A sermon for Easter 2018

The two angels said to Mary, “‘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.”                                                                              John 20:11-14

When they ask her why she’s weeping, she says it’s because they’ve taking his body away. Not just because he died, but because now his body is gone too.

We want to hold on to whatever tangible memories we have left when people we love are gone, no matter how trivial they may be. So we cherish the things that they used and touched. Like the worn round wooden cutting board that I remember from my grandmother’s kitchen when I was just a little girl. I still use it at home in my kitchen. Or my father’s cuff links and my mother’s bracelet. I don’t wear either one of them, but I keep them in a special place.

And of course we want to know where our loved ones are buried. To keep that one last physical connection with their presence, as tenuous as it is.

So Mary is there at the tomb on that first day of the week, while it’s still dark, but the tomb is empty. She doesn’t know this is good news. It’s not a sign of Easter joy to her. Instead, it’s grief upon grief, loss after loss. Now she really has nothing left of him.

And then she turns and she sees Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him. How could she not recognize him after all the time that they’ve spent together?

I’ve heard this story before, though. I know who it is and I know that everything’s going to turn out okay. I know what’ll happen next. Soon she’ll be on her way, going back to the disciples, ready to tell the rest of them, “I have seen the Lord.”

I want to tell her, “Turn around, Mary. Don’t be sad. It’s Jesus!” But she doesn’t recognize him, because she wasn’t looking for him. She didn’t expect to see Jesus standing there that morning.

She was still overwhelmed by the shock of what she’d lost, so that she simply couldn’t see what still might be. She only knew death as an ending, not as a beginning.

We Christians believe that in Christ, life has triumphed over death. Life will triumph over death always. On the third day, he rose again.

How many times have we said that here in church? I think we’ve lived with that idea for so long that it almost makes sense to us, although I’m not sure that any of us will ever fully understand it, at least not here.

When my father was dying, it was a terribly difficult situation for my family, and a good church friend of mine said, “There’s a blessing in this for you—look for it.” And I thought, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but you aren’t going through this.”

But I took it to heart, and I did what he said. And you know what? There was a blessing in it for me. There was a tremendous blessing in the way my brother and my sisters and our families came together to support each other, and to support our mother and our father. There was a lot of love in that, and it was an experience of adult companionship with them, which, even though I’d say we’re close, I hadn’t known before.

So there was a blessing, but thank God my friend told me to look for it, because if I hadn’t looked for it, I don’t think I ever would have seen it.

There are so many times when we can’t see Jesus himself because we aren’t looking for Him.

One of my Facebook friends posted a little video yesterday. (And yes, even after everything, I’m still on Facebook.) One of my Facebook friends shared a little video yesterday about a church where people were gathering for Sunday worship.

It was a big church. There were a lot of people. They were all coming into church, and then among them appears a man who clearly is homeless. Outside on the sidewalk, people try to avoid him. When he goes inside and starts up the aisle, the ushers grab him and suggest that he should sit in the back. He tries to greet people around him, but they avoid eye contact, and no one wants to shake his hand.

No one really wanted him there, particularly because this was a special day for this church. They were going to be introduced to the new priest who was coming.

So halfway through, the senior warden goes up to make this introduction. Everybody is excited. They’re all leaning forward in their seats. And who comes walking up the aisle but the homeless man. And at that moment, the people are ashamed of how they’ve been treating him.

I can tell by your faces that you could see that one coming. So could I. Sort of like that story about Mary Magdalene. I wished I could tell them, “Be nice to that guy. He’s your priest.”

And to tell you the truth, although it was a nice little video, I hoped it wasn’t a true story. Because I also wanted to tell that priest that it might not be the best idea to start out on your first day with your new congregation by shaming them.

But it’s a good point, right? People looked at this scruffy guy, and they didn’t see a priest. And even more important than that, they didn’t see Jesus, because they weren’t looking for him.

How often do we miss seeing Jesus even though Jesus is all around us?

In the people here in church, for example. Jesus is present in this gathered community just as much as Jesus is present in the Word we hear and the Sacrament we share.

Jesus is present in all the places we’ll go today, and in all the people we’ll meet. Jesus is present in places that might seem unlikely to us, but remember that when he walked this earth, he seemed to favor the company of sinners. Thank goodness.

Jesus is present in situations that seem hopeless. And in all of those places, all we really have to do is look for Him. And of course, Jesus is present everywhere that we bring His love.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.

Hallelujah, Christ is here indeed. These aren’t just some nice words to say at Easter. This is a commitment to love and to hope, and it calls on us to adopt a whole new attitude, a whole new way of living. A commitment to seeing him everywhere, because the Lord is risen indeed.

There’s an Easter hymn called Now the Green Blade Riseth. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with it. It’s Number 204 in our hymnal, if you ever want to get familiar with it.

It’s one that I’ve only come to know in the last couple of years. The first time I heard it, I thought it came down from medieval England, but in fact it’s a 20th-century hymn that was written by a man named John MacLeod Campbell Crum, which was first published in the 1928 edition of the Oxford Book of Carols.

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

That’s the first verse. I’ll spare you the middle, but this is the last:

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

The hope of Easter is that Jesus’ touch can bring us back to life again, no matter how dead and bare the fields of our hearts have been. Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

And every day going forward from this Easter Sunday is a new opportunity to look for Jesus, to see and recognize Him alive in the world around us, and to carry that message of love and hope to the whole world.