Sunday, April 8, 2012

Look! He is Risen!

(A sermon based on John 20:1-18 for Easter Sunday 2012)

During this Holy Week we have been closing our eyes and using our imaginations to try to place ourselves in the events of that most crucial of weeks and to see Jesus as he lived and died through them.

Last Sunday we looked at him as he rode into Jerusalem and into the week that would hold the events that would be so trying and tragic for him and so devastating and transforming for his followers.

Do you remember how he looked as he rode toward you, as he looked at you, and as he rode past you?

On Thursday we looked at him as he washed our feet and as he told us that we were to love each other as he loved us.

Do you remember how he washed the feet of his disciples, including Peter who would deny him, Judas who would betray him—and you?

On Friday we looked at him as he was fastened to the cross, as he was taken down from it, and as he was laid in his tomb.

Do you remember how he looked as he was being nailed to the cross, as he suffered and bled, as he breathed his last, as he died, as he was taken down from the cross, and as he was placed in a tomb?

On Saturday, hopefully we took some time to look at him as he was in his tomb, his body taking its Sabbath rest.

Do you remember the feeling of finality and the sense of hopelessness that came over you as you gazed upon the large stone that blocked the entrance to his tomb?

Do you remember?

All week long we have said that it takes imagination to see Jesus and to see ourselves seeing Jesus. Maybe, though, the better word to use would be “faith”; that is, we have to take the leap of faith, to exercise the gift of trust, really to see Jesus and to see ourselves in the story of Jesus.

Seeing ourselves in the story of Jesus back then is one thing while seeing ourselves in the story of Jesus right now is another thing—but they are related things.

So today, let’s try one more time.

Please close your eyes and imagine.

You have been in hiding since Friday out of fear that the authorities who had your Teacher killed will come after you and his other disciples, too. You and others of the group are locked away in what you hope is a safe place.

All day Saturday you have tried to stay out of sight. Your heart has been heavy and your mind has been confused. You had such high hopes. Now it seems that everything is like it always was, only worse, because, you reflect, hope never felt is bad enough but hope felt and then dashed is utterly heartbreaking.

Sunday morning you awake and start thinking about what you should do now. Perhaps you should just go home and back to the life you used to know. Maybe you should leave the country and try to put as much space between this wretched place and these wretched events as possible. Maybe you should just try to put Jesus out of your mind.

A rueful smile comes to you despite your best attempts to stop it—you know that despite the way things turned out, he’ll never be out of your mind.

“Why is that?” you’re wondering when your friend Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples, shows up knocking on the door, almost yelling for you to let her in, like she has forgotten the danger that you are all in and how important it is that you not be noticed or found.

Peter and John go to the door and she almost knocks them over with her confused and grief-laden words: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”

After a while Peter and John come back. “What happened?” you ask. “We don’t know,” they reply, “the stone has been rolled away and his body is gone. We don’t know. We just don’t know.”

It seems the final insult. Usually the body of a crucified person was left on the cross for the scavengers to enjoy. At least, thanks to some benefactors, Jesus had been given a decent burial. But now, the authorities—who else could it have been except the authorities, given that a guard had been posted?—had taken his body away to do—well, to do what?—with it.

“They couldn’t even let him rest in peace,” you think. Everyone in the room is staring at the floor.

Then, suddenly, there Mary Magdalene is again, this time practically knocking the door down. As soon as you see her you know something has happened; she is grinning from ear to ear even as tears stream down her face. She is aglow.

“I have seen the Lord!” she shouts, grabbing each of you and shaking you. “I have seen the Lord, I tell you!”

Someone makes her sit down and you give her a drink of water.

After catching her breath, she manages to spit out, between gasps and giggles, her story.

“I was standing outside his tomb, crying. Some strange looking men asked me why I was crying. I told them it was because someone had taken the body and I didn’t know where. I turned around and saw another man standing there. He asked me why I was crying and for whom I was looking. I thought he was the cemetery groundskeeper.”

At that Mary starts laughing so hard you’re afraid she is getting hysterical.

When she gets control of herself, she says, “So I asked him”—she starts laughing again—“I asked him to please tell me, if he was the one who had removed the body, where he was so I could take care of him.”

She wipes her eyes and says softly, “Oh Jesus!”

“What did you say?” someone asks.

She starts laughing again. “Jesus! It was Jesus! He called my name and as soon as he did, I knew it was him. He is alive! I moved to embrace him but he told me not to, saying something I didn’t understand, something about having to go to the Father. Then he told me come tell you all, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Everyone looks at her, confused.

“That’s the part I didn’t understand, either,” she says. “But don’t you see? What matters is that he is alive!”

Can you believe her? Dare you believe her? Dare you not believe her?

It sounds too good to be true. Maybe it’s too good not to be true!

All day long you wonder. You and the other disciples discuss it among yourselves. She was probably hallucinating. But what if she wasn’t? You go back and forth, back and forth.

The issue is settled that evening when Jesus appears among you and your fellow disciples and says “Peace be with you.” Then, as if to alleviate any doubts you might still be having as to the reality of who you are seeing, he shows you the wounds in his hands and the wound in his side.

Please open your eyes.

Look at him.

Look at his wounds for it is his wounds that prove that it is Jesus.

Now listen to him: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Now feel the breath of his life upon you as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Go, he tells you—he tells us—to be in our world, in our community, in our home, in our church, in our workplace, in our school—the wounded, raised, and empowered body of Christ.

Do you see him?

It might be helpful and encouraging to remember that a few days later Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”…

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