it, when you don’t need more soup to sustain you.  You’re over the worst and you’re ready for a change.  Chicken soup when you’re sick is good and good for you, but if you have it every meal it will make you sick.  Sometimes a change in diet is in order.  This moment gives us the chance to consider what changes we want.  I was on a call with a psychotherapist a while back, just as the shelter in place came into effect.  We serve on a board together and we got to talking about this strange reality we were newly inhabiting.  The topic came up of to what degree we thought people would change as a result of all of this.  Neither of us knows for sure, but one thing he did say with conviction is that change we shouldn’t assume change will be automatic.  Lasting change doesn’t just happen.  Even short-term good modifications don’t necessarily have staying power.  Sure, we can change what we do for a little while, but as with an ill-conceived diet, we tend to go back to right who we were before.  It’s been notable how much better air quality is around the word, but of course our way of life is built around the things that create pollution so unless we’re willing to make significant alterations to how we order life, things will quickly go back to the way they were when this has passed.  Real change, lasting change, only comes through a commitment to deep work.  In other words, resurrection only comes after some real faithfulness, some courageous integrity.  You have to want to go there, to the scene, with eyes open. 

            We see this in the resurrection story.  Mary of Magdala goes there.  It’s not easy, but she does.  She goes to the place where her savior has died, to honor the loss, to look it in the face.  It’s only in that cave, that she finds, instead, an empty grave, and something she could only have imagined.  A couple of guys come and go.  Mary remains there.  She stays and weeps.  Standing there in the darkness of the early morning, the darkness of her soul, then angels appear to her. Nadia Bolz-Weber, author and Lutheran pastor, used this Scripture passage at the funeral for Christian author Rachel Held Evans who died tragically at a young age last year.  As Bolz-Weber puts it, “Mary Magdalene saw angels, because she was not unfamiliar with the darkness.”[2]  

            The angels ask Mary an important question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:15).  Bolz-Weber says she used to hear this as a “slightly passive aggressive question—as if they angles were implying that Mary was overreacting.”[3] Why are you weeping, Mary?  What’s your problem?  You don’t have to be so emotional.          In the wake of Evans’ death, however, Bolz-Weber says she “started to see the question…not as an accusation, but as an invitation.”[4] In other words, the angels weren’t trying to shut her up, but open her up.  That’s what angels do.  Perhaps they, and by extension the God who sent them as Messengers, really wanted to know why Mary was crying.  Sometimes, what fills your cup are tears.  It’s her ability to go there that opens her eyes in a new way.  

            Mary Magdalene gives voice to her grief, something we’re hardly allowed in this culture.  There’s a reason why one of the articles being widely circulated currently is called, “The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,”[5] as if the concept is so foreign to us, we have to have someone identify it for us.  Mary seems plenty familiar with loss, and likely recognizes her grief.  It’s in that state that she turns and sees Jesus standing there, but she doesn’t recognize him yet.  He’s like a powerful stranger.  It’s when he addresses her, that she sees him for who he is. 

            Jesus addresses her, maybe because she stayed.  She didn’t do as the others, rushing off to go tell others, to go do something before they’d even seen the Christ they believed had been raised.  She stayed where she was, and she let Christ find her.  That is our charge this year.  Stay where you are.  Let Christ come to you.  Bill Brown writes, “Christ,” the newly resurrected Christ, “meets with his disciples in their social isolation—a locked room.  Such was Christ’s first public Resurrection appearance, according to John’s Gospel,” aside from Mary I presume.  “Christ will surely find us this Easter, wherever we have isolated ourselves.  He’s done it before.”[6]

            This poem found me this year, while I was looking for something else.  It’s from David Wagoner, and it’s entitled,

“Lost.”

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you. 

By the way, I’ll show you what found me since I stood still…

(show slides: baby deer…infant child…flowers and plants growing out of stones…lost glove found…)

And, wouldn’t you know…still fits. 

Amen.

[1] Personal Facebook posts.

[2] Ibd.

[3] https://www.redletterchristians.org/while-it-was-still-dark-a-requiem-for-rachel-held-evans/

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief

[6] William P. Brown, personal Facebook page.