Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Day: It's about believing

Lectionary: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18

Doesn’t it feel good to finally sing our alleluias? Let’s do it again…

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today we read John’s version of the Easter story – which is different from Matthews’s version we read last night at the Great Vigil. In John’s gospel account of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away already.

Keeping to the custom of her culture, Mary does not enter the tomb, but runs back to fetch Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Mary fears that Jesus’ body must have been stolen. Her spiritual eyes had not yet been opened to the truth of the resurrection.

When the John arrives he looks inside the tomb, but he too waits until Peter, who held the top rung in the hierarchical ladder, arrives. When the two men entered the tomb and stood in its emptiness, they believed what Mary had told them – that Jesus was missing.

That’s a pretty radical statement for our Gospel writer to make considering that for that culture the testimony of women was considered unreliable. But Jesus made Mary’s testimony reliable.

Seeing the empty tomb, the disciples could only guess that Jesus had been stolen “for as yet they didn’t understand the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.” The author tells us that Peter and John simply went home.

Unable to leave the emptiness she didn’t understand, Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. Unable to overcome the cultural boundary that kept her as an outsider, Mary still didn’t go inside the tomb. Instead, she bent over to look inside it. When she did, she saw two angels in white who ask her a simple question: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

It’s helpful for us to remember that in those days men didn’t speak to women to whom they were not related. So either the angels looked like women, or Jesus brought down yet another boundary that impeded his call to Mary to be a witness to the truth.

After replying to the angels, Mary turns and sees a man standing there. Motivated by her deep grief, and still unable to “see” the truth of the resurrection, Mary speaks to the man and another culture boundary comes tumbling down - the one that forbids women to speak to men.

"Sir," Mary says, if you have taken my Lord, please tell me where he is and “I’ll take him away.” Jesus replies to her saying simply, “Mary.” And suddenly, her spiritual eyes are opened.

As promised, those who belong to the Good Shepherd know his voice. Mary spins back around to “look” again and sees – truly sees - her risen Lord. The breath of life in Mary sighs his name using a term of endearment in their native tongue: “Rabbouni!”

In that moment, Mary’s understanding, along with her once broken heart, were made whole. Jesus, her beloved Rabbi, is now Jesus, the risen Lord. She sees. She understands… and she believes!

And immediately, she goes and tells the Good News she knows - the Good News around which our church is built. We are a community who shares the same truth Mary Magdalene told that first Easter Day. And we, like her, are called to open ourselves to hear the Lord call our name and then tell everyone of the transforming love we know in him.

A few years ago, right about this time of year my mini-dachshund, Sophia, had a litter of puppies. I remember watching as my dog’s belly swelled with the hidden life forming inside her.

My youngest son and I participated in the birth of those four new and precious lives. Then we watched as the puppies grew and formed into a community, a family, under the ever-vigilant and protective gaze of their mama-dog.

Soon, the puppies opened their eyes. They couldn’t see well at first, but little by little, experience and biology worked together and their vision improved. And the better they could see, the more they began to explore, motivated by an endless curiosity.

One of the puppies was braver than the rest. Following some interior call, he would venture out farther and farther from the birthing-box, and the others would follow him. It was almost as if they were all hearing the same silent message – go and see what’s out there.

If one puppy got scared, he would stop where he was and let out a few cries. Either the Mama dog or another puppy would respond immediately by going up close, offering themselves as comfort to the one who was crying.

It was truly inspiring for me to watch as the puppies grew in the newness of life that happened for them once their eyes were opened. The connection to our Easter story is hard to miss.

After he opens her eyes, Jesus cautions Mary to remember that her spiritual vision is young and still a little clouded. Don’t cling to this, he says to her. It isn’t about my returning to you, but about my returning you to God. So go and tell the others that “I am ascending to my father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 

By sending Mary with this message, Jesus commissions her as the first resurrection apostle (remember: an apostle is one who is sent on a mission). In doing so, Jesus finishes in his resurrection, what he started in his ministry: he removes all of the earthly barriers that oppress and hinder his chosen ones in their work as witnesses of the Good News.

We too have been commissioned as resurrection apostles by our Baptism. And it is in Jesus that we are made to be reliable witnesses. We too, have been set free from all that hinders us because Christ, who has been raised from the dead has brought us with him into resurrection life.

But what does that mean? When we leave here today, what does it mean to live in resurrection life?

It means living with our eyes opened. And it is just as true for us as it was for the puppies…that our eyes, once they are opened, need some time to mature before our vision becomes clear.

As we learn and grow in our seeing, we need our community around us. Not just for when we get scared, although that is important, but because with our friends nearby, we have the courage to explore beyond our comfortable boundaries and find and do the ministry God is calling us to do. We learn together, confident that God is watching us vigilantly and protectively, ready to respond whenever we cry out.

So let us, like Mary, testify to the truth we know: that Jesus is the one “ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” And let us preach “peace by Jesus Christ [who] is Lord of all…” remembering that “God shows no partiality.” And let us get about our work of “doing good and healing all who [are] oppressed,” as Jesus showed us how to do.

Then, unhindered by any earthly boundaries, let us boldly “testify that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” That is our good news.

Jesus brought salvation by the forgiveness of sin to the whole world. Being saved then, isn’t about keeping the right rules, or belonging to the right church or the right group, or having a culturally approved life-partner.

Being saved is about believing… believing in Jesus Christ, whose reconciliation of the world to God brought down all barriers so that everyone could share the Easter reality.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (The people respond) The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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