April 1, 2018 – Pastor John McNeill
Who can blame them for not yet being able to embrace the mystery? This turn of events was unexpected. Mary, Mary, and Salome came expecting death.
All they thought they needed to know about that morning was death.
They came to that tomb because death had won. They went to pay their respects to Jesus for having gone through life, for having put up a valiant fight, for having loved them, for having accompanied them in his time of living.
Another good man gone. They knew that story. John the Baptizer had already been executed by Herod as had so many others before. It’s a tragic life. We live for a little while and then we succumb to the great enemy – death. That’s what they expected.
But that is not the story they found.
The stone was rolled away. The tomb is empty. This death story is not unfolding as expected. They are looking for Jesus who was crucified, but he is gone. He has moved beyond the death story of the tomb and has moved into a story of deep mystery.
The angel tells the women that Jesus isn’t over and done with. There’s been a resurrection. And yet their reaction is fear.
Fear! Why? Who knows what this might mean. If the certainty of death has been overthrown, what’s next? All our expectations are up for grabs. In the face of mystery, many of us expect the worst.
There may well be those who will say that Mary and Mary and Salome should have expected that Jesus would be raised from the dead. After all, we read in the Bible that Jesus told his followers that he would rise again.
But you know, Jesus was always saying crazy things.
Like: love your enemies, forgive those who offend you, don’t worry about keeping all the religious rules about food, do not judge others, if someone asks you for your shirt, give them your coat as well.
He said a bunch of crazy stuff. With Jesus, you didn’t know what to believe! And after all, he was executed. If he was all that wise, how did he get himself into that mess?
So on their way to the tomb that morning perhaps they thought, “You know, we were right to take what he said with a grain of salt.” Jesus got himself caught in the world’s evil and death machine. Pretty much what we should have expected. We’re all finally caught in that evil and death machine. No mystery there.
But what happened was what they did not expect:
God did not leave evil and death at evil and death, but instead, God was at work to bring forth
- Forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of evil
- and life in the face of death.
That is God’s unexpected, mysterious way. That is the story outline that God is always bringing into the life of the world.
That’s the story Mary and Mary and Salome were offered that morning.
And the message they received is a message for us as well:
He is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
The Jesus story of justice and joy, compassion and reconciliation, is not over and they are being sent back home to encounter it once again.
The unfolding story of God’s presence in the world has NOT come to an end, and it will meet us where we live.
How this all happens is, of course, mysterious. And perhaps unsettling. It may even make us speechless at first. Our story this morning is a clue that there is more to the universe than we had any good reason to expect.
The Easter resurrection story tells us that the love and power of God was not ended on the cross on Good Friday, but instead the risen Christ will meet us where we live, inviting us to join our life story into God’s divine love story.
Can we summon the courage to embrace this mystery?
Of course, we can find ourselves retreating from mystery into narrow and limited expectations. It can be tempting to simply attend to the one thing after another dimension of our lives. We have lots to do and we’ve suffered disappointments and lost dreams.
Despite our best efforts, cracks in this life open up and sometimes swallow our hope. Some of us live every day expecting nothing more than some new loss.
But the first Easter, and this Easter, God’s proclamation is that the Jesus movement of justice, joy, reconciliation, and compassion is not over. And we are invited to embrace the mystery and be a part of it.
Love will not be defeated. Love will not be defeated. Love will not be defeated.
This is the story that invites us into the mystery of God’s reality:
Jesus came embodying God’s love, God’s being, God’s substance in human form. Jesus lived and proclaimed a way for the world that called for:
- Reconciliation instead of retaliation.
- Justice instead of oppression.
- Compassion instead of condemnation.
- Generosity instead of greed and selfishness
- Humility instead of self-righteousness and
- Acceptance instead of exclusion. Jesus wanted to draw the circle of love really wide.
And all of this is simply an elaboration and an extension of the biblical truth that God is love. (You can look it up – 1 John 4:16) The very foundation of all that is is love. And if you dig deep enough into any thing, or any person, or any situation, there is love waiting to be discovered.
At the same time, of course, there is a counter-story:
There were those in Jesus’ world who were pretty good at retaliation, oppression, condemnation, selfishness, self-righteousness and exclusion who had no use for him or his message. Jesus’ life and message undermined what they thought was their power: violence, judgment, lies, and fear.
And so they plotted to get rid of Jesus to protect their power and their position. They wanted to send the message that death was stronger. Death, fear, and violence could defeat love.
And that can be a strong message. And there are those who are still acting as though the real powers in this world are death, fear, and violence. The news is full of it. Our own experience can often be touched by it.
But I tell you this morning: the Easter revelation calls us to be a part of the deep mysteries of
The Easter story we hear this morning is a cue to keep our eyes and ears open to how love is mysteriously and often unexpectedly emerging. And what’s more to be instigators of reconciliation, justice, compassion, generosity, humility, and acceptance – because God’s life is alive in us, enlivening our perception and our attitudes and our action to be fully embraced into God’s ever-emerging mysterious love story. This is a story we already know, but sometimes in our anxiety or fear we forget.
So this morning I ask you to take heart, have courage as you recall how the resurrection mystery has touched your life:
Where have you seen an unexpected reconciliation mysteriously break through? When have you been part of a reconciliation?
Where have you seen unexpected compassion mysteriously break through? When have you exercised compassion?
When have you experienced unexpected generosity mysteriously break through? When have you been generous – with money or time or attention to someone or some cause?
When have you seen humility and acceptance mysteriously and unexpectedly shape an interaction into a life-giving open – hearted relationship?
All these experiences and situations are building on the reality of the resurrection. All these are both signs of and invitations to the Spirit’s activity in the world. All these put us in touch with the source and reality of love.
The light may seem uncertain and only emerging in each dawn, as in the light emerging behind the trees in our chancel installation. The buds on the branch may seem vulnerable to the frosts we know are yet to come, but the light and the warmth is inexorably coming. Take heart. Have courage.
That source is near. Recall with thanksgiving. Recall and rejoice. Do not be afraid.