Easter Sermon

Scripture: John 20:11-18

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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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: Believe, but do not understand?

Jesus, I wonder...
… if angels and heavenly hosts came announcing the good news of peace to all when you rose from the dead as they did to the shepherds in the field at your birth.
… if anyone went straight to Mary and told her when they found out that you rose from the dead so that she could ponder this great news in her heart.
… if she knew or was surprised like everyone else to hear about your resurrection.

Jesus, the very first time…
...When you opened your eyes on the third day, What did you see?
...Did you see the world in its stillness and not stirring in the early morning’s quiet darkness?
...Or did you see the world getting on without you?

When your ears opened to the world since your death what did you hear?
Did you hear angels singing to you? Did you hear birds welcoming you back with their morning songs?
Could you hear the gentle breeze rustling through dried up grass outside the tomb?

When your mouth opened, what was the very first word you spoke?
Was that word like the very first word in creation bringing the light into the world?
Did that first word make the world see with this new light?

When you were able to breathe again, did you exhale first like the baby's first breath?
What did that first breath feel like? Was the air thick with smells of rot of the grave or pristine clean as early morning air in the new dawn?

I wonder…
When you were rising from the dead...
… if you ever thought about how throughout human history so many will be shocked and would choose to stay in unbelief,
… if you already knew whether we would fight to find out if your resurrection was true of fiction as part of faith so many years later,
… if it mattered to you whether we would stand on one side or another on how to love our neighbours who were the poor, the sick, the lost, the oppressed, the imprisoned and the addicted,
… if you ever had an inkling on how we would try to worship you without sitting together as your people in churches or in homes faced with this virus pandemic.

Is emptying of the church today all around the world your plan to break free from the church buildings on this resurrection day in order to be with your people out in the world? Are you teaching us to leave these buildings behind and go out in search of your people in the same way you broke out of the tomb?

If you knew how in history those who pledged loyalty to you became part of destroying and killing of others in your name, would you still have risen from the dead?

Was it worth it for you to die so that we may live? Am I in you?

Or should the real question be: In you, are we?

Through our God’s grace, you answer: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, they will live.”
What an infinite grace these words are!
What an unconditional love they signify!

Unlike other Easters in our time, today, untold numbers of Christians are sitting at home instead of sitting on church pews to praise and give God the glory. This resurrection day is not like any other ones we've been part of as everyone is trying to protect each other by staying apart.

True, some are getting together through video conferencing technologies, others are watching live-streaming of symbolic worship where ministers and priests are doing their best without people. In our case we do it by each one clicking through hymns, prayers, Scripture passages and this sermon.

Is there meaning to each of us worshipping alone in one’s own confines? Is there a time when a person needs to be alone like this?

In John’s account of the resurrection, we find Mary Magdalene and the empty tomb. Soon we see her running away from the tomb to where the disciples were. She ran. She must have thought nothing else. The report is clear. Her mind was all on telling the disciples what she saw. Right away we see Peter and the beloved disciple running the other way towards the tomb. They too wanted to see for themselves. They went in. We are told that the beloved disciple saw and believed, but they did not understand. Faith, certainly. Understanding, no.

What is John saying? They saw and believed, but they did not understand. Like them, we, too, hearing the accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels believe. After all, faith comes from hearing.

Certainly we believe. Not even atheists doubt that we believe in the resurrection. They may think of us as ignorant chums, but they do not deny that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

But do we understand? Do we understand what resurrection is, means, should be? We believe that Jesus was resurrected. In life, though, we have never seen anyone or heard of anyone who was resurrected. We also do not fully understand how Jesus’ resurrection directs and corrects our paths in life, nor fully certain about how it makes us share God’s love with the poor, the seek, the meek, the broken, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the abused, the outcast. We can love others and share more with or without understanding anything about the resurrection.

In the passage, though, we see Mary weeping. She pours out her sorrow in tears for losing her Lord. She could not let go of her Lord whom she loved. Tears of grief and sorrow blind her. She could not believe. She could not understand.

Then, the stranger’s voice of the one who was present behind her comes to her. A question to Mary. Initially Mary did not know there was someone. Her eyes were too full with tears to see, her spirit too sad to sense the presence, she turns to answer. Even when she heard the voice and turned around, she could not recognize Jesus with her eyes covered with tears. It was almost as if she was blind. Even this stranger’s voice was unknown to her. Yet, this person tenderly inquires, “Why are you weeping?”
Curios that this very first conversation Jesus begins in his resurrection life comes out as a question: Why are you weeping? Could he not simply said, “Mary, it is I. Jesus!” Instead a question. Why?
It makes sense, however, when we remember Jesus’ encounters with the people at the margins of Jewish society. When Jesus met those broken people, the woman caught in adultery, the woman with hemorrhage, the blind, the lame, he always asked them questions. Why?
He did not assume he knew what they wanted of him. He did not simply give what was good for them. He always opened conversation with each one with a question: Woman, what did they say? (John 8:10); Who touched me? (Luke 8:45) What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:51); Do you want to be made well? (John 5:6).
So why did he always question first? With questions like these comes the restoration of humanity—personhood—to those who were nobodies. They were nameless, faceless and valueless to their world. Anonymous, everyone ignored them. They did not matter. They had no voice. People without voice have no power, no status, no being in a society. But these questions imply that their answers are important—worthy to tend to. Questions like these tell the listener to risk revealing and exchange their anonymity for a place of worth among people. In answering, they become people whose voice matters. In giving answers they become people of worth because someone in this world says who they are is important and their views matter. These questions invite these broken people to own their place in the world and take part as ones who rightfully belong in humanity.
Mary, alone in tears, is nobody. Peter and the beloved disciple left her as they returned believing. They had no regard for her. Alone, there in front of the empty tomb, who is she? Who can she be? Without Jesus who is she?

The strange voice asks. She turns and asks in return. There is this mutuality between these two people who inviting the others to answer as if they are equal. As he wanted to know, now she wants to know. In this meeting of two strangers, the stranger calls her by name, “Mary!”

She is known. She is revealed. As she is revealed in being called by her name, her eyes can see now. In the calling of her name, this stranger is no more stranger to Mary. Mary, too, now comes to know the one standing before her. She returns this grace of being known by revealing the one who was unknown, “Teacher!” She now knows. She comes to the knowledge and understands. Unlike the disciples, she in being called out by the one who was hidden, is now able to know. The unknown of the resurrection is no more.

After leaving Jesus she begins this new life with the testimony, “I have seen the Lord!”

Testimony—witnessing the truth—is possible when there is knowledge and understanding. Testimony without knowledge and understanding is nothing more than a speculation/rumor. If her eyes were not opened, if she never recognized that stranger, her testimony would not be true. Her witness to the resurrection would be suspect. But it began in knowing and understanding. She gains them when she sees her Lord with her own eyes when he is revealed to her as the resurrected one.

Our sharing of the resurrection without understanding is nothing more than an idle gossip, too if we do not know and understand. No wonder there are many intellectual Christians engaged in speculation on the resurrection because they do not have the testimony to give. Like Peter and the beloved disciples at the empty tomb, they believe, but do not understand. Like superbly trained singers who sing Hallelujah of Handel’s Messiah beautifully, they may sing with all their hearts, but they fail to testify. They may believe what they sing, but they do not understand what that beautiful music is singing about.

Perhaps this is why saints of old were so careful. They never claimed to have seen Christ. They were always humble to say more they came to know, they came to understand how little they knew about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. There are no boastings in Theresa of Avila, and untold number of mystics who tried so hard to find communion with the risen Lord.

In resurrection life, being called by name, Mary gained understanding beyond belief. Like her we come to understand fully as we are called in our own names by the resurrected one. We may not remember, but at Baptism the question is asked on Christ’s behalf for infants, “What is the name of this child?” For adults, too, “What is your name?” The conversation begins with the question. It is the way of our Lord. Then, the body of Christ hears the name being called on Christ’s behalf. Like the resurrected Lord naming Mary, the Church calls the name of the one being baptized on Christ’s behalf. This is how we start new life in Christ—the question asked and name called. One who baptized is being revealed and received and in turn one being baptized reveals Jesus to all who are gathered.

Unlike the disciples, because she loved and was in tears lingering, through asking the question the risen Lord made Mary whole. Then, by calling her name, he revealed himself to Mary. Mary went away fully understanding the resurrection of the Lord—the very resurrection even Peter and the beloved disciple, though believed, yet could not understand.

What a grace!
What a resurrection, indeed!

Like Mary our names are called out in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In turn through confession of the ones being baptized the resurrected Christ is revealed. So the baptized testifies, “I have seen the Lord!”

What a grace that reveals who we are!
What a wonderful love that resurrection of the Lord is now known and understood in each and every one of us!

Praise the Lord!

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!
I know now that my redeemer lives!