Text: John 20:16
It was still dark, very dark, on that pre-dawn Easter morning, the darkness of night not yet broken by the rising sun, and the darkness of grief that had overtaken Mary Magdalene from Good Friday on.
The darkness that brought her to Jesus’ tomb without ointment to finish the burial ritual that could
not be completed before the Sabbath.
The darkness that had her coming without flowers or some offering, like today’s candles, and T-shirts and teddy bears that build an instant shrine.
Mary Magdalene came with only her memories, and maybe that’s why she was the only one – as John’s Gospel tells the story; she had to come, pulled there by all those days and nights that brought her to live her life back into that past like we do today when what was now isn’t –
a favorite restaurant is now gone,
a church is now closed,
a loved one is now deceased,
and so we turn a funeral into a memorial and fill the time with stories, readings, and memory boards filled with photos...like Mary Magdalene, coming to fill her mind and heart with all those past times with Jesus.
That private memorial moment at Jesus’ tomb is broken by the appearance of someone Mary takes to be the gardener caring for the cemetery. In one of Jesus’ teaching moments preserved by John, He had said: (12:24)
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The Gardener-Jesus calls out one word: “Mary!” spoken with the inflection, and in the tone only Jesus could give to her name,
and she cries out, “Rabbouni!” - Teacher.
With that exclamation she puts herself in His classroom to learn from Him, to follow Him, to accept
assignments from Him for the rest of her life.
Come to the Easter garden, come as you are,
maybe in the darkness of grieving the loss of a loved one,
the loss of a marriage,
the loss of a job,
the loss of health,
a deep personal loss only you can name.
Come in the darkness that covers our nation with politics that seems to grow more and more divisive and demeaning every day, the darkness that has newly descended on Brussels, turning a once beautiful city into barracks and check-points, making the day a dark night of fear.
Come to let the Easter Jesus fulfill His vow: (10:16) “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Come, come like Mary Magdalene, and let yourself be pulled out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Easter Christ and His promise to be with us always.
Come to answer, “Rabbouni!” – Teacher, Who calls us to learn from Him by following Him.
Come, trusting Albert Schweitzer’s words that carry forward Mary Magdalene’s Easter garden awaking to our time, to us:
“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” from Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus
A pastor while walking through a store, was stopped by a person who introduced himself as a member of his church some years ago. There in the aisle he told the story of his life, how he dropped out of church in his senior high school years, got into alcohol and drugs and stealing to feed his habit. Then jail time again
and again. He ended up sleeping on the street and one morning found himself lying in the gutter.
Nearby he heard music that took him back to his days in a church.
He recognized the hymn that told him it was Palm Sunday …a flashback to that day when he was confirmed.
He remembered kneeling at the chancel steps before the altar table and raised cross, and the words of the Confirmation prayer he had chosen came back to him: It began with the pastor saying his name and then espraying: …”the God of grace of mercies multiply grace and peace in you, enable you truly and faithfully to keep your vows, defend you in every danger, preserve you to the end and finally bring you to rest with all the saints in glory everlasting. Amen.”
He heard that prayer anew, personalized with his name which he suddenly realized God had heard.
The next Sunday he was in church, listening to the Gospel tell how the darkness of Mary Magdalene’s life was lifted with the sound of Jesus calling her by name.
On that Easter morning he let God do the same for him,
that God who knew his name for it had been announced at
his Baptism and Confirmation.
That Easter morning he re-committed his life to Mary’s cry, “Rabbouni!” – Teacher, or in Albert Schweitzer’s words, he himself to the “ineffable mystery” of learning “in (his) own experience Who He is.”
Come to this Easter morning and this Easter Table; come to hear your name. Amen.
“THE EVENT of ALL EVENTS” (10:45)
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; Luke 24:10-12
If you are old enough to remember back to the 1960’s or you have seen those days in documentaries aired on the History Channel or films played on Turner Classic Movies, then you understand the word “happening” with Woodstock being a premier example, setting the definition for the word “happening” as that which is spontaneous.
People suddenly come from what seems like everywhere, descending on a place to set up makeshift stages and a haphazard program of performances.
Today the more appropriate word is “event” which requires months, even years of preparation and fund-raising like the upcoming national conventions, the Olympics, and rock star performances which bear little resemblance to those Woodstock days.
We are “event” planning and attending people.
So what is Easter? A happening or an event?
At first we might say “A happening of all happenings.” For the women who were the first to discover Jesus’ tomb was empty, it was so a happening the disciples took to be “an idle tale” of a happening that simply could not have happened.
Then Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves;
then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The Easter “happening.”
Later when Peter turned that Easter morning into his text for his first post-Easter sermon he sais:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Listen to Peter preaching and Easter sounds more like an “event,” the EVENT of all events that God had planned from the moment Adam and Eve became the model of our human determine to become our own god.
The Easter EVENT when God brought Jesus back from death to life, so that we humans might “be made alive in Christ.”
The EVENT of all events that God alone planned, worked on, and acted out to go on and on, and at no cost to us, no outrageously high ticket price or admission fee some games and performances demand;
God’s event is free and open to all. Today’s EVENT!
Two years ago when our German partner pastor, Elisabeth Preckel, visited in late Lent, she brought a small box filled with a flat piece of wood that was a silhouette of a hill, a cross to put behind it, a smaller hill with a cut-out half circle to put in front, a round, flat stone to cover the opening, and a candle in a clear glass holder marked with the Greek letters for Christ’s name.
Together they symbolize Calvary, Good Friday, and the garden tomb and the light of the risen Christ.
The thrill comes on Easter morning when someone rolls the stone away and lights the candle,
the action meant to say “the risen Christ is on the loose.”
Christ is on the loose to bring His life to:
a person being wasted by drugs and alcohol,
a terrorist filled with rage and a determination to kill all
but his or her own kind,
a depressed, broken individual in need of being lifted up
into the realization that there is new life in Christ
and in His kingdom of justice, compassion, and
peace has already begun in and through those who
welcome His life and rule,
and a body wasted by illness has a place reserved for him or her in God’s eternal home.
The EVENT of all events, the Easter EVENT!
The stone has been rolled away to let the risen Christ loose to meet us here and now,
to meet us through bread and cup.
The Easter EVENT, God’s EVENT, waiting to be personalized by us and by all!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen!