Seeing Through Tears: Easter Sermon on John 20:1-18

iStock_000008712641SmallWhen does Easter happen this year?

It’s a question we ask every year – will Easter come early or late? Will it fall on Spring Break or after the snow birds return from their winter condos. Will it interfere with March madness or final exams?

When does Easter happen this year?

From an lunar perspective, the answer is: Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Easter is set by the moon and always coincides with the greening of the earth. When the sap rises from the dormant trees and the crocus’ emerge from the hard earth. When life overcomes death, Easter happens.

When does Easter happen this year?

It’s a question that suggests something of the future… which is ironic when we often we think of Easter as a moment in history…as a recorded event that happened long ago to one person-Jesus. We tend to think of the Resurrection as a day in history that we are commemorating. Like a Birthday, or an anniversary. We Easter as something that happened. But, what if we thought of the Resurrection that something about to happen? What if the miracle of the resurrection was that Jesus appeared to us even today – would you believe it if we saw it?

Would we recognize Jesus if he appeared before us today? Seeing that none of us were alive back then, it’s doubtful we would know him by looking at him. But Mary Magdelene knew him. – Surely she would recognize him. She ate with him and learned from him but even she didn’t recognize him on that Sunday morning. Her eyes were too filled with tears and her mind was too distracted with grief.

In the early dawn, as the birds began to sing, before the sun began to emerge over the horizon she walked in the cool of the morning to the place he had been buried. Her eyes stung after a night of weeping, her head pounded from wailing, after she saw him take his final breath, and her body ached for his. At last dawn has come after a night of not sleeping. It felt good to do something…to have a job, a way to make things better, some how. So she gathered the oils and spices and walked in the cool morning where his body lay….. Where his body lay…. Could this be happening? She saw with her own eyes his suffering and death and yet she still could not believe he was truly gone. He was everything to her. He was everything to so many. So many people believed in him and now it was over.

And what good came out of it? Really? Was all of this in vein? Just pretend happiness? The least she could do is pay respect to him in his burial to thank him for what he gave her.

So she walked on.

Even from a distance she could sense that something wasn’t right. Something just didn’t look right – the stone…the stone was moved. Oh God, what have they done?

Can you imagine the desperation.. no, no, no, this is not happening. This is not fair. First they kill him. Then they take him. It must have been like watching him die twice.
Even angels could not soften her weeping. They were there when she worked up her nerve to look inside the tomb, sitting where he had lain. “Why are you weeping?” they asked her.

“Why am I weeping?” “Why I am weeping?!”

“Seriously, you have the nerve to ask why I am weeping?”

Have you ever been incensed with someone’s cluelessness? You have just lost someone you love? Someone who you shared breakfast with, shared Christmas with, shared your life story with and they are gone and the world keeps happening? The mail still comes and the grocery stores are still open and your world has fallen apart and you cannot stop crying. All you see before you are clouded tears, and someone has the nerve to ask you “why you are crying?”

Mary is kinder than I would be. “They have taken away my Lord,” she answered them, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary doesn’t stop and interview them, inquiring why they may be sitting in a tomb… how terrifying. She seems sort of oblivious to the fact that she has just spoken to angels. It’s like she doesn’t see them. That happens when we have lost our faith – we can’t see anything but despair.
She turns around and is startled again. Another man stands there and asks, “Woman, why are you weeping and what are you looking for?”

Mary doesn’t answer the question. She wants answers, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

I love that about Mary. She thinks she can make everything all better on her own. “Mary,” he said to her, and she turned to stare at him. Mary does not see Jesus, until she hears him speak her name.
The very thing she is looking for is right in front of her, if she can just see through her tears.
And once he says her name, she recognizes him, “Rabbouni!” she cried out. “My Teacher!” “Do not hold on to me,” he cautioned her, “because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

It is interesting that Jesus is concerned about her holding him, when there is no evidence that she was about to embrace him. Could he mean, instead of literally holding him, he means holding him back? Holding him back from where he needed to go? He was on his way, you see. And Mary must be on her way too. He says, don’t stand here and hold me, but go and tell others that I am going to my Father. And here’s the powerful part of this story. The part that gets me every time. Mary walks away from Jesus, the very one for whom she sought and grieved over, she walks away from him, she doesn’t ask for one more day with him, they don’t sit on a rock and chat, she doesn’t even fall to her knees and worship him. Rather, with this amazing faith and resiliency, she lets him go. She turns and walks away, her heart beating with tremendous joy. Through her tears she has seen the face of God.
Easter has happened.

When is Easter going to happen for us this year?

Here’s the thing about Easter. It is not made out of sugar and bunnies. It’s not plastic and it’s not pretend. We can’t pretend we live in a world we don’t live in. Cancer happens. War happens. Violence happens. Injustice happens. Loss happens. And sometimes our eyes can be so clouded by loss and wanting to control what’s happening to us and to our loved ones, that we miss angels standing right in front of us and Jesus asking us what is we are looking for, and calling us by name.

If you were to turn around this Easter morning, and find a familiar but unrecognizable face asking you what it is you were looking for, what would you say? Would you recognize the Lord if he stood before you this morning?
Would you see him?

Can you see him through your tears? Will you be brave enough to turn walk away and tell others that you have seen him?

Easter happens every time you find hope in despair. Every time you find joy instead of fear. Every time you experience healing instead of pain. Easter is not a day we remember. It is a day we live into.
Jesus says to us today, I will be there in your future. There is no tragedy so great that I cannot in some way redeem it, and there is no personal loss so profound that I cannot overcome it, and there is no pain so deep that I cannot bear it with you, and there is no cause so hopeless that I cannot redeem it. When does Easter happen this year? It happens when we see differently that which is already in front of us. That Jesus has gone before us, a head of us, and we cannot hold him back. He’s right out front redeeming, overcoming, enduring, loving. There is no tragedy that Christ cannot redeem. There is no loss that Christ cannot overcome. No cause so hopeless that Christ cannot energize his people to devote themselves and his kingdom earth.

When does Easter happen this year?

It happens every day, every morning you wake up and realize that you are known by name. And that you are not walking towards death, but life. When you see the future in a different way and realize that you do not need to hold on to the past so tightly, because Jesus is holding you. He has walked before you, gone on ahead. He is not here. His is risen. – Now Go. And tell the others .

Thanks be to God.

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