A Sermon for Easter, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on April 21, 2019

Good Morning!  The Lord is Risen!  The Lord is Risen Indeed!

I am very glad that we are here together at All Saints’ on this beautiful Easter morning. 

The question I’d like to explore this morning is, How did we come to know that the Lord is Risen?  And what does it mean to us today?

In today’s Gospel we hear that “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.”

Naturally, Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter and the beloved Disciple that Jesus’ body was gone.  They run to the scene and check it out.  They seem to spend a lot of time noticing the condition of the linen wrappings, and that the body is not there. John says, “Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

What?  They returned to their homes? That could have been the end of the story.  We might never have heard that Christ is Risen.

Mary Magdalene tried to tell her male colleagues what she experienced. They took in the information she conveyed, but it didn’t make sense to them so they decided they were done. They went home. 

But Mary Magdalene stays.  There is a pause in the story.  John writes, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”

Let’s step back for a moment.  John’s Gospel is the most mystical of the Four Gospels and it shows us a slightly different Resurrection Story. The other three Gospels show us Mary Magdalene, and other women returning to the tomb.

But John’s Gospel is different.  It is set in a garden.

The story of humanity’s relationship to God began in a Garden, the Garden of Eden in Genesis.  Here the relationship between God and humanity begins again, in a garden. There’s definitely some symmetry between the two.

The early church saw Christ as the second Adam, who gives humanity a fresh start by reuniting heaven and earth in the person of Jesus.  Here we have the second Adam appearing in the Garden, emerging from the Tomb.

Gardens are places where we connect with nature and the earth.  In the Celtic tradition, the presence of Christ is found most commonly through nature, because through Christ all things were made, especially the Earth.  Celtic spirituality saw places in nature as “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth was thin, and we can suddenly be in God’s presence.

The Garden in John’s Gospel is a “thin place” where Mary comes into the presence of the Risen Christ, and has an extraordinary personal encounter with him.

Mary Magdalene weeps, and then looks into the empty tomb.  There she sees two angels in white who ask her a silly question, ”Woman, why are you weeping?”  She tells them why, and then she turns around and sees someone standing there.  It is Jesus, but “she does not know that it was Jesus.”  He asks her the same silly question, ”Woman, why are you weeping?” Consumed by grief,  “She supposes that he is the gardener.” Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!” and she recognizes him. “Rabbouni!” she says.  “Rabbouni!”  OMG, it is you.

John gives us a remarkable personal encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ.  In a way, it’s a “nevertheless, she persisted” moment.  While Peter, and the beloved disciple look for the body of Jesus and do not find it, Mary weeps for the person of Jesus, and he finds her in her tears.

This scene makes me wonder, how many times have I missed seeing Jesus when I have been too quick to judge and too busy to pause and enter into a moment of deep reflection, and maybe painful emotion.

There’s a lot of action in the first half of our Gospel passage:  Mary runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciples, they run back, then they go home.  That business, that action is what we are mostly good at.  It’s often too much to ask of us to take time to stop and wait in the moment.  So we do not understand.  Like the disciples, we return to the comfort of what we know.

In a society like ours where weeping is looked down upon, I think that tears are a sign that the spirit is breaking through to us.  “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she stood weeping, she bent over to look into the tomb,” and through her tears she sees beyond the obvious.  In her weeping, her heart is opened to see the Risen Christ.

Karoline Lewis, a Lutheran professor of preaching wrote recently,  “At a certain point, the reason for Holy Week (and Easter) then ends up being this — to teach us to detect the holy when the world denies it. To show us that the holy is present when most will resist it. To witness to the holy in those places and spaces where the holy is deemed not to be and not to belong.” 

We are called to open our hearts and see the Risen Christ in places and spaces where the holy is deemed not to be and not to belong. 

In the past few days, we saw the holy present itself in the young people of Paris singing Ave Maria as Notre-Dame burned.  The spirit still moves through a society that is highly secular.  Where do we see the Risen Christ here at All Saints’ in our highly secular place and time?  This is a question for us as we move forward in our Interim time together.

Mary Magdalene had an open heart.  She wept with grief for the loss of Jesus.  She wept with love.  It is through love that we reenter the garden that is so green with possibilities for hope and growth.

Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “go to my brothers,” Jesus entrusted her with the Good News of the Resurrection and he empowered her with the truth.

Notice that John writes, “Mary Magdalene went and ANNOUNCED to the disciples.”  She spoke with the authority of love.

She was the bearer of the Good News, and it was heard then, and today we heard the Good News from Mary Magdalene in the midst of our liturgy in 2019.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  The Lord is Risen Indeed.