New Testament Reading
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
The Resurrection of Christ
15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
L: The Word of the Lord.
P: Thanks be to God.
*Gospel Acclamation Alleluia
John 20: 1-18
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Leader: This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
People: Praise to you Lord Christ.
Sermon, “I Can See Resurrection”
My 5-year-old asks the best questions. We’ve been reading a lot of Holy Week and Easter books of course. Zechariah asked very inquisitively this week, “If Jesus died, how was he alive again?” I told him that God brought him back to life. He replied, “Yes, but how did God actually do it?” “It’s a mystery,” I explained. “Ok, dad, but how did God actually get him alive again? How did God do it?” Here I thought seminary was hard. In seminary, I just quoted Scripture and theologians. That doesn’t work with a 5-year-old, so I finally said, “Well, God brought Jesus back to life through love and for love. Because God loved Jesus, God loves all of creation, every human who ever lived, and God loves you. That’s why God raised Jesus from the dead.” He accepted my answer, even though I answered the why not the how.
Zechariah is in good company. His question is one for the ages. When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb early on the first day of the week, she didn’t understand resurrection. When Simon Peter and the other disciple, tradition has named John, arrive at the tomb, “they still did not understand.” If those first witnesses to the resurrection had trouble understanding it, then how do we stand a chance? Perhaps the resurrection of Jesus is not meant to be understood as much as it is meant to be experienced.
In the Gospel of John, we are immediately drawn into the darkness of the early morning when Mary visits the tomb. Something is different. Something is out of sorts. The stone had been removed from the entrance. If you notice, the message she delivers to Peter and the other disciple is not a message of resurrection and victory over the grave. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” It’s a message of concern, uncertainty, and ultimately it’s about death, as Mary is concerned about the body of her beloved teacher.
When the Gospel tells us that Mary told the disciples that “we don’t know where they have put him,” the word “know” could be translated as “see” or “understand” or “know.” Mary doesn’t know, see, or understand. Neither do the disciples. We often give credit to the unnamed “other disciple” for finding the cloth still lying in the tomb and as read in John he “saw and believed.” Yet we are told in the very next verse that “they still not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” The “other disciple” doesn’t proclaim the resurrection, they just go back to the house in Jerusalem they were staying. They may have believed Mary, but they didn’t see, understand, or know about the resurrection yet. We might not understand the resurrection, but do we know about it. Can we see it? Can we see it in our lives, in the lives of others, or in our world?
I was sitting in a Sunday school class at the end of the Lent, the week before Palm Sunday. We were discussing the events of Holy Week. We looked at the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection, discussed our thoughts on Easter, then, after a brief moment of quiet, a young woman spoke up and said, “I just don’t believe it. I mean I love Jesus. His teachings. His life, but I just can’t buy this resurrection thing. No one dies then come back to life.” In a few seconds of silence that felt like minutes, I had to decide how to respond. Would I draw us back to Scripture? Ask another question? Or make an attempt to explain the resurrection? I finally decided to share that I couldn’t explain it. No one can. Maybe it’s not something we can understand, but it is something we do know about and it’s something that can be seen today.
The resurrection is not a photographical moment. It wasn’t an event that could have been captured in a moment and in a single picture then understood. In fact, none of the Gospels describe the actual moment of resurrection, because who could? Instead, it’s another mystery of God to be revealed, unveiled, or shown to us throughout our lives. When I shared that with my Sunday school, I don’t think it helped much, at least not in the moment. They wanted to know the how not the why. They wanted an explanation when none could really be given.
It’s in that place of uncertainty, question, fear, and even death that brings an unexpected encounter with the risen Jesus. In that place of darkness, lights shines. In death, comes life. In sorrow, we find joy in Christ. Mary stood outside the tomb crying when she encounters two messengers of God. When the angels ask her why she is weeping, she gives the same answer as she gave to the disciples, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Again, her focus is on a body, on death, and that’s when the risen Lord shows up. Jesus also asks her why she is crying, just like the angels, but he also asks, “Who are you looking for?” just like the moment in the garden when Jesus asks the soldiers the same question. Mary doesn’t recognize him and thinks he is the gardener.
It’s not until he speaks her name she then recognizes Jesus in her midst. After a brief dialogue, Mary runs to the disciples with the good news, “I have seen the Lord!” There’s that word again. She was able to “see” the risen Lord. It is in that seeing that she believes that he is no longer dead, but alive. There’s still plenty of questions both for the disciples and for us. What bodily form does Jesus have? He still has the wounds from the crucifixion as we will see next week with Thomas’ encounter with Jesus, yet he is able to enter locked houses without entering a door. How did God actually give him breathe again? I have often said that we celebrate the resurrection of Christ not the resuscitation of Christ. There is a difference!
If we think back to the story of Lazarus being brought back to life to Jesus, he grew old and eventually died again. He was brought back to the same life he lived before. Jesus was resurrected to a new life. It was not the same before nor would he taste death again. He was a new being, so much so even his followers didn’t recognize him at first. Being resuscitated brings us back to a life filled with the same old fears challenges. Yet being resurrected bring us into a life of perfect love where those former things fall away and death loses its sting. We are made new in the fullness of love!
To live a resurrected life is to experience it, maybe even daily. When we live the resurrection we are able to see new life coming out of death all around us. I don’t mean just in the bulbs shooting up from the ground bringing beautiful flowers, even though they are lovely this time of year. I don’t even mean, “I’m going to make a new start today.” To live resurrection is to see and experience Christ active in my life in a new way bringing life and energy. As my friend, Rev. Dr. Charles Ferguson, who preached for me during Black History Month, wrote, “I might think, ‘I’m messed up today, but it won’t last.’ I will rise from this place better than began.” That’s resurrection!
Whenever we rise from all that brings death, we live resurrection. We don’t have to understand it really; we just have to live it. We can live in a way where sin, fear, and death do not keep their hold on us, death has lost its sting, and we are freed to live new life in Christ today and in the life to come and we see hints of new life and resurrection all around us. That’s something to celebrate!
At the beginning of worship, I invited everyone to wave their white flag in celebration and victory whenever we hear the words, “Christ is risen!” Oh no! Did you forget? Let’s try it again, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” You know when we wave those white flags we’re really surrendering to the risen Christ. It’s our white flag of surrender. We give up our old lives, the former way, and we now choose to live for Christ, in Christ, and with Christ. And we live that every day. And even on those days when we fail we can simply wave the white flag again and say, “Christ is risen!” and “I will rise from this place better than before!” That’s resurrection! That’s Easter!
I’m not sure how well I did in answering my son’s questions this week. I was honest. None of us can really fully understand the mystery of Christ’s resurrection, but we can live it and we can see it in our lives. Christ was risen for love of creation, all of humanity, and for you and me that we might know and follow that love into abundant love in this life and eternal love into the next life. That’s the mystery and gift of resurrection. God’s love would not be stopped by Rome, humanity, evil, the cross, or even death. Instead, God raises us all into new life today and forever in a way that we can see it all around us! So we proclaim in song, word, and by waving the white flag: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen today!” One more time! “Christ is risen! Christ is risen today!” Amen.
Our prayer practice comes to us from a Jewish tradition. A few years ago I was visiting a synagogue not far from the church I was serving and I was struck that the Rabbi placed his stole over his eyes during a prayer. I learned that the tradition is for Jews to cover their eyes as they hear the Shema from Deuteronomy, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The idea is that you cover your eyes to concentrate on the words of the Shema. I want to invite you take your white cloth and place it over your eyes as I offer this Easter blessing:
who comes to us
in the things of this world,
bless your eyes
and be in your seeing.
who looks upon you
with deepest love,
bless your eyes
and widen your gaze.
May the Spirit,
who perceives what is
and what may yet be,
bless your eyes
and sharpen your vision.
May the Sacred Three
bless your eyes
and cause you to see (the resurrection all around you). Amen.
~ from In the Sanctuary of Women, copyright © Jan L. Richardson.