Mended by God: An Easter Sermon

Sometime over the winter, my favorite pair of jeans got a hole in them.  Now this hole’s placement isn’t in a spot that I can just overlook, especially given my chosen profession. I’ve even given up wearing them around the house on my day off in case I forget that hole is there and venture out into public.  So this great pair of Gap jeans has sat unworn on the top shelf of my closet for the past few months. I feel like I’m just prolonging the inevitable, letting them sit there until I get my Marie Kondo on and tidy up. I’ll then thank those jeans for the joy they’ve brought me over the years, and summarily toss them out.

I learned recently that we Americans generate 15 million tons of textile waste each year—an average of 80 pounds per person. That’s a lot of holey socks and t-shirts from the local 5k and favorite pairs of jeans.  Once it’s ripped or stained or just no longer bringing us good thoughts, we deep six them.

What most of us don’t do is pull out a needle and thread and mend the ones with holes.  As my friend and fellow minister Laura Everett puts it, “There’s not much reason to mend a warn sock. Overnight delivery can get me a new pair by the time I wake up tomorrow. Darning a sock takes time.”  (Laura Everett, “The Spirituality of Mending.”) Never mind a favorite pair of jeans; it’s easier to toss them in the trash.  But we might be missing out on something.  As Everett explains, “In practice, most Americans know very little now about mending.  [So] I have set out to learn with my own hands what I’ve longed for in my life: to repair what is torn.” She posts pictures online of multi-colored socks clearly darned with orange thread on the heels.  She mends things in her life that are torn.

Last week we heard some words at the very end of our Passion reading that hardly got noticed given the powerful action that takes place before them.  So here they are again for you: “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”

Our lesson this morning from Luke continues with the very next verse, “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” I’ve listened to and preached a lot of Holy Week and Easter sermons.  I’ve heard preachers say how those around Jesus deserted him, leaving him high and dry.  How all the disciples couldn’t take the heat, and that they spent Easter morning locked behind some doors terrified about what would happen to them.  

Except, Luke reminds us, it wasn’t all of them.  Not all of the disciples fled in terror when the authorities came in to execute Jesus.  The women, he says, stayed there at the cross, watching as this one they loved breathed his last.  They followed Joseph of Arimathea when he took down Jesus’ body and saw that broken body laid in a tomb. Then they went home to prepare spices and ointments for a proper burial. Those women stopped their work at sundown Friday in order to adhere to the command to rest on the sabbath, but then they picked it back up late Saturday evening.  And then early on Sunday, even before the sun had broken across the horizon, these women found their way to the tomb with the spices they had prepared.

Those women remained faithful.  And because of that faithfulness, they became the first witnesses of the resurrection.  While they stood in the tomb confused by the missing body, two men in dazzling white appear.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they ask.  “He is not here.  He has been risen.”  They look at one another uncertainly, until they finally remember the words Jesus himself had spoken to them, that he would be crucified and on the third day rise again.  So they rush out of that empty tomb in order to tell the others.  These women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them—become the inaugural bearers of Good News.

In their exuberance when they get back to the others they try to tell them what had happened.  Due to their excitement, they begin talking over one another about a rolled away stone and two brilliant men—or maybe they were angels?—and the empty tomb and the spices they had brought but no longer needed. They look at one another in the midst of the cacophony and the tears of joy and they hug each other saying that it was just like he’d always said:  He’s alive!  But the disciples who stayed back in that room—those men hiding out—start raising eyebrows and giving knowing glances to one another.  These women clearly don’t have a clue of what they’re talking about.  

And then those guys start first century mansplaining: Luke writes, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  In the Greek it’s a bit more condescending: these women are “delirious.”  They’re a few bricks shy of a full load.  They’re hysterical, a little cray-cray. I imagine one of the men thinks he’s doing those women a favor by saying, “Now you know that Jesus died and was buried, so perhaps you’re a bit overly tired from the stress.  Why don’t we help you get some sleep, and when you wake up you’ll see how what you’re saying just can’t be true.”  

But those women were having nothing of it.  Because they had been there Friday at the cross long after the men had fled, and they were the ones who got out of the house early to take care of Jesus’ body that morning.  They did what women do everywhere in the midst of a crisis: they remained present.  No matter what came their way they weren’t going to be deterred.  And now they saw that empty tomb with their own eyes, and no amount of gaslighting was going to convince them otherwise.

In announcing the resurrection to those women first, God does something miraculous: God mends the grief those women had experienced through the death of Jesus.  In addition, God makes the decisive claim that women were full participants in the life of faith.  God says to the dismissive ones, “You think these women are too irrational to understand the power of the good news? That their faith experiences are like tattered cloth? You couldn’t be more misguided. They are an integral part of the fabric of faith.”

It seems that for a long time those in power—and especially men who look a lot like me—have been determining who’s in and who’s out when it comes to faith.  Just a little over a week ago the word “Episcopalian” was trending on Twitter. It seems that a more conservative pastor determined Mayor Pete Buttigieg wasn’t a real Christian since he attends an Episcopal church with his husband. (So I guess that if you came here looking to score points with God this morning, you should have chosen a different church.)  It’s as if some are seen as beyond repair—beyond mending— and should be tossed aside.

But I’ve noticed that God doesn’t let us get the last word when we try to throw some away claiming they’re useless to our community or that their experiences of God don’t matter. God doesn’t allow any life to be wasted.  Rather, God is an equal opportunity mender.  As Everett describes it, “God takes what the world considers disposable, curls up in a large chair and looks with patience to repair what is broken in each of us. [God’s] mending is an affirmation of [our] worth.”

This shouldn’t be surprising.  God doesn’t let the crucifixion get the last word either.  Jesus was deemed as trash by the empire, as one that could be disposed of easily.  Even though he’s battered and broken and physically torn, Jesus himself is mended back together by God.  And that is now the defining mark of his ministry.  No matter what the world or politicians or religious leaders say, no one is beyond mending by God.  All are welcome into the kingdom that Jesus ushered in order to find wholeness and healing.  Everyone is a full member of the body of Christ.

It’s for all those who have ever felt slighted by the church or told that they weren’t welcome at the table.  It’s for the ones who’ve questioned if they believed the right way, or were the right gender, or loved the right person, or had the right skin tone.  It’s not just for the ones like me that can check off all the boxes of a privileged life.  But the good news of the resurrection is for all of us, for all y’all, as as my southern friends would put it.  Each and every one us is seen as precious—just like my favorite pair of jeans—and worthy to be mended by the Almighty One. 

What is it in you that needs the power of the resurrection today? Where do you need to be mended?  How might your broken heart or your hurting soul come into the hands of the living God who will look lovingly at what you have brought and then carefully stitch it back together?  That’s the glory of the resurrection! That, friends, is the unbelievable joy of Easter!  Jesus Christ, the one left broken and dead, has been raised to life, and brings that same power to our lives.  Don’t throw away what is precious to God.  Allow God to mend you and restore you because God will always love you, even to the end of the age.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Photo Credit: daintytime Flickr via Compfight cc

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