Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Finally, we are here on Easter morning. It has been a long 40 days of Lent – that season of reflection , discipline, getting lost in the desert with Jesus, sitting in a season of darkness and despair. Lent is over, so the artwork that has been with us throughout Lent is moved to the back, and this solo piece of color and light and and newness stands before us. We made it!
And how did you get here exactly? What roads have you been traveling lately? What experiences have brought you here, to this place? We all have them... life experiences that mark us, histories that try to define us, patterns of living that shape us, and road that we walk – either alone, or with another, road we are walking that have in someway or another brought us here...to this place.
How did you get there? And why are you here, at all? Now, please do not get me wrong I am so glad you are here on this day of celebration. This is the day in the Christian life that we stand before the cross and articulate what it means to us, this is the day when we say what the cross represents to us, as children of God...and this is no small thing. Christmas is our other big day, and I think that day is a little easier – its a clear beginning, something miraculous and new began on that first Christmas morning so we gather as God's children and tell the beginning of the Jesus' story. The meaning and the connection is clear – we gather on Jesus' birthday, it is a beginning. What about this day – this Easter day? What is the connection and the meaning for you? Are you here because family dragged you in? Or perhaps you are here out of blind curiosity? Are you here because that is just what you've always done? Do you need to show off your new shoes and Easter church with a good brunch to follow is a great way to do that? Do you need a word of hope, did despair and darkness bring you here? Do you need to hear others singing, do you need to join your voice to the millions that will sing these words today or those that have done so throughout history? Do you need something to believe in?
I do not know why you are here, but no matter the road you traveled, I believe God had something to do with it, and I believe there is something here for you.
We heard the story of the resurrection from John's gospel account. Now, don't tell the other gospel writers, but John in my favorite. Throughout his story telling there is always a point of connection, there are real people, real people with flaws and problems and pasts, yet somehow, someway, they make a connection with Jesus. John tells us a story about relationship, about meaningful encounters, John brings to light the “why” of it all. In the telling of Jesus' coming to life again, we hear of three people who encounter Jesus, or rather, the lack of Jesus.
All three of these people enter the story in deep despair, all that they had hoped in, all the good and power they thought would come from following Jesus was taken away. Not lightly taken away, but wrenched from their faithful and loving hands and thrown on the cross of suffering and death. So all three of these people enter the story today expecting death, they are looking for an ending to the miserable story that began on Christmas – they are looking for their own meaning and to be able to answer the why of it all.
First is Mary Magdalene. She comes to the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid, she coming to pay her respects, or maybe have a quiet moment alone, she arrives so early in the morning, the sun has not yet begun to shine. She does not get too far before she notices the stone --- the massive stone which is meant to seal off the grave has been rolled away. Mary runs, in panic, she assumes the worst and when she says, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” The betrayal and horror of this story is not over, the insult of taking away the dead, a further disrespect. The other men run in and out of the scene, but Mary remains.
Mary stays beside the massive stone and weeps. She weeps for all she believed in, she weeps for her hopes now dashed, she weeps for her teacher and friend, her beloved. First the angels appear as regular men and ask her, “Why are you weeping?” Mary replies, “they have taken away my Lord...” the injustice she must have felt in that moment. For Mary, this is personal, this is one she loved dearly, so we continues to stand at the grave stone and weep. Then another man appeared behind her and echoed the question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” a question from a stranger, but his inquiry is too much for Mary and she lashes back at him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me so I can take him away.” Mary speaks back to this man and she wants nothing else than to lay her loved one to rest with respect and honor. The man speaks one more word... “Mary!” This man knows her, this man calls her by name and in doing so brings to light who he is to her. The risen Lord appeared to Mary while she was still standing at he grave side weeping. He recalled all they had been through together, all the love that passed between him and he summed it up in one loving, meaning word of connection, her name, Mary. Mary was off running again, and she had one thing to tell the world; it was not “we were right!” it was not “gather the disciples we've got work to do!” Mary took off running and yelled for anyone who might listen, “I have seen the Lord!”
Why was Mary there that Easter morning? Because she loved Jesus, because they had a relationship that meant something to her. Mary was there to hear and receive the good news that death was not the end, hope was not forgotten, she was there because she had met Jesus and she loved him.
The next person present that Easter morning was Simon Peter. He was summoned by Mary at the first word of the missing body and the empty tomb and he too, took off running. Peter did not pause at the garden gate, he did not stumble when he saw the stone rolled away, Peter ran until he was inside the empty tomb. He ran right past Mary and the other disciple standing there – one was weeping, the other simply stunned. Peter blew past them and found himself in the tomb – the place of death and finality. He had followed Jesus closely for those years of teaching and healings, he had betrayed Jesus to a devastating degree – he had been a leader of this movement, deeply invested in all Jesus did and said. Imagine his disappointment and this monumental failure – his career, his family, his future, his reputation, all destroyed in one moment on the cross. For that, and for so much more, Peter ran until he was standing in the rock, seeing for himself what maybe, maybe had happened that Sunday morning.
Why was Peter there that Easter morning? Because he had heard that the tomb was empty and he knew Jesus had said that he would rise again, but those words were not enough. Peter needed to look death in the face, he needed to smell and hear and see the darkness and decay and experience that death had not won. Peter looked death in the face and knew that Jesus was alive, God's love had truly overwhelmed the grave and life with Jesus would be his. Peter knew despair, he did not back away from suffering, and this is what makes his belief in the life of Jesus and the light of God so much more powerful. Peter was there that Easter morning to experience faith and hope and love so strong it had conquered death, even death on the cross.
One other person was brought to the empty tomb that morning. He is only identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. He and Peter set off running together but the unnamed disciple made it to the grave first. He stopped short of entering, he simply stood near Mary and the rolled away stone, he peered into the darkness and saw the linens Jesus was wrapped in. Over there were his body wrappings, and in that far corner the linen for his head – it was all there, piece by piece, but Jesus was not in the grave. Once Peter raced past and enter the tomb, this disciples whom Jesus loved was courageous enough to step inside. The disciple stepped inside the empty grave, saw the empty tomb and believed. The disciple ran, saw and believed.
Why was this disciple there, the one that Jesus loved? Why did he race to the grave and stand outside, unable to enter alone? Maybe it was because this beloved one was so grief stricken, so paralyzed with fear that he could not face this life any longer. He did not go in alone, he did not walk with bravery and strength – he was defeated, terrified and alone. Yet, here he is on Easter morning – and with the word of Mary and the courage of Peter, this unnamed one stepped forward and received faith. He did not have to be strong enough, he did not have to be first, our loud, or heroic...that is what he had his brother and sister for. This beloved disciple was there on Easter morning to face loss and grief and hear something different – he saw hope that day in the empty tomb, he heard a word of life and he was forever changed.
Those are the three at the empty tomb – Mary, Peter, the one whom Jesus loved. They each have reasons for being there, and there reasons are born out of their life's experiences. The roads they have traveled, the connections they have made, the moments of meaningful love that stays with them and draws them into hear, see, touch and feel the good news of the empty tomb.
So, how exactly did you get here? Do you weep with Mary? Do you run in disbelief with Peter? Do you stand paralyzed like the loved one? Do you have your own scars and battles and darkness that brought you hear today?
No matter the road in, the empty tomb is what we celebrate today. Christmas was Jesus' great beginning, but today...today is our great beginning! Because God is not satisfied with our roads that lead all over the place, God is not going to settle for wandering hearts lonely and afraid, God will not rest and leave us alone...today we hear the news – Christ is risen! Christ is risen for you and with you! Christ is alive and the tomb is empty and because this is all true we get to experience life – our weeping can be over, our paralyzed stillness is done, our bold skepticism is put to rest...and we rise with the risen Lord!
All of you Marys – do not weep this morning, because the ones that you love are not finished in death, the ones that you have loved are alive and whole and healed wrapped in the love of God!
All of you Peters – stay in the empty tomb as long as you like, scavenger around for every piece of life you have find and know that your sacrifice, your devotion to Christ and the church has not been in vain. The tomb is empty and that is truth for a life time.
All of you beloved disciples – do not stand still in fear today. Move, dance and dare to hope again! Hope in grace that covered the greatest hurt, hope in healing that cures diseases, hope in forgiveness and peace in all the places of hurt and war. Walk with your brothers and sisters into the empty tomb and see and hear and be changed.
You are not just here because your family dragged you or its what you have always done. You are here, at the empty tomb because God has called you – because you need to hear that hope is not dead, meaningful connections and encounters are not a thing of the past. If we, the church, are going to do our jobs and follow Jesus out of the grave and into the world – that an we need to live and speak and know that. Hope and life and truth are for us, for all.
This day is our beginning in Christ. Why are you here? God only knows, but you are here and this empty grave is for you – Christ is risen for you and you will rise with Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!