April 20, 2014 – Easter Sunday

John 19:31-42

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter April 20 2014   Ps 133, John 19:31-42, John 20:1-18   Looking for Jesus?

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Mary Magdalene’s first Easter doesn’t start with glad songs of joy…

With a few other friends and followers of Jesus, she has watched him die, crucified, on a Roman cross. Seen his dead, still-bleeding body, pierced by a soldier’s spear. (Criminals crucified with him have had their legs shattered with a sledge hammer to speed their death, so their bodies can be taken down before the Sabbath begins at dark. But Jesus has already died, thankfully, quicker than the others.)

Mary was there two days ago, with a tiny handful of women disciples (and one lone guy, after all the rest have fled), watching as Jesus said “it is finished,” and breathed his last. There’s nothing good about that first Good Friday that Mary can see… Unless it’s Jesus dying sooner rather than later. (Death on the cross was notoriously usually tortuously, painfully, slow.)

And at least Jesus was buried. Often bodies of those crucified were thrown to the wild dogs. This time two believers who had kept their faith a secret till now, nervous about being seen in public with followers of this controversial Jesus guy, had received permission from the Governor to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and bury him. Permission was required, because the purpose of crucifixion was to make a public spectacle of those crucified. Tortured bodies were kept publically visible, to instill fear of the Empire, and remind everyone what happens to those who threaten public order. Disciples have wrapped Jesus’ body in burial clothes, anointed him in nearly a hundred pounds of burial oils and ointments, and sealed his lifeless body tight in the tomb, in the garden, close by where he died.

Now two days later, on the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene rises before dawn, and goes walking in darkness to the tomb… to continue the funeral vigil.

But the tomb is empty… The stone rolled away.

Mary runs to get Peter and the un-named disciple whom Jesus loved. The men run together to the tomb. The beloved disciple (who may be the gospel writer) arrives first, looks in, sees only linen grave wrappings. Simon Peter arrives moments later, goes inside the tomb. Nothing’s there but empty graveclothes. The other disciple also enters the tomb; now, we’re told, he begins to believe. Though it’s not exactly clear what he believes – since we’re told that he, she, they did not yet understand the scriptures that say Jesus must rise from the dead.

And the two men go back to their homes. Done for the day.

***

But Mary stands weeping outside the tomb.

Now as she weeps she looks into the tomb and sees a pair of angels inside, dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been. The angels ask, “woman why are you weeping?”

Mary sees the angels, hears them talking to her. But all she can say is, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.”

Mary is so into just looking for her Jesus that even angels don’t interest her in the slightest. Even when Jesus himself now speaks to her – asking, just as the angels asked – “woman, why are you weeping?” – adding,“whom are you looking for?” – still Mary can’t recognize Jesus. She knows he’s dead. She knows, in fact, he’s been dead three days, sealed tight in the tomb. She knows his body’s missing. She’s looking for Jesus, but not looking where he said to look… And now she can’t see him alive, standing in front of her eyes, speaking with her.

Thinking he is the gardener (and he is, in fact, The Gardener, with a capital G, like in the Garden in the beginning – but that’s for unpacking another day) – Mary says again, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Only when she hears him call her by name – “Mary!” – does she recognize her Teacher. Risen from the dead.

Only after he reveals himself to her – unmistakably – can she see and believe, and go and tell other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.

***

Well, let’s face it. A dead man walking, talking, alive again – really can be hard to believe. It isn’t just us sophisticated post-modern people, exposed, as we are, to all sorts of advanced science, and properly skeptical of anything that sounds like it might be produced by means of Hollywood Special Effects – it’s not just us who sometimes have difficulty believing in the resurrection.

Nearly all the first disciples also had a hard time with resurrection from the get-go. None of the first followers of Jesus believed any more readily than Mary. Jesus had to show up multiple times, in their faces, alive, for most of them to believe. Thomas famously said he’d have to see and touch the marks of the nails in Jesus’ body before he’d believe. Paul had to be knocked to the ground by the voice of Jesus before he could believe. Believing the resurrection is difficult…

Till we experience it.

The scandal of the incarnation – God the Creator taking on human flesh – is hard enough to fathom. Now we’ve got God in human form, crucified unto death – Risen from the dead… to believe in…

Talk about astonishing messages. If we’re not at least a little shocked, we probably aren’t paying full attention yet.

Mary Magdalene is plenty surprised by Jesus in the garden. And probably bewilderment – astonishment – surprise in some form, happens to just about everyone who recognizes the risen Jesus.

It isn’t til Jesus shows up in our lives – often when we ourselves are most aware of how much darkness, death, or extreme emptiness there is in our lives – that we really start to notice Jesus, alive – and believe.

I had kinda-sorta believed in Jesus for more than twenty years, when the world I knew began to crumble. That’s when I started listening a lot more closely than I had been to friends who had encountered Jesus up-close. That’s when I started reading the bible more seriously, more consistently… again. (Reading also CS Lewis, Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, Dorothy Day, Philip Yancey….other Christian writers.) That’s when I started to get serious about asking Jesus to reveal himself to me.

And like Mary Magdalene – when I started looking for Jesus – I started finding Jesus… looking for me…Which is still our pattern… Jesus is still surprising me. Even knowing Jesus as my Friend and Teacher for what seems a long time now – still Jesus often surprises me.

Revealing himself often, as with Mary, sometimes kind of playfully – other times seriously messing with my mind. Doing whatever it takes to get me to think about him, look to him, recognize his voice, understand what he’s trying to tell me… or get me do or not do…

Jesus keeps showing up in my life… In our lives…Doing whatever it takes to get us to notice him, alive and risen. Subtly, sometimes; bluntly, other times – Jesus, who has tasted death and risen from the dead – keeps trying to get us to pay full attention to the presence of the Living God… So we can follow him into life that’s stronger – much stronger – than death… Follow him into Life without end.

Only when the reality of Jesus, alive and risen starts to sink in and change our thinking, doing, and being – are we really able to reap all the benefits of his resurrection.

The beauty, joy, peace, and abundance of life Jesus wants to give us…is always there for us… But we need to be always looking for Jesus…

Who is usually trying to get our attention… much the same way he was with Mary in the garden long ago. He may have angels strategically deployed for us… even in places where we feel the presence of death and darkness most prominently… The Holy Spirit may be there, waiting for us… in many a situation.

Jesus is always, in fact, reaching out to us, offering abundance of life… Reaching out with open arms… But we need to do our part, and keep looking for Jesus…

where he has told us he can be found…

When we look in the bible we find Jesus, showing us how to love and put faith into practice, loving and serving the least of these his brothers and sisters… Loving Jesus by caring for one another, and for those who have no one else to care for them…

When we look for Jesus in the church he founded with his body and blood, we find Jesus… here, in fellowship with other believers, all of us needing each other’s help… All of us praying for each other… We find Jesus, calling us into a life of grace and peace and love beyond measure… Giving generous down-payments on our future joy in the present moment, as we commit to him…

And if we’re willing – to be looking for Jesus –

Let’s ask Jesus to make himself known to us – known for the first time – or known better than ever – praying now –

Lord Jesus, we’re asking that you please make yourself known to us – each of us, all of us – here and now – soon, and very soon – any time, any way that works for you.

Help us look for you always, starting where you said you can be found. Help us get to know you, better and better, know you for who you are, and your desires for us…

Help us recognize your presence. Help us accept your invitation into Life and life abundant, without end, as we follow you…

We pray all this in your name, Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.