The sermon for week March 27, 2016
Scenic RouteSermon – Easter March 27, 2016
John 20:11-18 (20:1-10)
Read John 20:11-18
In this text, we read of Mary’s experience and her response to the events of that morning. Her response is one of belief for she stayed in that dark moment long enough to see God doing a new thing. But…hers is not the only response. There is another response that is quite different then hers. In verses 1-10 we read of the response of the disciples to what they have heard and seen. Their response is one of belief as well, but a belief that stops far short of seeing God doing a new thing. It is worthy of reading of their experience as well. You see, I have a hunch that by far and away, most of us are more like the disciples than we are like Mary in how we understand this world and God’s part in it.
The disciples were told that, “They (we don’t know who) have taken Jesus, and we don’t know where they have laid him.” So they ran to the tomb. They saw cloths lying about and no body. The scriptures then record that they “saw and believed.” That is they believed what Mary had told them. That someone took Jesus body out of the tomb. The story then ends with their return back to their homes. On that Easter morning, they came to the tomb and returned home with no experience of God. Their eyes confirmed what they had been told and what they could understand. That is that Jesus was missing because someone had removed his body, straight and simple.
There is no mystical experience here for them. There is no mystery here for them. Like the disciples, many of us have come this morning with certain expectations. We come with the expectation that we will be uplifted by a vibrant worship service celebrating an age old story. Like the disciples most of us will return home with our expectations met. We will sit down to a special Easter dinner. With our tummies full, we will then fall asleep on the couch. We missed out on Mary’s experience because our scientific minds told us, yep, this is all there is and nothing more. Once again, we are the veil that keeps us from seeing what it is we are searching for.
But…for those few who like Mary are willing to stay a little longer with the mystery of the morning, who are willing to drop for a moment all of those preconceived expectations of how they think God works in the world, they will leave here with a far different response. They will have caught a glimpse of the great mystery at work.
A little more than twenty years ago, when my oldest son was just a couple of years old, there was this family we had become friends with because we both had boys the same age and they were in the same activities. The mother was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Sadly this daughter had serious birth defects that caused her to be in and out of the hospital, hovering between life and death day after day, week after week, month after month. On one of the many visits in the hospital, the mother and son after spending hours there went to leave. Not knowing if she would see her daughter alive again, the mother was crying as she left the room.
Her four year-old son turned to her and said, “Mommy, why are you crying? She will be alright. Didn’t you see the angel?” The mother looked at her son and asked, “What angel?” He responded, “The one that was there at the head of her bed.” …..They had both been in the same room, but he saw something that she was not able to see. I share this story with you because I do not understand it. Where did the little boys comment come from? Did he really see something? All I know is that today, I long for my veil that keeps me from seeing what it is that I am searching for will drop away so that like Mary and this little boy that I get to catch a glimpse of the mystery at work in this world….Luke, do you have any thoughts on this?
This sounds like that 90s TV show Touched by an Angel. It’s nice and heart-warming, but it doesn’t add up. I’ve never seen an angel with wings and such. Stories like these make us feel better and maybe that’s Easter too. It conquers our primal fear of being future dead people.
I used to love stories like these. Had a favorite teacher that loved Touched by an Angel and read us Chicken Soup for the Soul every morning. Something rang hollow in these stories. If I walked around with these high expectations, I would only leave myself open to disappointment. It’s as Flannery O’Connor who said “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” And life doesn’t always go this ways. It’s hard. So I had to toughen up. I discovered science, and man I was off!
Give me data! Give me logic! Give me facts! Give me measurable and reproducible results!
And if things don’t fit the theory, you toss it out. However… stories like Sam’s… they give me pause. I can’t explain the feeling of peace or times where I know what’s going to happen. I can’t explain the mystical experiences that happen, uninvited and unbidden. Just a few weeks ago, as I sat and prayed during the pastoral prayer I felt like I was nose-to-nose with Jesus, just praying. Just looking at each other.
I can’t explain it. I can’t reproduce it and I wish I could so that you can have such an experience! Experiences like that don’t fit my data set and they destroy my well-ordered worldview.
Theology was once considered the queen of the sciences. The thought was that without theology the other sciences would become reductionist and nihilistic. Without theology, a chemist would only see people as sacks of chemicals walking around in a world of chemicals. A biologist would say that we’re only genes that seek to reproduce and that when we die, the lights go out. Physicists would only see bodies in motion. They’d miss the bigger picture of how all of those things are true but there’s so much more to the story! We’re more than chemicals and genetics and bodies in motion. And all of our science and philosophy, we’re just barely scratching the surface of reality!
We need stories that don’t make sense to us, that challenge our worldview, that inspire our curiosity at the audacity of existence.
That’s why I like the Easter story and the resurrection. It does all of that. It stands in defiance of my ordered world.
Sam: Luke, you might want to slow down a bit there. I am not sure that defiance is the right word. It may very well be the opposite in that this story stands in front of us inviting us into a new way of seeing, a new way of being in the world. I don't think defiance is the right word. More like "Invitation."
Luke: Yeah, I think you’re onto something. I used to think the resurrection was only a metaphor… but what if it’s a historical event? What if it actually happened? Something we can’t replicate or fully explain. It’s both a metaphor and a literal thing because we’ve seen it! New life! It’s not either/or it’s both/and!
If you think you’re without purpose, try finding it. If you think that this is the end, there is no life due to whatever concern you’re facing…there’s nothing on the other side of this addiction, divorce, retirement, disease, thing your kid is going through… what if you risk believing that there’s life on the other side of it?
Sam: Over my many years of ministry, I have seen countless times where addiction, divorce, retirement, disease, and death did not have the final say. What I have observed, is that if like Mary, one is willing to sit in the moment long enough, sit in the darkness long enough, that dawn breaks and with that dawn not only new life but resurrection happens. For me, long ago resurrection went from being a metaphor to being a reality. Having sat in the darkness of losing a son at birth, I can vouch that death does not win in the end but life, resurrection wins. Sadly for far too many in this world, like those disciples, they cannot imagine a different outcome to the story that is unfolding before them. If only they had eyes to see as Mary sees, then the veil may drop and they could catch a glimpse of that mystery that is present right now, even as we speak.
Luke: Your thoughts remind me of a comment that the author John Perkins made. He points out that revolutions start with replacing one story with a better one. The story in 1775 was that the British army in 1775 was invincible. Yet the revolutionaries replaced that story with a more appealing reality that American frontiersmen could defeat the British army by hiding behind trees and firing at the ridged line of red-coated targets.
The story in Jesus’ time was that Rome ruled and the Temple dictated your relationship to God. Jesus came and replaced that story with the good news of a better one. You don’t need to dominate one another, you must forgive abundantly and try to reconcile. You don’t need to go to war, you can turn the other cheek and pray for those who harm you. And most revolutionary of all, the Jewish people aren’t God’s only chosen, that you can be adopted into the story of God’s redemption no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s a better story! That’s a story I want to live into and see in my life!
So look for those messengers in white telling you to look for your story. Those telling you to look elsewhere because what you’re looking for can’t be found where you’re looking. Listen for Jesus calling your name! Calling your name and your only response is to say, “TEACHER!” and then run and tell everyone what you have seen!
Sam: I have heard my name called. And what a joy it has been to turn see with new eyes what God is doing…Listen for your name. Open your eyes. Let go of that which keeps you from experiencing what is present in this moment.