Look In.

John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 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. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 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.

Friends, here we are…Easter morning.  My morning started early!  It was dark…pitch dark.  Of course, it didn’t really start until I was able to get some coffee and a nice hot shower!  As a kid, I remember Easter morning always starting in the dark.  I couldn’t wait for it, it was kind of like Christmas “lite”, but with bunnies and candy…so, I was up, in the dark…looking for my Easter basket…and, yes, I loved the chocolate bunnies!!

Since then, life has happened.  I’m 54.  I’ve had some ups and downs.  And, I’m sure we all have. We’ve experienced loss, disappointment, expectations dashed.  When we get in touch with those moments of disorientation, we can have a notion, or an inkling, of what those early disciples were going through.  Their lives had been filled with so much, they met Jesus, they fell in love with him.  Even in this gospel narrative of John, we hear the phrase, the “disciple that Jesus loved”.  Now, scholars say that could be referencing John, or another disciple who’s writing this text, or it could mean all of humanity, or a reference to Judaism and Gentiles…those inside and those outside.  Either way, the disciples that morning, Mary Magdalene being the most prominent, had just seen their best friend, their rabbi, someone who’s words and actions drew them in, someone who they had projected their hopes and dreams on, humiliated and violently killed on a cross by a religious structure in bed with the state.  All because of love that asked us to be better humans, to include everyone in community, in authentic friendship across social barriers.

Jesus’ death was more than physical pain, that moment on the cross, Jesus was lost…resurrection was not on his mind. He cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Many of us today have been disoriented by so much happening in our culture with the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, political partisanship, the collapsing of so many institutions, including the church, and then adding in our own personal issues. We have felt lost, wondering where God is in all of this, if God has forsaken us.  

Yet, if we believe that God and humanity are together in Jesus, then God through the cross, is telling us that God, the Divine, is in the struggle with us…all of the struggle, embracing all of our lives, and the lives of those around the world.    

We find ourselves here we are on Easter morning. What do we say to each other on this morning?  What phrase? Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ promise of a full life filled with purpose and presence could not be kept in a grave. 

Mary Magdalene was a true disciple and friend of Jesus…one of only two disciples that did not desert Jesus, goes and finds the tomb empty! She runs to tell the other disciples, they go to the tomb and find it as she said…and, I love this passage as a runner, John, who is at least credited with writing our gospel lesson this morning, makes it clear that he’s faster than Peter!  

These disciples ran to the tomb in the dark.  We come to Easter morning in the dark.  Maybe running around aimlessly in the dark even. It is important to note this, because Easter comes to us in the dark, it does not come alive in triumphant statements from this pulpit, from the liturgy or music of the moment…those things remind us of when Easter does come…it’s when we are disoriented or lost.  When we look at the casket of a loved one who has died.  When we sit with a church member who’s just gone through surgery and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.  When we walk with a neighbor who’s daughter is going through a destructive relationship.   A friend who’s thinking about ending their lives.  When we hear of someone on a ventilator, fighting for their lives.  Or when we hear the voice of a loved one in the middle of a war zone wondering if they, or someone they know will make it through the day.

In those moments, when we are lost, when we see the empty tomb and wonder where God is…those are the moments when Easter becomes real.  Maybe like Mary, we run to friends, friends we’ve shared life with to look into to our lives or situations in life to get a different perspective.  Often, we find that they are just as disoriented, just as lost. But, they are there for us.  Friends, in this world where church is declining in attendance across the world, I believe it is more important than ever to remember that the church can be a great source of deep friendship and community, a gathering of people committed to leaning into the throes of life together…it’s more than what we do on a Sunday morning, or at any event.  It is a way of sharing life together.

In these moments of being in the dark when the impossible becomes possible, when, like Mary, we hear a voice that we don’t recognize at first call our names.  It may take a bit to hear deeply, but then we hear God calling us from deep inside and outside of us and we are awakened to a new reality, that God is with us as we look into the tombs of our lives in the midst of the darkness to find a deeper illumination, a light, a love that connects us to our suffering and the suffering of the world, and also gives us the hope that resurrection, growth, promise, and, yes, new life, springing up within us.  

Jesus models this kind of life, new life, filled with a love and calls us from the cross and the empty tomb to truly love everyone, including ourselves…which is often the hardest person to love, ourselves.  Yet, God says that if we want to change the world, we have to enter the suffering of the world, and that we have to start by entering our own suffering and to start with changing our own worlds.  We have to stay with that suffering before we get to the change, the growth. 

Mary does just that, she’s overcome by grief…yet she stays…she is weeping, struggling, in the dark. Yet, she stays at the tomb, letting things unfold…when she finally hears this gardener and sees that he is Jesus,  then, the joy of Easter possibility, Easter imagination, Easter reality rises up within her! 

What happens next? Well, the story gets out, the new reality sets in, people begin to see Jesus and to experience new things. Life as we know it is never the same, and it becomes filled with imagination, new possibilities, strength, confidence in the face of incredible odds. Something begins to form in these early believers that moves them to change the world, starting with their own awareness. 

I said at the beginning this morning that growing up I thought of Easter as Christmas “lite”.  As I grew and as life has come at me and as I’ve leaned into it, I have come to see Easter, as the early Jesus followers did, that Easter has so much to teach me…it’s more than candy and easter bunnies, it is leaning into the darkness and finding new birth, new beginnings…it is knowing that death is necessary, but not the final answer in my story, in God’s story, in your story.  We are all in the process of being reborn and becoming the persons that we have always wanted to be…especially in times of loss…God is always doing a new thing with us and in us.  Let us live towards that sense of awareness like Mary did.  

Christ has risen! 

Here this quote from M. Shawn Copeland:

If we, who would be his disciples, recall the night before Jesus died, we are led to a table, from a table to a garden, from a garden to a courtyard, from a courtyard to a hill, from a hill to a grave, from a grave to life. The table holds the self-gift of his very flesh and blood; the garden is watered by his tears and blood; and the cross holds him, even as the One whom he knows and loves lifts him up from the grave to release him into the surprise of hope and life.

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