Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon; Easter Day; John 20:1-18

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

For a certain select few of you who attended the Great Vigil this morning, you will recall that I said that that was my favorite service.  And while that's true, this gospel reading from John is my favorite resurrection story.

Mary Magdalene, early in the morning, while it was still dark, goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus after his crucifixion.  When you go to visit a tomb, you have certain expectations about what you will find, and Mary had those same expectations.  But what she expected is not what she found.  What she found was an open tomb.  What she found was an empty tomb.  Knowing that dead men don't just get up and leave, she runs to wherever Peter is staying, rousts him out of bed, and tells him that someone stole the body.  Peter, another disciple (probably John), and Mary run back to the tomb.  After verifying the story, the two men return home, leaving the grief-stricken woman alone at the tomb.  And it's there that she meets first two angels and then Jesus himself.

This is my favorite resurrection story because it reflects so many different emotions.  It's my favorite story because it's the most personal.  It's my favorite story because Jesus calls Mary by name.  It's my favorite story because it reminds me that we are each the Lord's possession, calling us each by name.  And it's my favorite story because it reminds me that, even though we may not see Jesus clearly, he is with us.

Like Mary, we are often blinded by our expectations.  Mary expected to see a sealed tomb.  She expected to see the body of Jesus.  She expected that body to bear the marks of torture and crucifixion.  But none of those expectations were met.

The stone had been rolled away.  The body was gone.  The Jesus she met bore no resemblance to the Jesus pulled down from the cross.  This event really was beyond all expectations.  And like Mary, it's hard for us to get past our expectations.

We see what we want to see.  Sometimes we can't see what's there because of what we expect to see.  For instance, there was a woman on a bus.

Many years ago I used to ride the Greyhound bus from Seattle to various points in eastern Washington fairly regularly.  Buses seem to attract a lot of . . . interesting people.  On one trip I climbed aboard, found two empty seats, and hoped nobody would sit next to me.  I almost got my wish; until the last person to board came running up with her ticket and luggage.  As I looked out the window, I knew I was doomed.

Sure enough, she clunked her way onto the bus, down the aisle, and right to my neighboring seat.  She was probably in her mid-forties.  Her clothes were dirty.  She was generally unkempt.  And she had long, black hair that was matted together in spots, looking like it hadn't been combed in weeks.

I promptly settled in for a long nap.

Unable to feign sleep any longer, I woke up about halfway through the trip.  She greeted me, asked if I'd had a good nap, wanted to know where I was going, shared her chocolate bar with me, and we talked about the virtues of both PacMan and the Episcopal Church.  I sort of felt like I was living a version of Alice's Restaurant where I was nervous at first but then ended up having a groovy time with the all people on the Group W bench, as this turned into one of the best bus rides I'd ever had.

To top it all off, her name was Joy.

Like Mary, I was at first unable to get past what I expected to see in this unkempt, boisterous woman who decided that the seat next to me was exactly where she needed to be.  Like Mary, I grieved the loss of something I valued – in Mary's case, Jesus; in my case, an empty seat.  Which goes to show how petty we can be.

But, like Mary, after a short conversation, I was able to open my eyes to a new way of seeing.  I was able to open my eyes and see something beautiful.  In my case that was a woman with a great personality, a woman who was generous, a woman with interesting stories, and a woman who was interested in learning something new.

Mary had her eyes opened and her expectations changed not by a scripture-quoting Jesus.  She was changed not by a screed against other religions or by a hell-fire and brimstone sermon.

Mary was changed by the gentle calling of her name and a conversation.  And when she went to the disciples, she had a conversation with them about what Jesus had told her.  Notice that she didn't tell them what they should believe, but she told her story about her relationship with the risen Christ.

Easter really has a two-prong focus.  The first is hope.  Because of Easter, we have hope in Christ’s victory over death.  We have hope that we, too, will be raised to new life.  We have hope that death is not an end, but simply the gate to eternal life.  Through Easter, these are things hoped for but not seen.

The second is that Easter is evangelistic.  As I said at the earlier service, Easter may come at the end of the gospels, but it is not the end of the story – it is the beginning.  That beginning is a charge to go and tell the story of how, like Mary, we have had our expectations changed and how that has changed us.

This Easter, may you go forth in hope, telling people your story of how Jesus called your name and changed your expectations.



spookyrach | 3:37 PM, March 30, 2016  


You make me smile because this Easter was the first time I was really struck by this version of the empty tomb story. There was something in the way my priest said Mary's name that opened the door for me to understand what a deeply personal experience that was for her and for us. I loved it.

And YES! I live my life on the Group W bench. Just last week I was quoting from that to a group of co-workers. Not one - NOT ONE - of them had ever heard of Alice's Restaurant before. I was dumbfounded. But you have restored my faith in humanity - it has been resurrected. ha!

Reverend Ref + | 11:22 AM, March 31, 2016  

And in this sermon I ad libbed the part about Mary going to roust Peter out of bed:

"knock knock knock ... Peter ... knock knock knock ... Peter ... knock knock knock ... Peter"

So Alice's Restaurant AND Big Ban Theory in one day! How 'bout that?

More importantly, glad to hear that you heard a quiet voice calling your name.

spookyrach | 2:43 PM, March 31, 2016  

Well played!!

If I ever get to come to Oregon, I'm coming to your church. Be prepared! haha!

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