Friday, April 25, 2014

Sermon for Easter Sunday, "Resurrection Story," John 20:1-18

Sermon 4/20/2014
John 20:1-18
Resurrection Stories – Easter

            Have any of you tried watching the new ABC series called Resurrection? As a pastor, I felt like it was my duty to at least check the show out – how could I not watch, at least once, a show called Resurrection? I don’t want to spoil it for you, if you plan on watching eventually, but the basic concept of the series is this. Starting with a little boy who drowned over thirty years ago, people who died start returning to a small town, very much alive. For everyone else, years have passed, but for the people who died, they return having not aged a day. It’s like someone pressed “pause” on their lives, and then suddenly hit “play” again.
            You would think, wouldn’t you, that these people, returned from the dead, would be a cause of joy, right? But it turns out that their return causes a lot of trouble. People have moved on, grown older, remarried. People have grieved already, and find themselves grieving again when their loved one returns because it isn’t exactly the same. They’ve moved on, in some ways, and although the return of one they thought lost brings joy, there’s not a place for that person anymore. It doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t quite work.
            I noticed, too, that they never really use the word resurrected in the show. They call the people who have come back from the dead “The Returned.” Now, I don’t think the show is trying to make a theological statement, but I find it so interesting that even the tv show character seem to know that what they’re experiencing isn’t truly resurrection. Yes, folks have returned from the dead, and that’s turning the characters’ world upside down.
            And I think it’s because as much as we struggle with death, we know it is a part of the order of things. Sure, sometimes we might describe a death as unnatural, when a young person dies; when someone suffers a great deal; when a parent outlives their children or older siblings outlive younger siblings. But although these deaths are tragic, and although we always grieve when loved ones die, deaths are a part of life. We expect it, really. Death, grieving, suffering, sorrow. Sometimes death happens more suddenly then others. But we all die. That reality is even how we began the season of Lent – with Ash Wednesday – a sign of our mortality right on our foreheads. As much as a love my grandparents – my grandmother died about a year ago, and my grandfather died about fifteen year ago – and I still grieve their loss – can still be brought to tears when a memory or wistfulness catches me off guard – I know it wouldn’t be right, wouldn’t make sense for them to be back in this place, this world, this lifetime.
            So it challenges us – Easter – if we let ourselves really think about it. There is such a huge difference between being returned and being resurrected. We’re here today not because of a return, a resuscitation. Not because Jesus has appeared again to just go about business as usual. Like he was away for a few days and has now returned and he’ll just start preaching and teaching and healing again. No, we’re here because we’re celebrating a resurrection. Jesus was dead and he is alive. Not just reanimated, but resurrected. He’s not just alive again or alive still after all. He’s been resurrected. It means literally a “rising up.” He’s not just alive but living and new. Resurrected. I wonder if we can understand what it means to have resurrection.
In John’s gospel, we read that Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb, and sees that the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb has been removed. Upset, she runs to get Peter and another disciple. They come to the tomb and see that Jesus is not there, and they return home. They don’t seem to react, at least not that we’re told. But Mary stays, and she encounters Jesus, although she doesn’t recognize him at first. But when he speaks her name, Mary realizes that it is Jesus. He sends her to tell the others, and she does, saying, “I have seen the Lord.”
I keep coming back to a strange verse tucked in this Easter story. Jesus tells Mary, “Don’t hold on to me.” Don’t cling to me. Don’t keep me here. The phrase in Latin for these words is Noli Me Tangere, and this moment is often depicted in artwork titled with the same phrase. Don’t hold on to me. It seems like a strange thing for Jesus to say. How could Mary help but want to cling to him? But it is as if he is saying: “I’m not the same. I’m different. And I can’t be bound anymore.” You can’t “keep” me. Something that’s been resurrected can’t be kept. Something with so much new life that it concurs even death is meant to be on the move, living, rising up.
            This morning, at our sunrise service, I shared a reflection from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, based on Luke’s account of the resurrection. In Luke’s account, God’s messengers tell Mary and other women who have come to the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” In my reflection, Mary challenges us to consider exactly that. “Stop looking for Jesus among the dead. He is with the living. He is along the road as you travel from place to place. Look for him. He is there. He is at table with you, when you break bread. Look for him. He is there. He is in your home, at your workplace, at the marketplace, and everywhere you are. Look for him, He is there.”
            This Easter, I want us make sure what we’re seeking after in our own lives is resurrection, not resuscitation or reviving or returning. That’s not new life. That’s just continuing on. See, I think we get ourselves caught. First, we aren’t ready to die. But you can’t have resurrection without death. No resurrection without the crucifixion. And so we need to seek out the parts of our lives that need to die, so that Christ can live in us, draw new life from us. We’re afraid to let go of the life we know, and if we can’t do that, the best we’ll ever get is a resuscitation, a return, not a resurrection. What in you needs to die so that you can live? And second, when we do let God resurrect us, make us new, we need to look around, and make sure that we’re seeking Jesus among the living. We can’t just stay where we’ve been, surrounded by death. We can’t just hold on to what we’ve known. We can’t be bound. We serve a living God, a God who is always on the move. Seek out Christ among the living. After all, who looks for the living among the dead? It seems almost foolish, doesn’t it? So if we’re living, made new in Christ Jesus, claiming the promise of resurrection, let’s get going.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

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