Easter Sermon: Christ is Risen!

Easter Sermon
John 20:1-18

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Well, what else do you want to know?

Usually sermons build toward something.  It takes a few minutes until we arrive at the “ah-ha!” moment together.  But not today.  Today, the good news is just out there, dancing in the middle of the garden without its graveclothes on.  Jesus Christ is risen today!  Alleluia!

So what else are you waiting for?

I can sit down right now and we can use this extra time to dance a liturgical polka.  Because here’s the good news: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

You’ve got it!  We’re good!  We can go to Easter brunch early!

What are you all still hanging around for?

No, it’s OK. I understand.  Actually, you all kind of have this Mary Magdelene thing going on right now.  She, too, waited at the tomb after the time to leave had come and went.

Remember?  Remember how she came to the tomb while it was still dark?  It was the day after Passover.  She’d spent two days going through the motions, celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people when she felt anything but free, thinking all the time of her friend, of what a joke of a burial they’d had to give him, since Passover was coming and they had just hours to do what should have taken days.

So Mary comes as soon as she can.  While it’s still dark.  Before she can even see enough to do her work.

But when she arrives, she sees in the dim light a gaping darkness where she should see a heavy rock.  It’s too dark to see anything inside the cave-like tomb, and Mary doesn’t waste time trying.  She runs to Peter and to the disciple whom Jesus loved, and tells them the fear that’s been hammering at her heart since she saw the open mouth of the tomb: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”

The two disciples ran towards to tomb, a weird footrace where the winner—the disciple whom Jesus loved—doesn’t seem to want the prize: the first look into the tomb.   Instead he waits for Peter, who stoops to get into the tomb, and sees the strangest sight: the linen strips that had wrapped Jesus’ body lying there, and the handkerchief that had covered his face neatly folded up and lying where Jesus’ head should be.  No grave robber or body snatcher would have taken the time to do that.

The moment he sees it, the disciple whom Jesus loved felt the stirring of a strange hope—could he have risen from the dead?  In that moment, the disciple believed, even though neither he nor Peter yet understood the scriptures that predicted what was before their eyes.

But it seems that Peter doesn’t tell or couldn’t convince Mary that the body couldn’t have been stolen, and the disciple whom Jesus loved neglected to share what it was he believed, because then both of them went home, and left Mary there, sobbing disconsolately, and still believing that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

Alleluia!  Christ had risen!  But somebody forgot to tell Mary.

I know that you guys were probably held in your seats more by the expectation that the sermon should take more than 30 seconds.  But you really did look a bit like Mary in that moment: waiting for something else to happen.

And maybe that’s why it’s Mary that this happens to: she finally bends down to look into the tomb, but where the other disciples saw graveclothes, she sees angels.  And they ask: “Why are you crying?”

And Mary answers them like she converses with angels all the time.  No, “What are you doing here?”  No, “Is this a sign?”  Not even falling down in fear and adoration.  Just, “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.”  And then she turns around and she sees—

A gardener.  Or at least, she assumes it’s the gardener, because who else is going to be hanging around the garden tomb this early in the morning?  And the gardener asks her the same question the angels did, “Miss, why are you crying?  Who are you looking for?”  And Mary, clearly getting a little hysterical at this point, asks this man to tell her if he moved the body, and offers to carry it away herself.

I have this image of Mary as she might have imagined herself at that moment—this woman with a tear-streaked face bent under the weight of the crucified body of her friend, a doppelganger to the figure that stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem under the heavy weight of a cross just three days ago.  In my mind’s eye, Mary is staggering through the garden, trying to keep a grip on the corpse that’s sticky from the myrrh and slippery from the aloes and far too heavy for her, carrying him who-knows-where.

And then the gardener says, “Mary.”  “Mary,” as in, “my sheep hear my voice, and they know me.”  And Mary turns to him, and recognizes him.  And she calls him, not by the name she uses around everyone else—“Lord”—but the name that is her name for him: “Teacher.”

He is here.  He is risen.  He can be touched, and hugged, and held onto, so tangible that he must ask her not to hold onto him, because the story isn’t over yet, he still has to ascend to the Father.  It’s not over.  It’s not over.  Death has not had the final word.  The final word belongs instead to the one who has won the victory over death, and it is that word that he now gives to Mary to share with everyone she meets: she has seen the Lord, and the story isn’t over.

It is the word that Mary gave to the apostles, who gave it to our great-great-great-super-great grandmothers and fathers in faith.  It is the Word that we are charged with giving, too, the Word that changes everything, a Word that breaks the power of sin and death, a Word that frees us from waiting outside the tomb for something to happen, because something has happened, the most amazing thing imaginable has happened:

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

So what are you waiting for?

463px-friedrich_overbeck_-_easter_morning_-_google_art_project
“Easter Morning,” Friedrich Overbeck, c. 1818.

 

 

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