The *Something* of Resurrection

(sermon 4/16/17 – Easter Sunday)

Mary Mag2 by bruce wolfe - old mission santa barbaraMary Magdalene, bronze, Bruce Wolfe, sculptor

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.


Mary Magdalene’s world had spun out of control. Everything she’d come to believe, everything she’d put her faith in, had come crashing down. Jesus was dead. Since Friday, she’d been nearly crushed with grief, and now, early Sunday morning, when she must have thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Now, not only was Jesus dead, something had happened to his body. She couldn’t even give him a decent burial.

She was almost paralyzed in her grief; she couldn’t even pull herself together enough to walk back into town with the others. She just slumped down on the ground, seeming to weigh a ton under the sadness, the dread, the fear.

And then, everything changed. There, at the tomb, Mary encountered the resurrected Jesus. There, in that moment, Mary experienced the power of resurrection – the resurrection of Jesus, and because of that, the resurrection of hope. In an instant, everything was new again – and not just as good as things were before Jesus was killed, but even better, exponentially better. You can just picture Mary making her way back into the city, laughing, giggling at the impossibility of it all, part walking, part running, part dancing, part flying, hurrying back to tell the others what she’d seen; what had happened.

That’s what this day is all about. That’s what we celebrate today – the great truth that we see in the resurrection that no matter how dark things may seem, no matter how much it seems like the wheels are falling off of everything, no matter how bad things might appear, God will never let Jesus’ message of love be defeated. God will not allow darkness, or fear, or evil, or even death, to triumph over love, not in this world and certainly not in the next.  And so today, we proclaim “Christ is risen!” and “He is risen indeed!” and we hold fast to the hope and joy that comes with the resurrection, in good times, and especially in bad.

Resurrection is what our faith is all about. Resurrection is what our faith hinges on. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, if Christ hasn’t risen, then our faith is just a fairy tale, a pipe dream, and we Christians are the most pitiful people on the planet.

And still… still… we really are basing our faith, our hope, on what appears to be a pretty incredible story. People in Jesus’ time certainly knew that people didn’t just come back from the dead, and we’re far more sophisticated than them. We aren’t stupid; we know that things like this just don’t happen. Just this past week, someone said to me that the one real thing they had problem with in the Christian scriptures was the “miracle stuff.” It would all be so much more reasonable, more logical, more believable, without all the miracle stuff. And yet, here we are today, celebrating the granddaddy of all miracles – rising from the dead, and not just in spirit, but in body, and not just the old, normal body, but a new improved one, a transformed one; one that can apparently change appearance so even your closest of friends might not recognize you if you don’t want them to;  one that can seemingly appear out of nowhere or move through walls or locked doors. I mean, really, this is quite a story that we’re being asked to believe. And somewhere, in the middle of singing all the great Easter hymns, and cheering “He is risen!” a voice within us – I suspect within all of us, at some point, or in some way, asks, “Really? Is this really true? Or did someone just make all this stuff up, to feel better after Jesus was killed? Is all this just a house of cards, built on the foundation of this impossible thing?”

I know I’ve asked myself those questions. As I’ve thought about them, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, even though I know it’s illogical, and to put it mildly, highly improbable, to believe that a person could physically rise from the dead, I believe Jesus did. I suppose I believe it in part because the scriptures say it happened, but I believe it at least as much because based on my understanding of God, I believe that God is capable of, and maybe even enjoys, pulling off the impossible every now and then.

But even though I believe it, as odd as it might sound, it really isn’t the bedrock, ultimate deal-breaker of my faith. In other words, if tomorrow, some archaeologist in Israel stumbled across a first-century tomb, and inside it they discovered an ancient ossuary, a bone-box, and the box said, “Here are the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, who claimed to be the Messiah, and the Son of God;” and if inside the box, in addition to his bones, there were Jesus’ original, long-form birth certificate, his high school yearbook, and his Social Security card – if it proved beyond all doubt that Jesus’ physical, earthly body wasn’t resurrected, I asked myself, would it destroy my faith? Would it significantly change my faith? I have to admit, it really wouldn’t. It wouldn’t substantially change my faith, because I know that, whatever it was, *something* amazing happened on that first Easter Sunday. Something that could only be described as miraculous happened that instantly turned Mary Magdalene’s soul-crushing grief into absolute joy. Something turned her life completely around and made her dance all the way from the tomb into the city. Something otherworldly happened to a bunch of demoralized, terrified disciples to make them believe they saw and touched the one they saw dead as a mackerel just days before, and to turn them into an emboldened, supercharged bunch ready to tell the world about the risen Jesus they’d encountered.  Something very real, and transforming, something life-changing and life-giving. That something – whatever its details – was resurrection.

I believe in the resurrection because of what happened to Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, and because of what I’ve experienced of God within myself. I believe in the resurrection because in the kingdom of God, sometimes what sounds like a fairy tale is actually the truest thing, the thing to really believe. I know that just as happened with Mary and the other disciples, the hope, the truth, of the resurrection has the power to change lives. To turn the deepest sorrow into the greatest joy. To turn the most hopeless of situations into the most hope-filled moments of our lives.

So this morning, if a piece of you – whether a small piece, or a large one – brings doubts and cries for logic on this, the most illogical of Sundays, that’s OK.  You don’t need me to tell you that there’s plenty of doubt within the Church, in pews and pulpits alike. But remember that even where there is  doubt, there’s still  faith. The two are absolutely inseparable. And even if our faith is imperfect, that’s OK, because Jesus’ faith is perfect, and it’s Jesus’ faith, not our own, that reconciles us with God. Remember that something that changed Mary Magdalene and the disciples. Remember that something that ended up changing the world – and that eventually has changed, and will continue to change, and give hope, and joy, and life, to you, and to me. Remember the something of resurrection – that indeed, Christ has risen! – and for that, we can all say

Thanks be to God!

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.