Sermon for Easter - April 16 2017

Sermon for Easter, Year A
April 16, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 118:1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Do not think that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, as the church has for too long insisted.  In Luke, we hear that she had seven demons cast from her in Galilee.[1]  In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the apostle to the apostles, the one entrusted with the news that Jesus is risen from the dead – even the beloved disciple had to find out from her. 

Yet her first thought is that someone had stolen the body – which is why she hurried away and why she and the two other disciples, Peter and the other, unnamed one, hurried back. 

She wept, because she thought even his body was to be denied them.

John’s Gospel describes what each of the men saw – the BD saw the grave cloths, Peter the linen wrapping and the head cloth.  You are meant to remember that Lazarus came out of the tomb still wrapped in linen and head cloth, but, as Dr O’Day phrases it, “No one has taken Jesus away; he has left death behind”[2] with his grave cloths.  But while one believed – though we don’t know what, exactly, the other did not have any insight about this.

So far, none of them have seen Jesus – just the empty tomb, and the linen wrappings.  They didn’t know, any of them, what to make of this, so the two men go back into the city, and Mary remains behind, in tears and sorrow. 

No answer here … yet.

But then, finally, Mary peeps into the tomb, and sees two angels, sitting where the body lay. 

Frankly, if I looked into a grave and found two angels sitting in it, I would be astounded and shocked and afraid – but she is not, for some reason.  She simply tells them, when they ask why she is weeping, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where to find him.”

Then she sees … a gardener, who, like the angels, asks her whom she is seeking and why she is weeping.  And again, she says she is seeking Jesus’ body, and if he has taken the body, she will take it away…

I have a lot of sympathy for Mary in this moment – I run into people all the time who seem to know me – maybe this happens to you as well – and I don’t recognize them!  And then we speak for a couple minutes, and it slowly dawns on me that I do actually know them … and I’m embarrassed, but that’s how memory works.  When we see someone we know in a new context, where we do not expect to see them, we may not recognize them at all … at first.

And Jesus asks the same question he asked of his earliest followers who have heard John the Baptist speak of him: “Whom are you looking for?”[3]  Maybe John is being ironic again.   This gardener – Jesus – has in effect taken his own body away.  So she’s right, but oh-so-wrong, too.

It’s not until he says her name that she realizes who he is and perhaps gets a faint glimpse of what that empty tomb means.

But not all – for when she goes to embrace him, he rejects her touch.  His lifting up is not yet complete, he must ascend to his Father.[4]  He tells her to tell the other disciples that he is ascending, not that they will see him (although they do, as we will hear later).  This is the good news, not just the resurrection but also the return to his Father – and our Father, and to his God – and our God, as well.

They are of a piece, inseparable.

And we are a part of it.

The story of Jesus is not just incarnation and rising to life, then hanging out with the disciples for a while as if reviewing for a final exam of some sort; it is the ascension that seals the event of God in the World. 

The world is changed by this.  We are changed by this.  Everything is changed by this.  Because this is the step that opens the door between earth and heaven for ever and for all. 

And we’re still trying to figure out how that applies to us!

I’ve read that the real question that brings people to church, at any time, but especially at Easter, is “Is it true?” 

Did God come to us as one of us, taking upon himself our own human nature – and then die for us and rise again, taking our human nature into heaven to the throne of God?  An excellent question – that can only be answered by living as if it were true.

 

[1] Gail R. O’Day. “John.”  New Interpreters’ Bible, Volume IX, pg 840.

[2] Op. cit. p 841.

[3] Op cit. 842.

[4] Ibid.

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