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This Slow but Certain Resurrection

Easter, Common Lectionary Year A

John 20:1-18

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Video of Sermon Easter Sunday 2020

See bottom of this post for links to other elements of the worship

The whole worship was on Facebook Live – click here for link

How very different this all is!?
We are not used to telling this story sitting in ashes, are we?
“We” being those of us well-healed, normally safe, first-world inhabitants,
who enjoy Easter as a show-off Sunday when we pull out all the stops…
a sunrise service at Windmill point,
the kindling of a brand new Christ candle,
the procession with the children through the sanctuary
to re-dress the chancel with lilies, candles, banners,
all while hallelujahs explode from the choir, trumpet and organ.

But this pandemic, the lockdown and quarantine has changed it all, hasn’t it?
It’s made enough people in places where we’re used to being in control
wonder aloud if we should postpone
Easter until we can “do it right” together.
We even contemplated it, briefly.
(until we realized we might not get an Easter until after the Summer!)
But there are good reasons why we shouldn’t,
and why we haven’t.

One of them is perspective.
Remember three days ago, when Matthew’s Gospel told us
that the sky darkened, the earth shook and the rocks split when Jesus died?
Matthew’s attention to the shattered state of the world
beyond Golgotha reminded me that this Good Friday-to-Easter Sunday story
has been re-told, more often than not, in shattered circumstances.
The account of the arrest, death, burial, vigil and resurrection of Jesus
belongs more authentically in the context of
wars, epidemics, fire, famine, poverty, persecution, oppression,
than it does in our spring-time splendour.

“We”- some of us for the first time perhaps,
are finally getting to hear this story where it belongs,
as we join our sibling creatures from all times and places,
in death’s shadowed valley,
in fear’s neighbourhood.
We are finally hearing this story the way most of the world has.
And it sounds so very different, doesn’t it?
It is the Gospel – the only Gospel for such a time as this,
when we most need to know that there is
a newness beyond all these endings,
life beyond death.

There are memes out there in FB land reminding us
that the first Easter happened
while no one was there to witness it.
Scripture says the same thing,
and most especially this re-telling by John,
where the realization of resurrection
is as slow and confusing as a clouded, misty dawn.

We should take heart in that.
We should take comfort in that Mary’s first thought,
when she saw the rolled stone was
“Robbery! Someone has ransacked the tomb…!”
Her rush to bad news, her haste to share the scandal,
her complete inability to see beyond
current apparent tragedy, is so like ours, is it not?

And Peter and the Beloved Disciple
-never named – so that it can be, yes, let it be, us-
Peter and we, race to the tomb in the dark
see it empty,
notice the grave cloths.
Peter, like a rookie CSI wants to know why
the face covering lies by itself, neatly folded,
but he has no clue.
Seeing signs of resurrection while we’re still
in the pre-dawn dark is apparently not so easy.
The Beloved one, (us) seeing the same,
believe, something,
but we’re not sure what,
….and then…John says, they/we go home!
How like us! A vague belief, or hope,
that changes nothing much.

Not yet.

Not even angels make much of a difference
in John’s account.
They are mere heralds to the aftermath
of a misunderstood miracle,
asking what seems like the dummest of questions
“Why are you crying?”
Why are you crying?!
Why do you think she’s crying?
It’s called grief!
The grief that numbs and blinds us to
any possible future other than grim, grey aftermath
of sickness, pandemic, loss, death.
Her answer says as much,
“They’ve taken away what matters.
I don’t know.
I’m lost.”

The sun is rising on the scene,
the angels are mute to her grief.
She turns, empty, from an empty tomb.
Easter seems like it hasn’t happened after all.
And now this intrusive gardener,
asking the same dumb question….
demanding once again that she relive ,
rename her loss,
that she grieve again.

Until she hears her name.
What is it about the saying of our name
by one who loves us,
that changes everything?
That tells us that what is happening to us matters?

This is the stunning gospel of resurrection according to John.
It’s about way more than a rolled stone,
folded grave cloths, angels,
and an empty tomb,
(or butterflies, lilies and hollowed eggs).
Those are just the artifacts, the leftover, lifeless, evidence.

Resurrection, according to John
is about encounter.
An encounter with the Risen One
that is ultimately personal, specific,
unique to each and every one of us.
And that’s just the beginning of resurrection!

Watch what happens next!
Mary recognizes the Risen One,
the Rabbouni.

Her first reflex was to reach out and hold on
to the one she thought she’d lost,
to somehow bring him back into her life,
to return life back to normal.
But we know, don’t we, that doesn’t work?
It’s not going to work with all that we will lose
through this pandemic either.

Jesus’ “physical distancing” at that moment
has a purpose;
he turns her away from him
towards the morning,
the future, tomorrow,
towards her own resurrection,
with a commission;
“Tell my siblings that I’m with God, your God, my God, always.”

What she does changes her and changes us,
because her testimony isn’t some vague statement
of theological abstraction.
She says, she cries out to the universe,
“I have seen!
Life has come forth from the tomb,
and it speaks our names, with all the eternal love of God!”

To see the Risen One,
to know and be known by name,
within this resurrected landscape.
To claim it, and to proclaim it.
That was her job, and thank God,
she delivered.

Now it’s our turn
to say into the shattered circumstances of our current life,
“I have seen!
Resurrection in crocus and tulip spears,
in returning geese,
in the happy dance on the ICU floor when recovery happens…
in a flattening curve,
and even at the grave, I have seen!
in the very fabric of creation, living, dying, rising,
I have seen this slow, but certain resurrection.”

Links to other elements of the worship

Links to the two videos (used with permission)

Pandemic Prayer

Easter’s Coming

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