A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
Gospel Reading: John 20: 1-10 (The Empty Tomb)
Christ is Risen! What an awesome and glorious gift is made for each of us to behold! The Resurrection Day! The day that marks our adoption as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father! Today, Christ delivers all of creation from darkness into light: with every breath we take, we give Glory to God. We praise him for the perfect splendor and beauty of this day, for all the majesty and unending joy he has prepared for us! We are made whole; we are made holy! Behold, Christ is Risen!
The story of this morning begins with a woman. Her name is Mary Magdalene, and she is beside herself. She has devoted herself to the way of her teacher, Jesus, the only rabbi who includes women in his society. Jesus is the man she has come to believe is the Messiah, the deliverer of her people from the oppressors of the world, and yesterday she stood with a small group of his followers and watched as this man Jesus died, hanging on a cross, another victim of this world of suffering and injustice. Mary Magdalene is heart-broken. A night has passed, a sleepless night, and she arrives before dawn at the tomb, where his body was taken. There she finds the stone used to seal the entrance to the tomb has been moved aside, and the body is gone. Mary panics; she does not know where Jesus has been taken. She can’t prepare it for burial.
Mary runs to alert the men; regarding facts, one woman cannot testify. Peter and John, the requisite number of witnesses, go to verify what she asserts. They find the strips of linen, used to wrap the body, lying on the ground, and separately, the napkin or sweat-rag that had been wrapped around the dead man’s head. While Peter remains puzzled, John, the youngest of the disciples, sees the sweat-rag and in a flash of brilliant insight comprehends its significance: Christ is Risen!
The men return to their home, leaving Mary alone at the tomb. This is the way of men; to ignore women. Mary is inconsolable, but as Michelle Obama has said, “There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish.” Beside herself with grief, Mary goes again up to the rock from which the tomb has been cut. This time she sees two angles, “seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” They speak to her, and she turns away from them, but a man has come up behind her, and repeats the angels’ question: “Woman, why are you crying?”
Mary thinks she is talking to the gardener, and averts her eyes, until Jesus says her name: “Mary.” Recognizing the voice, and its tenderness, she cries out, in the language of their people, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”), and reaches out for him, as a sister might reach for her brother, in a rush of relief, and the awe of discovery. Mary has been rescued! This moment is a dream come true. Mary wants to collapse into Jesus, but he must stop her, saying, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended … to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Much remains to be given to the disciples, that the Good News of the Resurrection may be heard and understood by all. So Mary obeys her teacher, the Risen Lord, and goes back with her news to John and Peter – the men Jesus calls brothers – with her news: “I have seen the Lord!” And then she tells them what he said to her.
Just two days ago, at noon on Friday, I processed with a crowd of about a hundred worshippers around the Bristol, Vermont town green, following the two people up front, who carried a large wooden cross. A couple of teenage girls across the street, standing in front of the Post Office, were catcalling, and an older couple behind me started talking, trying to decide if they could place their families. Several of us were wearing black; the sun was out. I wondered, how hot was it on the way to Golgotha, when Jesus, carrying his cross, walked. On one corner, where we made a turn, the traffic sounds were loud. Up a way, on the other side of the street, builders were working on a house. We could hear hammering; the woman walking beside me said, “Jesus would have heard that same sound.” When we followed the cross back into the church, we were each handed a nail, that later, one by one, we would hammer into the cross, which had been placed on the floor, in front of the altar. Afterward, I went downstairs to the kitchen, and helped serve lunch. The joy of putting on an apron and ladling out soup, overflowed all measure.
I can imagine some of the townspeople who saw us Friday wondering, who are these people, anyway? What are they all about? Haven’t we all been asked this question, maybe not using those exact words, maybe meant more in jest than to be taken seriously? Maybe we have even asked ourselves this question, comparing Christians to Buddhists, or Hindus, Sufis, or Kabbalists. The question is a good one, and if we are believers, we should always be ready with an answer.
A good answer goes straight to the heart, and to the one truth about us which is the Good News for everybody: we are not the people you may have seen just two days ago, on Friday; today, on Sunday, we are Easter People, for we, like Mary Magdalene, have seen the Risen Lord!
Can this be true? On Friday, we are one people and on Sunday another! Yes, we say, like that! And another story comes to mind. In the time before the Resurrection, there was a man called Nicodemus, who went at night to visit Jesus, and on a rooftop in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
We may puzzle over this; some of us may think it foolishness; others, perhaps, will long for that experience, for new life and all its promises. For all our differences, whether we trust experience or reasoning, we are in this one way alike: Jesus can and will find us, where we are. When we recognize him, and cry out “Rabboni!” in whatever language we speak, we will be comforted, just as Jesus comforted Mary Magdalene, and we will be forever changed. Our grief will turn to joy, and our fears will disappear.
We are Easter People. I want everyone who is here today to feel the spirt and experience the love of God, now, at this very moment. I want everyone to say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and feel the life stirring in your heart and experience the gratitude that out of nowhere pours forth and bedazzles all that is before you and everything that fills the universe. I want everyone to experience the light that fits and holds everything in its place and has more clarity than the most perfect diamond. If you haven’t invited Jesus into your heart, I want you to do so now. Open your heart, come to the empty tomb, come to the garden and be filled with joy, walk and talk with Jesus, laugh, cry, let your heart be broken and healed, praise Jesus, praise his holy name, dance, worship him, sing to him, give thanks to him, say yes to him, say Amen, say Amen, say Amen…
Today, Death has been put to death, and Jesus has delivered us to life. Now we can enter the Kingdom of God; let us follow Jesus, as brothers and sisters, let us claim the inheritance he has made possible and enter the kingdom and the power and the glory which are God’s. Let us bring the world into the church. Today, let us revive the dead, by shouting with loud voices,
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
We have seen God. The relationship we will have with God has just begun and will go on. Once we have been born again, there is no going back to being to who we were. We are Easter People, sons and daughters of the Father of our Risen Lord. Let us sing, with one voice:
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” (3x)