(sermon 4/21/19 – Easter Sunday)


John 20:1-18

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. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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


Well, today is the day! From the standpoint of the church, this is the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and Oscars night all rolled into one. All around the globe, churches have made sure the grounds are clean and pretty, there are plenty of visitors’ brochures ready to go, choirs and other musical groups have been putting in extra practice, and all the soap dispensers and paper towel holder have been checked and double-checked. And for most of us, whether we’re here almost every Sunday or only now and then, we’re here for this day, Easter Sunday. This is the day that we show up to proclaim Jesus Christ, the one born into this world to proclaim God’s favor and love for all of humanity; a message that so threatened and terrified the powers that be that they had him arrested and executed as a political prisoner, a threat to the empire –  but that on this day, Easter Sunday, God refused to let that death be the final word. Rather, God raised Jesus from the dead, as a validation of his life and his message, and of the entering in of the kingdom of God into the world. On this day, God refused to let that message of love and justice and hope die. That’s what we come here today to profess, and to celebrate. This day, we come together to show our true colors; to show what team we’re playing for, what we stand for, what we believe.

But… it’s that last part, what we believe, where maybe we get a little nervous about this day – when we celebrate the most illogical, irrational, unlikely thing that could ever be imagined – the raising of the dead. Resurrection – the mysterious transformation of a beaten, tortured, stone-cold dead body into a fully alive, improved, eternally transformed, physical person. We can be honest with one another here. We can admit that the whole idea sounds pretty ridiculous – even laughable.

It’s a bit ironic that on this, the holiest of all days in the entire Christian tradition, we confront the intersection of our greatest joy and probably our greatest doubt. On this day, maybe more than others, we hear that voice that we try to push back into the recesses of our brains, to keep buried in its own dark tomb with the stone firmly over the door – but still, the little, disquieting voice still manages to sneak out, and we hear ourselves wondering, “Is the resurrection real?”

I wasn’t there at that tomb in the pre-dawn darkness with the women who’d gone out there that morning. I didn’t see resurrection that day. I didn’t touch it; I didn’t feel it. But in the midst of this Easter intersection of faith and doubt, my heart still overflows with joy and gratitude, because I can still definitely say that I’ve experienced resurrection. I’ve seen it.

Mary experienced it that morning at the tomb, and so did the other disciples later that same day and in the days to come. It was the reality of resurrection that convinced their hearts that Christ, whom they’d seen killed, was indeed risen and alive. It was the reality of resurrection that transformed them from a group of people fearing for their lives behind locked doors, to a group so energized that they had to come out from behind those locked doors and to go out into the street, and ultimately throughout the world, proclaiming the good news that Christ, and his message, and the incoming of the kingdom of God, was alive and well.

It’s the reality of the resurrection – this undeniable encounter with the very living Spirit of the same God who lived as one of us, and walked as one of us, and died as one of us – that we experience when we see the transformation of the lives of countless people in amazing, otherwise inexplicable ways. Giving them the strength to get through difficult situations so terrible that that by any reasonable measure should have crushed them like a Dixie Cup. Giving them the ability to overcome the insurmountable; to forgive the unforgivable; to love the unlovable.

And also we see the reality of the resurrection in the life of love, and support, and affirmation that we all experience together as a community of faith – seeing the risen Christ in the faces of others, and seeing how Christ has transformed them, just as Christ has transformed us, as well. We see the reality of the resurrection when we recognize that through it, we are transformed, but not only transformed – we’re also called to be transformative  – to be the reality of resurrection to others around us.

Do you see this? This is a gathering of children whose lives and homes have been destroyed in the ongoing war in Syria. There, in the middle of the rubble that used to be a village they’re gathered around to watch a spontaneous puppet show staged by two puppeteers. Their own lives must have been every bit as destroyed as the children’s, but they still decided to bring at least a moment of laughter to a handful of kids who couldn’t otherwise afford that luxury. Can you imagine that? It’s illogical. It’s irrational. It makes no sense. It might seem small, an insignificant drop of joy in an ocean of despair, and maybe it is, but make no mistake – the greatest evidence of the reality of resurrection is the reality of hope in this world. Every time you see goodness rising in the wake of evil, you see the reality of the resurrection. Every time you see people finding ways to bring light into places of darkness; compassion into places of indifference and heartlessness;  justice into places of injustice and inequity; truth into places of dishonesty and deceit; and healing into places of brokenness, you are witnessing the eternal truth and reality of resurrection. All of it is in one way or another, even if it isn’t recognized as such in the moment, a witness to the reality of the resurrection of Christ – a witness to the reality of God’s validation of Christ’s life and message of love for the world.

So on this, the holiest of all days, celebrate the resurrection. Sing out with your boldest, loudest voices, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Feel the love and the unity embodied in the bread and cup of Communion. Clap your hands; dance like nobody is watching, or whatever the closest thing to that is for us Presbyterians. Enjoy the fellowship of being here together this morning, and feeling the Spirit of the risen Lord who is present here among us. And maybe a few hours from now, enjoy that traditional Easter dinner that you have planned, full of whatever your own personal traditional Easter foods are. Snack on the leftover candy, and savor the love of family and friends gathered together. Take the time to feel the love in all of this day. And in the midst of it all, recognize that while you might not know all the technical details, the biological, physical aspects of what happened inside that tomb on that fateful first Easter Sunday, you have experienced, and you know, that we worship a God who always brings life from death, hope from despair, and love from hate. Friends, that is resurrection, and resurrection is real. Resurrection is you. And it’s me. Because first, resurrection was Christ. Hold onto that great, eternal truth in your hearts, and let it show in your lives, today, and every day.  Amen.

Easter Sunday 2016

Mary Mag2 by bruce wolfe - old mission santa barbara
Mary Magdalene, sculpture by Bruce Wolfe

We Have Seen Jesus

(John 20:1-18)
by Ann Weems 1934-2016

O Lamb of God! O Lamb of God! O Lamb of God!
With the slaying of the paschal lambs,
you died upon a tree.
Your sheep scattered
and hid in darkness
It was over.

Three days those who loved him
their hearts trembling,
their faces swollen from tears.
They would no longer see Jesus.
He himself had said from the cross,
It is finished.
They felt finished, too.

While the early morning
had not yet found its sun,
on that first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene walked
through the darkness
to the tomb
and found the stone rolled away.
She ran and found Peter
and that other disciple
whom Jesus loved.
They have taken Jesus out of the tomb,
she said, and we don’t know where to find him.
Peter came into the tomb

and saw the linens lying there,
the head linen rolled up by itself.
Then the other disciple came into the tomb
and he saw and he believed.
He saw and he believed.
We who have sought these Lenten days
to see Jesus …
do we see and do we believe?
Who do we say that he is?
He is the one who gathers the children
to himself.
He is the one who speaks with women,
even foreign women, even Gentile women,
even women of the streets.

He is the one who sits down to eat
with tax collectors.
He is the one who eats with sinners.
He is the one who touches lepers.
He is the One.
The disciples went home.
But not Mary …
no, not Mary …
she stayed,
she wept.
She bent to look into the tomb,
and there she saw two angels,
one at the foot where Jesus had lain
and one at the head.
“Woman,” they asked,
“why are you weeping?”
“They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where
they have laid him.”

I do not know where he is!
Did you not know I would be
about my Father’s business?
Who do you say that I am?

Mary said, Rabboni.

Having turned, she saw
whom she believed to be
the gardener,
Woman, why are you weeping?

Whom do you seek?

“Sir, tell me where you have laid him, and
I will take him away.”
All Jesus had to say was ”Mary!”

Mary, Mary, Mary,
Oh, Mary,
Do you not know me?
Yes, she knew him.
She knew Jesus.
She ran to tell the others:
“I have seen Jesus.”
And there it is …
our Lenten search,
that which we have waited for,
that which we have sought,
that which we have worked for.

He is not some goody-goody god;
he is Justice
he is Mercy
he is Humility

he is Love.

And Mary saw him;
Mary knew him;
Mary followed;
Mary believed;
Mary ran to tell the others.
Later that night,
when the doors were shut,
Jesus came to them
and stood among them
and said, ”Peace be with you”

as he always did,
and he said it again,
after he had shown them
his hands and his side.

“Peace be with you.”

From the beginning
it had been Peace.
It was the song of the angels
in Bethlehem.
It was the song of Jesus,
and Peter preached it to the people:
“You know the message
God sent to the people of Israel,
preaching peace by Jesus Christ.
He is Lord of all.”
If we see Jesus,
we know that
he preached peace,
but the thing that’s
so hard for us is this:
we do see Jesus,
and we know Mary
and Peter and all the others
believed that we are to
love our neighbors as ourselves,
but that was then and this is now
and it is a different world.
We are a different people.
Can’t we disciple in a more
modern way?
Not everyone can preach peace.

Can’t we be on the kitchen committee?
Can’t we make more rules?
Can’t we write a check?
And yet, and yet and yet,
he said, as God sent me

I send you.

Receive the Holy Spirit.

He sent them out
just as he sends us out
to all the nations
to tell God’s story
of peace and goodwill.

Easter comes.
The shroud that covered
the world is destroyed;
for our God has swallowed death.
We shall no longer look
for him among the dead.
He calls to us to follow,
to believe in our hearts
that the people of this world
will someday love one another.
Love one another.
If we believe, we know that
that is not a naive hope,
but God’s promise.
We shall not die,
but we will live in him
who died for us.

On Easter morning
and on every morning,
let us in chorus sing:
“This is the day the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
And then with Mary,
let us run to tell the others:
We have seen Jesus!”

from Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light: Poetry for Worship, Study, and Devotion by Ann Weems.