Just Like New Times

Isaiah 25:6-9, John 20:1-18, April 5, 2015

Years ago I read this story in Readers’ Digest. It might even be true. The author remembers that when he was a young boy, whenever his family went on vacation, they would load up the car and drive for about an hour, then his mother would suddenly remember that she had left the iron on. If they didn’t turn around right away, the house would be a smoldering ruin when they had returned from vacation. Year after year, without fail, their vacations were shortened by his mom’s absolute certainty that the iron was on. “Maybe for all we know the house has already caught fire!” his mother would fret. Reassurance didn’t work with mom. Double checking didn’t work. Finally, one vacation the family had driven its usual hour away from home, when mom remembered that the iron was on. Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road and put it in park. No one could read the expression on his face. He turned off the ignition. Opened the door, got out…”Is he leaving us here on the side of the road?” they wondered. He walked to the back and opened the trunk. He pulled out the iron. And the coffee pot. And the toaster. He showed them to mom. He didn’t say a word, just started the car again, put it in drive and continued the vacation.

Today we celebrate Easter, the Day of Resurrection, our defining moment as Christians. We celebrate a new creation, something so radical that it even makes us measure time differently. We set Sunday apart because it was on a Sunday that our story, our history began. And it begins just like the Bible begins. In a garden. With a man and a woman. Darkness giving way to light….

Each Easter I find myself needing more and more time to absorb the breathtaking news that Christ is risen! I find the gap between the betrayal of the disciples on Thursday, the celebration of the Last Supper, and the despair of Friday, when Jesus was crucified and to the unprecedented, startling news of the Jesus come back to life is simply too great for me. I know some people can roll out of bed and burst into song, I am not one of them. Not only am I not one of them, I’m glad I don’t have one in my household!

One Easter when I served a church which had a sunrise Easter service [this particular Easter coincided with daylight saving time] I fantasized about writing a new resurrection account. In this one, the disciples were so depressed by Jesus’ death that they slept late [a symptom of depression] they went out for brunch and after ordering some Belgian waffles and a good strong cup of coffee, Jesus appeared to them. “When he picked up the check, their eyes were opened and recognized him.” Sleep deprivation makes me a little punchy, but all silliness aside, the news of the resurrection is something that you want to be well-fortified for. And to hear it midday, around the table with your closest friends with whom you have gone through a truly awful week, makes some sense to me.

John’s account of the resurrection gives us three examples of how the news that Christ is risen was claimed and understood. When it comes to understanding and applying to one’s life something as important as Easter, one size does not fit all. Each of us needs to grasp this news in our own way. Three people went to the tomb where Jesus was buried early that Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene, the Beloved Disciple and Peter. They all saw the same things, but they reacted to them in wildly different ways.

Mary was the first one to get to the tomb. She went while it was still dark, probably to care for the body that had been so hastily buried on Friday afternoon. When she saw that the stone which had sealed the tomb had been rolled away she ran to tell the other believers that “they,” we don’t know whom she meant, had taken away the body.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple ran to the tomb. Peter went in and saw the linen wrappings that had been around the body. When the Beloved Disciple went in and saw the cloth “he saw and believed.” Just like that. He saw and believed.

The Beloved Disciple went home believing.

Mary stood there crying. First her Lord had been executed, now she couldn’t even do his memory the kindness of seeing that he got a decent burial because “they” had taken the body away. She looked into the tomb again. You know how when you’re trying to find your keys you keep looking where you think they should be. Two, three, four times, you look even though they weren’t there before, but you keep going back. Mary looked into the tomb again. This time there were two angels in white—not the body she was there to care for—certainly not what she expected, but she found something that hadn’t been there before. They asked “Woman, why are you crying?”

She said,”They [there’s “they” again] have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.” She’s tenacious in holding onto this idea that the body has been taken away. I just know I left the iron on! But did you notice she said, “They have taken away my Lord,” not, “they have taken away my Lord’s body?” Mary is holding onto, or more accurately, trying to hold onto the way things used to be. It’s as though her Lord and the body of her Lord are the same thing. The idea that they are separable is simply not conceivable. So she’s holding on to what she knows.

She turns from the tomb and a man speaks to her, and says exactly what the angels just said, “Why are you weeping?” She thought it was the gardener. It was so early in the morning that it was still dark, she was in the garden, who else could it be? At least the gardener might know where the body is, at least he might be able to help her do her duty. It’s something. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.” And Mary turned to him a second time and then, finally, she believed, there in the dark garden early in the morning. There next to the hole in the ground that couldn’t keep her Lord from rising, she believed. There, at last, she believed. And ya know what? She really didn’t have a lot to go on in terms of believing. She hadn’t seen the resurrection happen. Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t you get it? I’m alive again!” The angels didn’t tell her. The Beloved Disciple, the one to whom belief came so effortlessly, hadn’t told her anything. Peter—at this point in the story we don’t know what’s up with him—but he hadn’t said anything to her.

It was just hearing her name, and hearing it said by the voice of her Lord that made her understand and believe. Of all the words there are, the one that carries the most information to your brain is your name. It tells you that someone knows you. Of all the words you know you can recognize your name at the lowest volume. It’s irritating when people mispronounce your name, because you are your name. When they get your name wrong, they get you wrong. Jesus called Mary by name. And that meant that he knew her and that meant that she knew him and that meant they had a relationship. Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” [John 10:3] One word brings all that back, that one word, “Mary” made everything clear. Maybe everything Jesus had said and done and taught clear to Mary in that instant.

Mary believed, Mary understood, but Mary was still holding onto the past. She wanted everything to be just as it had been before. She reached out for the past, but Jesus said that she couldn’t hold onto him. She had to look ahead. She had to look up to where he was ascending—to his Father and her Father, to his God.

The hardest thing of all is to embrace the new. The hardest thing is to trust that this new life is better than what we knew before. We see this in families who remain stuck in painful dysfunction. We see it in addicts who cannot break free from self-destructive habits. We see it in churches and communities who look back to a golden, historic age, but cannot live in the present. We see it when the family vacation is disrupted by the long cord of an iron which just might be left on, which just might destroy everything we have. God did a new, world-changing thing there in the dark garden that morning. God destroyed destruction. The prophet Isaiah foretold this: “He will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. [25:7]

It will be said on that day, “This is the Lord, for whom we have waited, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. [25:9]

The Lord for whom we have waited is doing a new thing. Death is defeated! Sin is forgiven! Everything is brand new! And God sends this gift of new life to everyone. Those who see and believe instantly. Those who need a little while longer. And those who need to be called by name. God through Christ calls us all to celebrate the Good News of the resurrection which is eternally new. Amen.