Easter Sermon for 2011

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

We celebrate the resurrection of Christ anew this day, and it was wonderful to share this first Easter with the good people of St. Mark’s.  Great day with wonderful weather this morning, an amazing egg hunt outside, and great joy!  He is risen, indeed!

Easter Day 2011 — John 20:1-18

It’s early on Sunday when Mary goes to the tomb where they buried Jesus only a couple of days before.  They had already wrapped his body with linen cloths and spices, so there was no reason for her to come to the site, except of course because she was mourning the loss of this one she loved so much.  She did what many of us have done after a death, she went to the grave, to touch the place where his body lies, thinking about all the things that had filled her life before, wishing she could have it all back.

When she gets there, things aren’t as they were.  The large stone has been pushed back, and immediately she thinks the worst, that grave robbers have done their evil work.  In a rush of fear and uncertainty, she turns around and runs to the place where the disciples are staying, and tells them that someone has taken Jesus’ body.

Immediately, Peter and John—that disciple whom Jesus loved—spring up and run to the garden where Jesus was buried.  They sprint, probably hoping to catch the perpetrators of this crime, or because they don’t believe Mary’s words.  Maybe she got it wrong, went to the wrong place, or just imagined this due to her grief.  They get to the garden, and find the stone rolled back.  John hesitates a moment or two outside the cave, but Peter runs right into the tomb.  He sees the linen cloths lying there, but nothing else.  John then comes in to, and sees the head cloth rolled up, the wrappings just lying there, empty.  Our gospel writer says he believed, but we don’t know what he believes.  Is it Mary’s story?  Is it something else?  We don’t know.  We just know that after they saw this, the two disciples turn around and leave the tomb and go home.

But Mary stays behind, standing near the tomb, weeping.  The rush of emotion she is feeling would have been incomprehensible. She watched as this teacher she followed was put to an excruciating death, and she probably took part in preparing his body for burial.  There is denial and anguish in just losing him, but then to come and find that his body has been stolen, that was just too much to bear.  She is overcome by it all and breaks down.

In the midst of all this, she bends down to see for herself.  She looks into the empty tomb, and surprisingly sees these two men in white.  “Why are you weeping?” they ask.  “They’ve taken away my Lord,” she stammers, “and I don’t know where they have taken him.”  Then turning around she notices this man, probably the gardener coming to do his morning work.  He asks her the same question, “Why are you weeping?”  She thinks he may be the one who did something, and says, “Sir, if you’ve carried him off, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

He looks down with compassion on her and utters a single word: her name.  Immediately the recognition of this word washes over her.  He knows her name; she can’t believe but it’s true, the one she’s been looking for is standing before her.  He is very much alive.  He is risen.  “Teacher!” she exclaims, and she rushes to give him a huge hug, so glad to have him back.

But Jesus won’t let her touch him, “Do not hold on to me,” he tells her.  He has yet to ascend to his Father. Surely she’s confused about this since she just wants to grab his hand and run back with him to the disciples to show them that he is alive.

Instead, Jesus instructs Mary to deliver a message to the disciples, and say that he is on his way to the Father.  We aren’t told if anything else is said, or if Jesus just disappears or walks away.  We only know that Mary makes her way back to disciples and ecstatically proclaims that she has seen the Lord.

It is at that moment that Jesus’ resurrection truly happens.  The mysterious event that took place in the tomb happened without any earthly witnesses.  Peter and John and Mary all came to the tomb after the fact.  If all they had seen was the emptiness, they cloths just lying there and nothing else, they would have assumed that Mary was right, that someone had come and stolen the body.  The shell of what was left behind didn’t explain anything.  It only left unanswered questions.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “What happened in the tomb was entirely between Jesus and God. For the rest of us, Easter began the moment the gardener said, ‘Mary!’ and she knew who he was. That is where the miracle happened and goes on happening — not in the tomb but in the encounter with the living Lord.”[1]  If we came here this morning looking for the resurrection by peering into an empty tomb, we will miss it all together.

The resurrection plays out in ten thousand places, when we encounter the risen Lord.[2]  It’s in the daily living, in sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, or biking a trail, or reading a book that impacts your life, or writing a letter to a child you sponsor in Africa.  It’s in the time of quiet reflection and prayer, in helping out at the homeless shelter, or putting an extra box of Cheerios in your cart for the food bank.  The resurrection happens when you help an elderly neighbor with her yard work, or you seek to be reconciled with someone you love.  Resurrection takes place in all the big and small ways we share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken and hurting world.  It happens when we come to this place and listen to God’s word, and break the bread and drink from the cup.  It happens when we live as his disciples and are about the work of his kingdom, living lives of repentance and joy.

Some come to Easter morning expecting just the opposite of Mary.  Some come expecting the empty tomb and the stone rolled back and the body gone. But that isn’t where the resurrection is.   Sometimes we hold on to the notions in our minds about the way things are to be with Jesus and us, the way our interactions with Christ have been before, primarily on our terms, and think that that is the resurrection in our lives.  We may like the way things have been and want to keep everything the same.  But when we encounter the risen Christ—when we encounter the resurrection—things change.  “Don’t hold on to me,” he says to Mary and to us.  “You can’t keep me the way I was before.  Things are changed, and you are changed as well.”

You see when one story ends, another story always begins.  We cannot hold onto the earthly Jesus anymore than Mary could.  Nor can we hold on to the earthly memories about the way things were before in our lives, whatever we use to mark that time before.  Before my wedding, or the start of my new job.  Before the accident or the day I graduated, or before my world fell apart, or before my children were born.  No matter what happened before, we cannot hold on to it, nor onto the way we encountered Christ at that time.  Rather we must look ahead.   We need to see that the resurrection is not a return to the past, but a movement to the future.

What will resurrection look like in your life now?  Will this season of Easter be the time when you recognize the risen Lord in a new way?  He comes to us today offering us life—forgiveness and joy and hope and love.

The miracle of Easter that began in the garden continues on.  It happens to us when we hear the gardener say our name—Mark! Laura! Rebecca!  Tom!   We experience the mystery of this day when we turn to Jesus, recognizing him as our Lord, and joyfully exclaim, “Teacher!”  We experience the resurrection when we let go of the way things should be and run to those who share our lives with us, and ecstatically proclaim that we have seen the Lord.  That is the beauty of this day.  That is why we gather on this morning to celebrate.  That is why we are here at this table, so that we too might experience the risen Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Escape from the Tomb” Christian Century. April 1, 1998, Pg 339.  Online at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=640

[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.