John 20:1-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 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.
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Halleluiah!
A couple of Easter jokes: Ok kids – help me out here: What do you get when you throw boiling water down a rabbit hole? Hot Cross Bunnies! (If you don’t understand this, please ask someone who may)
A bored young man named Fred decided life would be more fun if he had a pet. So he went to the pet store and told the owner that he wanted to buy an unusual pet. After some discussion, he finally bought a talking centipede, (100-legged bug), which came in a little white box to use for his house.
He took the box back home, found a good spot for the box, and decided he would start off by taking his new pet to church with him. So Fred asked the centipede in the box, “Would you like to go to church with me today – it’s Easter Sunday? We will have a good time.” But there was no answer from his new pet named Pete. This bothered Fred a bit, but he waited a few minutes and then asked again, “How about going to church with me and receive Easter blessings?” But again, there was no answer from his new friend and pet. So he waited a few minutes more, thinking about the situation.
Fred decided to invite Pete one last time. This time he put his face up against the centipede’s house and shouted, “Hey, in there! Would you like to go to church with me and learn about God and Jesus and Easter?” This time, a little voice came out of the box, “I heard you the first time! I’m putting on my shoes!”
Sometimes our responses, like Pete’s, are slow. Sometimes our responses are unheard. Sometimes we just don’t know what to believe or what to say. And sometimes that is true with our faith. I believe, help my unbelief. These words are not only found on our own tongues, but were recorded in the gospel according to Matthew 9:14-24. Here we learn about a man who had a son possessed by a spirt. He brought his son to Jesus’ disciples and the disciples told Jesus they had failed. Jesus asked for the boy to be brought to him.
The man then asked Jesus to cast out the spirit; “if he could” and Jesus replied: “if you can believe – all things are possible for those who believe.” The man then cried out “I believe; help my unbelief!”
My Easter confession is the same. This may be true for you as well? Perhaps it is helpful to look at our lives not only as a journey, but as a faith journey. Where has God led? Where is God leading? I am not sure I trust those who have never had a second of doubt about their faith or question their faith or theology. Doubters have always been with us – just ask Thomas. I believe, help my unbelief. Although I have dedicated my life to the church, I understand the very real struggle of belief in the Easter story and the reality of Jesus’ life. I believe, help my unbelief. Even as the woman witnessed what happened at the tomb, the other disciples did not believe. So I am not here today to ask you to believe anything you are not quite ready to believe. That is your journey to seek and to follow as you are ready.
Episcopal priest, Jim Friedrich wrote the following (Christian Century, 4/10/19) At the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a sign warning every visitor: NO EXPLANATIONS INSIDE THE CHURCH.
Friedrich notes that: “This was intended to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambience with shouted lectures, but it has always struck me as very good advice for preachers on Easter Sunday.” And I agree.
We preachers are often tempted to mount a defense of the resurrection. However, when we do so we tame a dangerous mystery into a manageable—and rather harmless—assumption. The Easter story is more about the transformative presence of the living Christ in our lives right now – even as we live with our doubts and ‘what ifs’.
As Friedrich wrote: “Easter Sunday is for proclamation, not explanation. It is a time to meet the One who changes everything. The central question of Easter is not ‘What happened to Jesus way back then?’ but rather ‘Where is Jesus now—for us?’ Or even more strikingly, as theologian Gareth Jones asks, ‘When is Jesus? When is Jesus for us?’ Easter becomes not a matter of our questioning the resurrection but of allowing the resurrection to question us. Who are we now, and what must we become, in the light of the risen Christ?
So I invite you, believers and seekers, seekers and doubters; doubters questioners, questioners and disbelievers, disbelievers and believers, to embrace the Easter experience and consent – or at least to give a nod to its transformative effects. In order to connect the risenness of Jesus with the risenness of us and all creation, there are two fundamental themes: Easter is now! – not just 2000+ years ago. And, resurrection has consequences!
Since it only occurs once a year, Easter Sunday is sometimes mistaken for a commemorative anniversary of a past event. The resurrection, although breaking into history on a specific temporal, earthly occasion, is not the property of the past. Friedrich reflects that: “As God’s future showing itself in our present, resurrection belongs to all times and seasons. Jesus is alive, still showing up as a transfiguring presence in a world fraught with absences. Jesus is not over, and his story is not over. It will only be completed in the divinization of the cosmos, when God is in all and all are in God”. Now, there’s a statement! I believe. Help my unbelief.
Easter isn’t something we remember. It’s something we live and breathe in our daily living, in our breathing in and out, in our waking and sleeping, in our going out and our returning.
The walk through Lent and Holy Week brings us to the cross of Christ with the reality that resurrection has consequences. Friedrich instructs us that: “The resurrection is more than an idea we talk about or believe propositionally. It’s something we become, something we ‘prove’ in the living of our stories. Rowan Williams describes it this way:
the believer’s life is a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus: he or she demonstrates that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the never-failing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment and enlargement—a pattern, a dance, intelligible as a pattern only when its pivot and heart become manifest. The believer shows Jesus as the center of his or her life.
In Orthodox iconography of the resurrection, Jesus is never by himself. He is always depicted taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs. Christ’s hand snatching us from death is a vivid image.
But the things that are killing us exert a powerful gravity. We sag under the weight of our despair, we resist the hand that pulls us upward [and cry “Why have you forsaken me?”] Nevertheless, Christ persists. God through Christ came to save us from our least selves. That’s the gift—and the challenge—of the resurrection, and it applies to our common life as well as to our private selves. The first disciples, so scattered and shamed by the events of the Passion, made this perfectly clear when their broken and bewildered community was restored to life. And so it is for all of us who follow.” Resurrection is broken made new.
Over the Lenten season several of us gathered for a discussion series entitled Sitting in Darkness. Over this six week period we met a variety of people who spoke briefly about their own journeys to the cross – their own pain and times of darkness and death. Many spoke of finding church in the hope that church would remove the emotional and spiritual pain they were experiencing. One was hoping coming to church would be like being given an epidermal and the pain would be blocked. Another spoke in the hope of church being an anesthesia to make the pain disappear.
By sitting in their own darkness (often with another present0, each one found a different truth. It is not running from pain that brings relief – it is walking through it – as painful as that may be – it is walking through the pain that brings us to the other side, where we find new birth, new life, new understanding, new faith – each time brings us closer to a deeper faith and the understanding of the power of resurrection. New birth, new hearing, new vision, new thinking, new heart.
Friedrich assures us that: “Resurrection is about the healing and restoration of wounded and severed relationships: relationships between God and humanity, between human persons and, ultimately, among all the elements of creation. An Orthodox theologian, Patriarch Athenagoras, puts the case in the widest possible terms: ‘The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.’
You! are that evidence in the world by your words and your actions. You – each of you. Without a doubt – you are loved by God. It is a love beyond our wildest imaginings. God wants the best for each of us. God desires us to choose life every time – no matter what the situation we may be wrestling with.
We may not think we deserve God’s love because we feel broken and unbelieving. In one way or another we are all broken. In his song Anthem, Leonard Cohen reminds us that even in our brokenness God finds a way to us: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”
God wants us to choose what is going to bring us to new life. Even those moments we believe are the darkest of our lives can lead to new life – death of a loved one – parent or spouse or friend or child; a divorce; the loss of a job we love – all of these dark events can lead us to resurrection. We may not see it or know it at the time – the disciples didn’t either on the first Easter morning. They had to live through their own pain of betrayal and desertion and witnessing Jesus’ death on the cross – living with that reality and grief – before they could understand the resurrection. It is a shocking story and reality. I believe, help my unbelief.
You are the living embodiment of that reality. You are the evidence of God in the world. And within community, we come together to support, care for, love, encourage and challenge one another.
May you embrace how much God love you – yes, each of us – believer, doubter, seeker, questioner, disbeliever. When you go from this place go and share the good news of the Easter story by your blessed lives. As Jim Palmer(Clergy Coaching Network) reminds us: “Telling people that God loves them is good theology. Showing people that you love them transforms the world.” Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019