From Death to Life

Easter 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  20:52
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Christ has moved the whole world from death to life through his death and resurrection.

The New Revised Standard Version The Resurrection of Jesus

The Resurrection of Jesus

(Mt 28:1–10; Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12)

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

A pilgrimage to modern Jerusalem is not complete without a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the archeological site of Golgotha, the mount of crucifixion, and the empty tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus’ body lay in the ground for three days.
Visitation to gravesites and memorials is such a part of the human experience. We need to go see a place where we are somehow closer to the dead, the ones we’ve said good bye too. All around the world, people make memorials to loved ones and the departed, places to remember.
My grandfather, William Thomas, is buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, WA.
My grandmother, Shirley Strand, is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Leavenworth, WA.
In my life, I hope I have the opportunity to visit some of these other folks’ graves to pay my respects and spend a moment with them.
Oscar Romero’s body lies in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, El Salvador.
Mother Teresa is entombed at The Mother House Of The Missionaries Of Charity, in Kolkata, India
Fred Rogers, know belovedly as Mister Rogers, is buried at Unity Cemetery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
About a year ago, I visited Martin Luther King Jr.’s Memorial at the King Center in Atlanta and spent time beside the eternal flame that burns in his honor.
There are some newer gravesites that call our attention, call our nation to mourn, and call us to act for justice.
Ahmaud Arbery is buried in the New Springfield Baptist Church Cemetery in Alexander, Georgia.
Breonna Taylor’s mourners set up a memorial in Louisville, KY’s Jefferson Square Park. This has since been relocated to the Roots 101 African American Museum to keep a permanent memory of her killing available for those who wish to visit.
And George Floyd is buried in Houston Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Pearland, Texas.
Looking around the room and considering our whole congregation, I know there would be so many other important places we would visit to remember and pay our respects.
We visit these places because we long to remember the people who lie there, at least their bodies. We seek the memory of their legacy, their message, the way their lives called us to respond. We visit to mourn, yes, but also in some way, we visit to somehow be with them, hoping against hope that out of death, something of them be with us.
Mary’s Quiet Visit
In this context, we remember Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb of her beloved Rabbi, Jesus, on the first Easter morning.
Last week, we recalled the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and wrestled with the reality that while we celebrate Palm Sunday now, it was not what it was meant to be back then. Tension hung in the air. Perhaps the crowds were energized, but they had to also be afraid at what could be.
And the worst case scenario came to be.
Remember, friends, in the context of a week where we’ve seen a murder trial in national news about a police officer kneeling on the neck of an unarmed black man — remember what death can be.
Remember that at the core of the passion narrative there is an arrest, a sham trial, fear, public torture, and an execution. Remember that it was a brutal death of an unarmed man. A death that Black theologian James Cone implores us to remember as akin to a modern lynching.
And then burial in a borrowed grave. You can feel the tension and the air of a cover up all over the narratives of the gospels as they talk of placing Jesus in the tomb. Make sure it’s sealed tight so his body isn’t stolen. Place armed guards outside so no vandals break in and desecrate the place.
This is the place Mary visits, in the quiet of morning. This is the tomb of Jesus. This is the tone of early morning on resurrection Sunday.
The text says she stood weeping outside the tomb. She came to visit and remember and her visit had been disrupted. In John’s gospel, the guards have left, the stone is rolled away, all the worst things have happened.
Here is Mary. Weeping. And here we are.
Make no mistake about it, this is a day of glory and hope, but it is only from the place of acknowledging our despair that we can unearth the goodness of that message.
Do you recognize the despair
Mary turns around from the gravesite, her despair and disruption so very present. And there, she sees a man she does not recognize.
Jesus shows up to Mary in this place and she cannot even get her head on straight to notice that it’s him. She’s so broken down right now. Her makeup is running down her face. Her hair is disheveled from tossing and turning all night. She’s sweaty and angry and hurting.
And here is what God does: God comes to her place of deepest despair, of darkest death, of greatest mourning, and brings her comfort. God, in Christ, is there, FOR her, WITH her. God is with the hurting woman, the despairing friends, the ones crying out at injustice. God is with the oppressed, the poor, the weak, the ones who long. God meets Mary, and us, in our suffering.
God is with the ones who suffer
Our nation has faced a reckoning these last few years around issues of racial justice. We have heard the laments, the cries, that have risen up after deaths of such people as Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor. People are suffering, dying, put to death by a broken system.
God is with the ones who suffer.
Our world has suffered incredible losses of life due to COVID-19 the past year. We have lost loved ones and not been able to say goodbye. We have stayed far away from people who we would normally spend our waking days with. We have lost a way of life and are suffering through it.
God is with the ones who suffer.
Through the ages, the church has known suffering and sorrow. Persecution, co-option, and predation. Followers of Christ have and still do sit at the foot of the cross and ask…where are you Lord? We weep, we lament, we begin to feel like there will be no way forward.
And it is in the suffering of the faithful that God shows up.
The Good News
Here is the good news, my friends.
The cross, the lynching tree, the execution tool of the empire — this is the site where God breaks the power of suffering. What was meant to be a device of intimidation is turned into something else entirely.
The cross, in Christ’s resurrection, becomes the method for all things being repaired, restored, made new. The cross of Christ shows all the powers of evil that their devices are ineffective, broken, falling away.
The cross of Christ is a liberating event — a site of God siding with the oppressed and the downtrodden and making a way forward.
The cross also makes it clear that the deaths of innocent people are not in vain. Rather, in God’s divine justice, the ones who are oppressed are set free.
The cross shows that those who make common cause with the work of justice, with the work of healing and restoration, find wholeness and freedom. And not just us, for the cross is not an event for just you and me in our own individual suffering or struggle — the cross is the universal site of God’s repairing of all that is broken in the world. It is the epicenter of hope, where redemption begins.
Back to Mary
Let’s get back to Mary Magdalene. She’s weeping and can’t recognize Jesus when he appears to her.
But then, something amazing happens. Her eyes are opened and she can truly see her friend. He calls her by her name, “Mary.”
In one moment, Mary had no hope of seeing or ever being with Jesus again.
And in the next, he has called her by her name.
When we find the truth of the resurrection, our ability to imagine and hope are restored. We remember who we are, called by our names, and can see a future of hope beyond the moment of despair.
Mary’s closing words in the passage are, “I have seen the Lord.” She tells the disciples the good news of what she’s seen.
This is the imagination of a person who has received the good news and must share it.
So, here we are, too.
We have heard the resurrection story. We’ve knelt at the gravesite and hoped against hope that the world will change.
And now, we’ve also been called by our names. Do you know this? Do you know that Christ calls to you, by your name, and calls you his own, his beloved? Do you know that this resurrection story is for you, too?
We attend to this celebration of Easter each year as we would attend to the visitation of a loved one’s gravesite, with much the same hope that we could recall what it felt like to be with them.
The glorious difference, though, is that when we come to the gravesite of Jesus, to the empty tomb, we witness a shift. No longer do we look for the dead, but now we look for the living! In Luke’s gospel, the angels ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The good news of Easter as that the Living Lord, Jesus Christ, is here with us, in us, calling us by our names and calling us out from our own death, to life.
Will you receive this good news? Will you celebrate it? Will you take the offer of resurrection life for yourself, too, for the days of this world and all that is to come, the hope of what is possible beyond the grave, beyond all that breaks down, beyond all injustice. We will, as Christ’s church, return again and again to the practice of moving from death to life.
This is the glorious good way of the cross and the resurrection and the living Christ who abides with us today.
Amen, amen, and amen.
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