Easter 2023 – … He is With Us

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’s 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 touch 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

This morning, at our Sunrise service, we talked about how we live as the image of God in the world until Christ returns in final victory. The light of Easter morning lives within us, shining out for everybody to see. Whenever we are living as the Church ought to live, and being as we ought to be, people can look at us and glimpse the Image of God imprinted in our souls and perfected through our faith. When we gather today especially, we are making a proclamation for all the world to see and know who we are as the people of God. Christ is here, present with us, even when physically absent, through the incredible work of the Church and the Spirit.

We know from our talks in Lent that there are a lot of things that help God’s light shine out. Speaking to each other properly, with intention and love can make a world of difference in how people see and know God. Knowing the limitations we have as human beings allows us to stay out of trouble. Seeking to live in genuine peace with each other, allowing God to transform our worst aspects into better supports for our best. All of this, while continually looking toward Christ, the source of our life and perfecter of the same. We talked about all this because of the key lesson revealed to us by Ezekiel – the Spirit of God, the presence of Christ, is only truly realized when we come together and act as one body, one people, called to one purpose.

When Mary happened upon Jesus in the Garden, unsure if this resurrected Lord was the same one she had known simply as her teacher before, she got to see him face to face. She met Jesus in a personal moment, individually significant and weighted with such joy and amazement and potential. We all have that moment in our lives, that initial meeting with God that brings us to join the people of God, to wash in the waters of baptism, and to pursue the fullness of what a life lived in faith might have for us. We, like Mary, begin our journey in the faith through that singular meeting with Jesus and then are called to do something amazing.

We are called to go and join with the other disciples, those who know God’s work but may not know that it is still active in the world. When we go and are able to say what the Lord has done for us, not just in the far flung past, but /today/ then we are able to testify to God still being right here with us. Together, gathered with the news of this ultimate resurrection from death, of the promise of the same for us, we praise the life God is bringing into the world and the part we have in that. That initial, private meeting, becomes a shared experience with the other people of God. We share our stories, we remember how God worked in us the same way God is now working in another, or else dream of the day we too see God as clearly as they did.

The reality of faith is that it is not something solely between us and God. Sure aspects of it always remain private, but a lot of what defines whether we are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, is found in how we actually treat one another. The Wesleyan formula for this is to say that, “There is no Holiness but Social Holiness,” in other words, you cannot truly be a Christian without interacting with other people. God calls us to love one another, and so a Christian must love those around them. God calls us to forgive and so we must forgive those around us. God calls us to set right the wrongs of this world, and so we must find them and work alongside people to accomplish the good that is sorely needed.

Easter, the proclamation to the world that Death is not final, is a time for us to come together as one people and join the chorus of every Christian who came before us. We join in the ancient call and response, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” Because we need to hear it affirmed again, and again, and again. We do all this, because though Christ may not be with us physically now, the Spirit is with us. That Spirit is sometimes hard to see in myself, but I sure can see it in the face of another person. We are the Church together, whenever we gather, and whenever we proclaim the work of God in our lives, we can confidently stand by the empty tomb and tell all the world. “He is not here… He is with us!”

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