The Hidden Life – Easter 2020

John 20: 1-18

When 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.

Sermon Text

The Resurrection, like so much of Christ’s life – is both a single moment and an eternal reality. When God brought Christ from death and into life there was only one tomb that opened, only one Sunday morning that saw the glorified feet of Christ touch its dew. Only one morning, in a garden so long ago and far from us, where all the wonders of creation were silenced for a moment and God-breathed a deep breath into lungs that had days ago ceased to function. The miracle of the Resurrection, the fulcrum on which all creation turns, is a single event centuries ago.

Yet, the Resurrected Christ does not cease to be active in the world. We are not left out of Christ’s redemption because we are not present to see his body. We are not excluded because of circumstances of particularity but are included through the eternal presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit. The oft-forgotten member of the Trinity that moves among us, that inhabits us, that encloses creation and cares for it. The source of life of all things living, the breath of God that revivifies even our own dead bones.

The Spirit moves over the earth. It seeks out the needy and gives them provision. It seeks out those who mourn and gives them comfort. It meets those of us who are weeping in the shadow of death and it calls us by name. The Spirit is here among us today, in each of our rooms and households, weaving us together into the tapestry that constitutes Christ’s body – the eternal Church which is present in Heaven and upon the Earth.

Our scripture today gives us a snapshot of what the day of Resurrection was like. The women come to Christ’s tomb and are distressed to find it empty. The assumption is that grave robbers have carried Jesus away, perhaps to disgrace his followers even more. To remove him from proper burial and to place him in a place of shame.

The distraught disciples, finding the tomb empty, left the tomb. Death had already robbed them of their beloved teacher and friend, and now they were robbed of proper mourning – of a decent burial for their beloved. All the disciples left the tomb, all but one. Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest confidants, remained in the garden surrounding the grave and wept for the loss she had now had to suffer twice.

It is not uncommon that we who are called together as the Church find ourselves in just such a state. When the promises of God seem unfulfilled, with all the hardships of life have overwhelmed us. The reality of death hangs over us, or else of a lack of provision. When the cupboard is empty, or a spot in a chair is left unattended, or else we cannot live our life normally for one reason or another. Our expectations are shattered, we are left in a place of disillusion and disorientation. Falling into such a state is not a sign of infidelity to God, it is a reality of life and its fullness. The onslaught of disaster and horror throughout history cannot leave us unmoved.

Even as we now are in the midst of disaster, even as we prepare to vocalize our dissatisfaction and concern next week in a service of lament, we find ourselves in a mixed place emotionally. We are today celebrating the return to life of Christ, the entry into glory of the human race. Yet we are tramped down. The burden of all that presses in around us is too powerful to ignore. Death hangs heavy over us. Like Mary we are seated in a place of life, a garden of fresh hyacinth and blossoming fruit trees, yet with a tomb casting a shadow upon us from a distance.

Though the particulars of this Easter place us all in this place of mourning, there is no Easter that does not happen in the shadow of death. We always gather as a mixed multitude of people who have more than enough reason to celebrate and more than enough to mourn. Easter is always the first Easter without a loved one for somebody. Easter is always the day after someone’s world is shattered. We experience today universally what is usually a particular reality. We are apart from one another. We are isolated by a need to keep others safe. We sit in cold and terrified anticipation of what comes next – will it be deliverance? Will it be yet more disaster?

Of all the images that place in stark contrast life and death at Easter time what occurred only a year ago in Sri Lanka stands out. As people gathered to worship the resurrected Lord, an explosion went off – killing many who were present. A day of celebration was turned immediately into mourning, where baptisms were planned funerals needed to be held instead. A community lost all that it had – not only its members but its feelings of security and of certainty. The world turned and wept for these people, for the conditions that would allow for such evil to be carried out against people worshipping God in peace.

A year ago, in response to this disaster, I wrote these words, “The beauty of Easter is that before the resurrection came the tomb, that Christ has full knowledge of what it is to suffer and die. Christ does not tell us that this life will be easy, and honestly being Christian should mean that life becomes more difficult for you, but Christ’s command is one of experience – not of despotism.”[1] A year later, I think that these words should settle with us in a different way.

We are people suffering. For some of us, life has gone on as normal and then some. Some of us are working the same job we always have, but with much more responsibility added to it. Many are dealing with this disaster head-on and then working with people they know and love as they too face the disaster. As I have said to many of you during this time, when asked how I am liking having a break from so much work, all I can say is, “For everything I was doing before, I seem to be doing three or four others.” For those whose work has not ceased in this time, the build of still more stress and still more work can seem overpowering.

Others of us are cut off from the normal flow of things. Students especially, who have transitioned to remote classes are now cut off from time with their friends. While the digital age allows us to meet in Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and Discord, there is nothing that can replace seeing someone face to face. If anything the digital world can seem even more isolating, and for those who do not utilize technology or have no access to it, this isolation is even more acute. For those who can be in the digital spaces we inhabit – whether they be chat rooms, video calls, or Animal Crossing islands – we know now they are not enough to replicate our togetherness.      Suffering is our actual greatest obstacle to understanding God and God’s promises for us. We all experience it, some more acutely than others, but none less authentically than any other. When we gather today, we do so in the midst of a tragedy. One which is worse than others we have lived through because rather than a single day of terror we are forced into months and months of it. We are a people who must mourn and will mourn for some time what is happening around us.

Yet, despite all the darkness encroaching around us. We are not alone. Louder than the disaster which crashes in around us is the proclamation of the resurrection. Let no noise cover up your Hallelujah, let your tears mingle with your triumphant cry. Christ is here with us, the Spirit has brought us together today to worship the Risen Lord. We, like Mary, are in a garden of life and potentiality, but we can still smell the grave we have just left. Do not feel shame for your tears, do not neglect to feel all the hurt and confusion you feel. Do not turn away the feelings knocking down your door.

Welcome them in, let them sit in the silence with you. Weep and pray all you people of God. Weep and pray, but do not stop up your ears just yet. For when we turn to God and we beg for deliverance, for presence in the midst of death, for something to guide us out of this darkness… When we do this, we must do so ready to hear the gentle word that comes to us from the Risen One… A gentle voice which says our name and awakens us to what has happened. A gentle voice we recognize as the one we have been seeking. The voice that we lost to death and disaster, to destruction and plague, to all evil and hardship imaginable… We suddenly hear it calling our name… And then, and only then… Does our Easter ring true. Only then is our hidden life revealed to us, and we can praise in all fullness of time. We sit in the garden, let us now weep and listen, let us seek and let us find. – Amen.

[1] The Promise of Easter – Pastor John Langenstein – Available at:
https://teachusto.com/2019/04/22/the-promise-of-easter-easter-2019/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s