Sermon for April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday
John 20: 1-18

May the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus be heard in these words and felt in our hearts. Amen.  

Weeping and Laughing

"Jesus took bread and gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.”

"My soul is overwhelmed to the point of sorrow.  Stay here and keep watch with me."

"'Abba, Father, everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will."

"Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"

"Then they spit on his face and slapped him.  Others hit him with their fists."

"Just as Peter was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him:  'Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.'  And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.”

"A large number of people followed Jesus, including women who mourned and wailed for him.  Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."

“When Jesus saw his mother near the cross, he said to her, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple standing by, 'Here is your mother.'” 

"Jesus said, 'It is finished.'  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

“Going to Pilate, Joseph, a good and upright man, asked for Jesus’ body.  Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock.”

No one could write a more powerful story, not the most successful novelist, not the most brilliant historian, not the most lyrical poet.  The four gospel writers, common men with little education, but empowered by the Spirit, put the most fantastic, history-changing events into words, words no one else can ever surpass.  

We know from these passages that what sounds like the end of the story is really its beginning.  When it seems like the Power of Darkness has been victorious, we trust in the rest of the story: in the assurance that one death has conquered all Death and that the Resurrection is not the final word, but the new word full of new beginnings.  Death and Life.  Weeping and laughter.  Over and over.  No matter how many times we hear The Greatest Story Ever Told, the story of the suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, it always ends in life.   

But for this story to have any real impact on us, it has to be more than an historical event.  It must be more than a Bible story.  It has to be more than a yearly tradition, new clothes, and a Honey Baked ham.  For this story to have an impact, it must intersect with the stories of our own lives.  

Perhaps like some of you, I like to hike, particularly in the early spring when the wildflowers, with us for just a short time, begin to bloom.  They are often difficult to find.  Locating them requires searching for something that appears to be dead, and then pushing aside old bits of brown twig and rotted leaf to discover a new little flower—a purple violet, a rue anemone, or a white hepatica that has fought its way through the soil. I am not the first to recognize that Nature tells the Resurrection story better than preachers: the story that life is happening even when things around us look dead.  The catch is that sometimes we have to dig, and we most definitely have to be present to notice.

Mary Magdalene modeled that lesson one Sabbath morn centuries ago, a lesson so vital that we hear it proclaimed again and again, year after year:  life is happening even when things around us look dead.   We must hear that story of hope, we must cling to that message of love, in order to walk our own journeys.  Despite all the various women in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who take part in the discovery of the empty tomb, only Mary Magdalene’s story happens between the two drastically different messages she takes to the disciples. The first message is one of painful desperation, as Mary weeps, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I don't know where they have put him!" (20:2), and the second is one of incredulous joy, as she laughs, "I have seen the Lord!" (20:18).

Like Mary, seasons occur in our own lives when, if we have lived long enough and are honest, we feel that same desperation, that same bewilderment, that same confusion:  where has Jesus gone?  We can't find him!  We have looked for our Lord, for a sign, for a blessing, for an answered prayer, a cure, a miracle, a solution, a resolution, and finding nothing have wondered where he has gone.  These are the tomb times, the times of weeping.  I could list examples of them, but you can fill in the blanks.  You’ve been there.  Some of us this morning may even now be living in the shadows of the tomb.  We weep because we cannot understand why the journeys of our lives, despite our constant striving to control them, do not run smoothly and on schedule.  We weep, like Mary, because it is so hard to see the flower underneath the debris.  

The fact of life, and the story of the New Testament, is that if you haven't yet experienced the tomb, you will, because it is a necessary part of the journey to Resurrection.  But the good news, the Easter news, is that the tomb is not permanent:  life is happening even when things around us look dead.

Mary has lost her Lord, the person she gave up everything to follow.  Her tomb time consists of sorrow, fear, confusion, and intense worry, "Where is the Lord?”, but she does not give up or give in.  She does not throw up her hands and say, "Well, Jesus has left me!" and decide to quit believing because she can’t understand what has happened or explain it.  Instead, she waits.  John and Peter, we are told, “went back to their homes,” after seeing the empty tomb, but just as Mary Magdalene stayed by the cross, she stays at the tomb.

Because Mary waits, she experiences the Risen Lord's unique and personal love for her when he breaths her name, "Mary!"  In every other scripture reference concerning Mary Magdalene, she is with a group.  She knows Jesus as the leader, but at that marvelous moment early in the morning when she hears her name, Mary, she sees through her tears and recognizes Jesus.  At that marvelous moment when she hears her name, 
Mary acknowledges her Lord, her Savior:  "Rabboni!"  It is often through our wounds that Jesus finds a place to enter. 

Note that in none of the Resurrection stories do we find Jesus twiddling his thumbs, sitting on the stone, and waiting at the tomb to be discovered.  In every story, the tomb is empty, the women are crying, and the disciples are bewildered.  Jesus does not wait to be discovered; he is already on the move, calling the women, the disciples, and us by name.  Life is happening when things around us look dead.

"The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out," Jesus said during his ministry.  Hundreds of years before that, Isaiah wrote, "But now thus says the Lord, he who created you.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.  I have called you by name, you are mine" (43:1).  Hundreds of years after Christ, the mystic Julian of Norwich proclaimed, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  We each need our own personal experience with Jesus; we each need to hear our name called, the name Jesus longs to say.  We have to walk through our own tomb times and recognize Jesus ourselves.  Only then can we really proclaim, like Mary Magdalene, "I have seen the Lord!"  Her story, the Easter story, moves from searching to finding, from blindness to awareness, from weeping to laughter because she is present. . . and so is Christ.

Wherever you find yourselves spiritually this Easter morning, whatever your life situations are at this very moment, hear the Good News!  Life is happening even when things around us look dead.  Jesus desires to share a marvelous moment with you, a moment in which you hear him say your name because he gave himself for you. 

For those suffering from the guilt of sin, Jesus wants you to hear his assurance of forgiveness.

For those facing death of any kind, Jesus wants you to hear the promise of eternal life. 

For those trapped in mourning, Jesus wants to give you proof of joy.

For those feeling deserted or overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, Jesus wants you to feel his presence and love.

For those feeling lifeless, Jesus wants you to receive the gift of new life.

For those who are apathetic or lukewarm about their faith, Jesus continues to call to you.

For those experiencing illness, Jesus wants you to feel his constant presence.

And for those full of joy and thanksgiving this day, Jesus rejoices with you!

Weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning.  This story, this truth, is born anew whenever it is heard, proclaimed, believed, and lived.  This story, this truth, is why we are here together this morning.  It is not something to be remembered once a year, but something to be lived every day of our lives. We are Easter people because Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!



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