John 20:1-18 Easter Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 16 April 2017
I don’t cry very often, but I did this week. Despite a joyful celebration and groundbreaking last Sunday, in the middle of the Monday night, when I couldn’t turn off my mind and suddenly at 3 am a cascade of regrets about many things. Disappointments, failures and fears - aren’t those the things that keep us up in the middle of the night? Usually I save my tears for a sappy movie, but occasionally, they just come for no good reason. Well, there are lots of people crying for good reasons -- struggling with life and death, with relationships, with addictions and other illnesses – mental, emotional, and physical. We see people worried about healthcare, about safety, about international conflict which seems to be rising, communities wracked by violence, mistrust, despair. There are Thursday nights and Fridays everywhere. People getting arrested who did nothing wrong – like Jesus. Friends betraying friends – like Judas. Other friends denying the friendship, like Peter. On top of that we have people dying, and people living very hard lives, with illness that just will not stop. It is enough to make even a person of faith weak and tired and worn down.
And then the Pastor cajoles you to bring your tired and worn down self to live through Thursday and Friday of Jesus’s life. Why? You’ve got enough of that in your own life. But living it with Christ is what gives us strength to carry on. The cross is that visualization of God’s grief over sin, what sin does even to God in the flesh. It tears God the Son from God the Father, making the two who are One, divided; And yet, and yet, as Madeleine L’Engle says, “Easter is always the answer to “My God, My God, why you’re you forsaken me?”
One of the greatest lines in the scriptures comes from Matthew’s Gospel, when the soldiers are with Pilate after Jesus death, and Pilate says to them, “Now make that tomb as secure as you can.” Yeah, good luck with that one, guys. God opened the tomb, not to let Jesus out, for he could move through doors in the Resurrection, while still having a touchable body, but God rolled the stone away to let the disciples in to see. (Peter Marshall)
Early 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. 2 So 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."
3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and 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. 13 They 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." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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."
16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus 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.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (NRSV)
Mary cannot see through her tears and pain. They are informing her more than the emptiness of the tomb. She expects a tomb of deadness, and that’s all she can see or hear or imagine. “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him,”she said to two disciples. She says it again to the angels. “They’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” She says it again to Jesus, thinking he is the gardener, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him away.”
In the middle her grief, Mary is unable even to recognize Jesus. Her tears cloud her sight. Only when he speaks her name does she recognize him. He has already asked her why she was weeping? He even asks her “Who are you looking for?” Okay, Jesus, You knew who she was looking for? And you know why she’s crying. But your questions are not for answers, but for her spiritual clarity. Who is she looking for? She’s looking for a dead man. It takes a while for hope to creep back in, when we are so convinced that death gets the final word.
But it doesn’t. Death is still our enemy, but it now comes to us packaged in defeat. Faith wins. Hope wins. Love wins. Life wins. We still must face death, and yes, death is still agonizing, but we face it knowing that Christ is bringing new life, and bringing more new life, and working with us to bring even more new life.
As NT Wright says “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about when it says, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
"The message of Easter is that God's new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you're now invited to belong to it.” We are not just hoping for a better time when we die, we happen to know now, even when we are crying, that we do have not to despair, because the world, as we see it, is so horrible, so full of pain. Yes, there may be Thursday and Friday tears, but Sunday’s always coming. So Hallelujah Anyway, as Anne Lamott says. Thanks to the person who left that book for me. It was a good read. As Lamott says, “In an increasingly complex world, mercy points the way forward.” Mercy for others and ourselves, because God gives it when we are least suspecting – when we can only see deadness.
No, we are called to see through the tears again and again, and to find Christ alive. There is no dead body but a risen Christ, working in the gardens of our souls, tilling the soil around our feet and in our hearts, making new things grow, trying to ask good questions so that we will notice that he is alive.
“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that [is captivated by] its own fallenness, to announce healing to a world that is [consumed by] its own brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that seems to know only cynicism, exploitation, fear and suspicion...” (NT Wright)
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5)
“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:10)
Bishop Thomas from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, where the two churches were bombed on Palm Sunday says, “We tell people not to be afraid of those who kill. In martyrdom, there are tears, of course. But there is both the pain of the cross and the joy of salvation. We call for justice and we pray for those who persecute us. This is our living theology, and it includes martyrdom,” he says.
“…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) “The resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a prison, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” (Clarence W. Hall)And Christ says, “Why are you upset? Whom are you seeking?” Wait. Why are we so upset? Isn’t that Christ’s voice I hear. He is alive! He’s not dead. So we are alive. We are not dead, despite the dried tears, which still linger on our cheeks. O death where is your sting? O death where is your victory? Yes, we’re all dying, some of us maybe before next Easter. Death, you still make us cry on the Thursdays and Fridays of life, but you will not ruin our Sunday, because Jesus Christ is risen today. So Hallelujah anyway.