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Looking for resurrection…

April 24, 2011

Easter A
Scripture text:  John 20:1-18

The yearning for resurrection is all around us. Listen to these lyrics: “I’m living in an age/That calls darkness light….  Set my spirit free/Set my body free.”  They come from an album (Neon Bible) by Indie rock band Arcade Fire who won a Grammy for album of the year in February.  They make music with political and religious themes.    They also express a yearning for resurrection.

It is a yearning for renewal that I experience when I paint a room or dig in the dirt to plant a garden.  The yearning for resurrection is also in the groaning we hear when we pick up the newspaper, when we hear our brothers and sisters being detained in China as they gather for Easter worshipAll of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us, we hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay, we wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.  (Roms 8:18-25)

In the midst of a groaning world, we turn once again to the gospel in which our hope is grounded.  In the account of resurrection in John’s gospel, Peter and John hear from Mary Magdalene that something has happened at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid to rest.  They run to find out what has happened.

John gets there first, but its Peter who goes into the tomb only to find two piles of old clothes.  The linen wrappings are lying in a heap and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is rolled up in a place by itself.  When John enters the tomb, he sees the same thing and believes.

Believes what?  That resurrection had taken place or that Mary’s report was true?  They saw and believed, but they did not yet understand.  If Peter and John were emoting we don’t see it in the text.  Encountering empty tombs where bodies have been laid can be confusing—disorienting.  They did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead, so they see the empty linen clothes and return home.  Sounds like a journey inward. 

What about us?  What do we do when we come to a place of emptiness?  When we see signs that something is happening, but we can’t make sense of it?  When we, like Peter and John, find ourselves between something old and something new.

This in between space can be so many different things.  It can be the place of unresolved health issues.  It can be the place where relationships are strained.  The place of teenage angst where we wonder if anyone understands us and when we will get our freedom.  This is a place where we wrestle with not finding a place in the work world or at church.  The place where we wrestle with demons…and God.

This is the place where we wallow in emptiness and self-pity.  We dwell on missed opportunities and regrets.  The place where family and friends seem distant—unable to fill our desires.  This is a place of confusion and boredom.  In this place, we feel a deep yearning for something new to be born, but all we see is a pile of old linens.

How do we encounter resurrection in this place?  Mary Magdalene marks out the path.  It is a path that does not deny desolation in us and around us.  She is not alone in this place.  She sees two angels.  The angels ask why she is weeping.  The story spills out.

When we are in the space in between the old and the new—between death and resurrection—it is a gift to find others who will listen.  The task of listening is not to give answers.  The angels do not do this.  We were in this space at our Maundy Thursday service as we listened to the honesty in this voice from among us:

It’s been a hard couple of years. I have tried to be faithful to you…or at least what I believe you to have asked of me. But evidently I am not too good at understanding what you want.

More than once I have made the best decisions I know how to make relative to my life circumstances; decisions that seem right, decisions that by all I can grasp would be what you want. Time and again I seem to run into dead ends or brick walls. It’s frustrating, discouraging; and at times I despair.

Is there a purpose in all of this? Does it make a difference to you that I want to be faithful? I wish I could feel like you are close by and that I really understand; get what you want. But right now I feel tired and alone.  God, I don’t understand.

When we are in places of desolation, looking for resurrection, our task is to be aware of the lament we are carrying.  We are hoping for something.  It has not happened.  Before resurrection, something must die.

Mary voices her lament and takes the next step.  She looks up and sees the gardener.  When we are in a place of emptiness, sometimes what we are looking for comes in surprising ways.  Jesus comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor and in a friend carrying a sign at mile 21 of a marathon.  Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us to never get so focused on the empty tomb that we forget to speak to the gardener.

Luci Shaw writes that “Christ risen was rarely recognized by sight.  They had to get beyond the way he looked.  Evidence stronger than his voice and face and footstep waited to grow in them, to guide their groping from despair their stretching toward belief.”

Jesus calls her by name.  She sees with new eyes.  Mary went looking for a dead body and encountered the risen Christ.  How about us?  What are we looking for as we gather for worship here in this place?

The invitation this morning is not just to celebrate the resurrection as a historical event, but to consider where we are in the story.   Where are we looking for resurrection to break in?

The good news of resurrection is that the risen Christ meets us wherever we are standing this morning and calls our name.  He invites us to enter the paschal mystery which is a journey of death and resurrection.

The risen Christ knows that human nature is to settle down, to hold on to an experience, a place…we want stability.  We find that the risen Christ has places to go and things to do.  And so he says to Mary and to us, “Do not hold on to me…”

Having encountered the risen Christ, we–along with Mary–are sent with deeper eyes to see the world.  We go not with the power to conquer, but with a simple story to tell.  If we have anything to bring to a world that is yearning for something new—it is the story that Mary offers to the disciples.  “I have seen the Lord.”

May we have eyes to see the risen Christ who comes to us and calls our name.


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