Easter Sermon

SCRIPTURE READING: John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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: 

It’s 596 miles between our house in Falls Church and Nana and Bampa’s house in Signal Mountain, TN. 596 miles.  Google maps says that’s 8 hours and 52 minutes with average traffic.  Of course, one needs to stop for food, fuel, and micturation, so in actuality the trip takes a bit longer.  

We did the drive a few days ago, left last Friday and returned this past Tuesday.  With one fuel stop and another two for food and/or caffeine, the trip takes about 10 hours.  The key to making the trip so quick is efficiency.  

Not too many years ago, efficiency was impossible.  The trip would often take two days as we needed frequent stops for diapers, nursing, and the regular replacement of portable DVD players.  We would leave one morning, spend the night in a motel, and arrive the next evening.  In those days, any thought of efficiency must be removed from one’s mind, lest one become criminally insane.  The desire for efficiency must be removed from one’s psyche.  

But now, with kids equally motivated as their parents to GET THIS OVER WITH ASAP! we are all on the same page.  The day before departure, the fuel tank is topped off. Everyone boards the vehicle with empty bladders.  Cans of sparkling water are rationed carefully.  We avoid drive-thru windows, opting instead to run inside to use the restrooms while our food is being packaged up.  Food orders are determined well beforehand, while we’re still on the highway.  Food stops are also vetted for minimal distance from the highway.  Fuel stops, likewise, are combined with rest room visitation.  One person pumps the fuel, while everyone else secures coffee and snacks.  

With newfound access to computer-controlled adaptive cruise control, the desired speed can be dialed in precisely– generally 8 or perhaps 9 miles over the posted limit (no more, and certainly no less).  We can also with the push of a button toggle between following intervals of 3, 2, or 1 second.  In this way, our average speed is maximized, and we wend our way through traffic with peak efficiency.  We also tend to travel on days during the middle of holidays, rather than the first or last day when traffic is much heavier.  And we’ve found that traffic clears considerably after 9pm, so we make our best time late at night.  

These days of driving are all about speed, and efficiency.  We maximize our rate of travel, and minimize anything and everything that might slow us down.  Which is awesome, and effective.  But this kind of mode of being is unfortunately not endorsed by today’s gospel reading.  I mean, there is definitely efficiency present, but those folks are not the heroes of the story.  There is an important lesson here about slowing down. 

We pick up the story on Easter morning, but we shouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to hear it….  Let’s remember what has happened.  On Friday, religion joined forces with government and executed Jesus.  The best person was killed on some trumped-up charges, and people like you and me cheered on the verdict.  

This ought to terrify us.  

Infuriated us.  

This ought to give us great pause.  

Barbara Brown Taylor offers this commentary: 

“Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own…

…This is a story that can happen anywhere at anytime, and we are as likely to be the perpetrators as the victims.”

It’s sobering, to say the least.  And in our gospel reading, Mary Magdalene seems to be feeling this.  She is sad, in mourning, beside herself.  She’s bereft about the death of Jesus, of course, but I wonder if she isn’t feeling equally terrified of the terrible turn of events.  She is facing a world without her Rabbi, but she is also facing a world she now sees as cruel and unpredictable.  How could they have killed Jesus? 

But it’s about to get even more unpredictable, in the most wonderful way.  But first it gets even worse.  

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Before it’s even light out, Mary goes to the tomb.  When she sees that the tomb is opened, she runs back to Peter and John, reporting an apparent theft of Jesus’ body.  On top of every other injustice, now someone has stolen Jesus’ body.  Why can’t folks just leave him alone?? 

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

What struck me this week was the way in which these men are about efficiency.  They are investigating a crime.  So they 

hurry (racing to the tomb, outrunning one another)

investigate

record/report

depart.  (nothing more to see here!)

The men go back into hiding, preoccupied with self-preservation.  

In contrast, look at what happens with Mary: 

20:11 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.

20:13 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.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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).

20:17 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.'”

20:18 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.

In contrast to the men and their efficiency, Mary: 

weeps (she must have been crying a lot!  Two different characters ask her why she is crying)

lingers (she hangs around, long after the men hurry back home)

listens

looks

It’s fascinating to me… the men see everything they needed to see, and make careful notes and run back home.  But Mary sees what’s important, because there was a substantial difference in her approach— she lingers, she looks, she listens.  The men see what *isn’t* there; Mary sees what *is* there. 

Reading the passage this week, I wondered, were the angels there the whole time?  And the men just didn’t have eyes to see them?  Perhaps it wasn’t so much of an *appearance* as it was a *perception* on Mary’s part.  In any case, the men have missed the whole thing!  Mary Magdalene alone is witness to the resurrected Jesus… while the men are still hiding and investigating a conspiracy.  It seems like the author wants us to slow down, to linger, to listen, to really look.

Now I’ll be candid.  I don’t really like this thesis.  And I’m not particularly fond of the Gospel of John.  It’s too squishy,  too “spiritual”, too subjective.  I want a thesis that’s objective, and absolute.  But this passage isn’t that.  It’s not an absolute statement.  It’s a nudge in a general direction.  It’s a commendation of a slower approach.  Of less agenda.  To slow down, to linger, to really look.  

So let’s try something unconventional.  Instead of listening to a preacher on Easter Sunday, let’s just listen.  Let’s SLOW  DOWN.  Let’s linger, let’s walk around.  Let’s embrace inefficiency. Let’s go for a walk.  

Let’s give ourselves some time and space for

contemplation

quiet

listening

weeping

mourning

I’m a little nervous about this, honestly.  Because like the men, I’m concerned with efficiency.  With outcomes.  Will this work?  If we go for a walk, can we trust God to comfort us?  If we engage in our own weeping/mourning, will we find comfort?  

Prayer:  Dear Lord, hear our weeping.  Comfort our sadness.  Like Mary, speak to us our name, and give us comfort and encouragement and hope this Easter morning.  We are here to celebrate your resurrection; give us a small taste of it here today.  

Let’s walk, then come back here at 11:05 for Eucharist.  

Discussion Question, on return:  What comfort did you find?  (…or is that the wrong question, and I’m still overly preoccupied with efficiency?)  

mikestavlund

Mike is a solid, stand-up guy that enjoys writing poetry and prose, hanging out with family and friends, and long walks around a Weber kettle grill.

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