March 27, 2016 – Easter

Easter Sunday   March 27, 2016   Ps 118, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 19:38-42, John 20:1-18

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I have seen the Lord.

Mary Magdalene preaches the first Easter sermon in just five words:

I have seen the Lord.”

And no matter how many words we might add – no matter how much explaining we may attempt – no matter how creatively we compile our examples of ways we too have encountered the risen Lord… Still no one beats Mary’s testimony.

I have seen the Lord” says it all. (At least…) If we have seen the Lord. If we’ve met Jesus…If we know what Mary’s talking about…

But what about all of us who have not had quite such a stunningly certain encounter with Jesus? Which must include nearly all of us, since none of us have seen Jesus in the flesh, as Mary Magdalene did…

Most of us who have met Jesus – need more words than Mary does – and often have more difficulty than Mary seems to have…When it comes to communicating that we’ve met Jesus… Even very gifted evangelists struggle at times to discern how to best share the good news with a skeptical world. How to tell a world in denial that Jesus is alive – risen from the dead – offering true life to all.

The world still (of course) desperately needs to know – Jesus has risen. Confronted, as we are, with brutal terrorism, ignorance, disregard for truth every day…The world desperately needs to know the truth of Jesus, risen from the dead. And needs to know what difference this makes.

And the world still desperately resists hearing and believing. Stuck in the same-old same-old patterns of worshiping money, power, self, and fame. The same-old rituals of denial – not-seeing, not-hearing, not-believing…The world still has no hope of breaking out of the cycles of death and destruction… If we don’t hear… Don’t see… Don’t recognize Jesus, alive…

Times like these are discouraging, even for those of strong faith. And even those who know Jesus can sometimes have a hard time discerning his presence…

So Easter is a good time to remember… Even the first disciples, who walked and talked with Jesus, ate and drank with Jesus, followed Jesus every day… still had a hard time recognizing Jesus for who he is – a hard time understanding his message.

Even his chosen apostles disappeared at the time of his trial… Only a faithful few (nearly all of them women) stayed with him all the way to the cross… Only two disciples came to lay his body in the tomb, and only after dark, for fear of the religious and civic authorities who executed Jesus as a heretic and a threat to the Empire. Most  followers of Jesus stayed out of sight behind locked doors. Only a few women came to the tomb in the dark, early on the first day of the week. And John the gospel writer tells their story through the eyes of just one of them, Mary Magdalene, probably to help us see Jesus with her, one-on-one.

And even for the first faithful eye-witness – believing didn’t happen all at once. Even Mary Magdalene (beloved disciple that she is) sees Jesus, first, without recognizing. Supposing him to be the gardener, Mary asks, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will come and get his body and take him away…”

Only when she hears him say “Mary!”  Does she know, suddenly, who he is.

Now Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him – he is ascending to God the Father…But “Go tell the others.”  Which Mary does. As she preaches the first Easter sermon in just five words. “I have seen the Lord.”

Jesus says ‘Go, tell the others.’ Mary does. Now everyone who ever meets Jesus is also commissioned to share the news. Tell others Jesus is risen from the dead. And tell all the world to keep coming to Jesus to learn the rest of his story. Because Jesus risen from the dead is the beginning – not the end – of God’s re-making the world. God’s victory over death.

Corinthians tells us Christ is the first fruits of those who have died. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s reclamation of all things in heaven and earth. The beginning of God’s victory over all this world’s darkness, brokeness, sickness, lostness, suffering, horror, death…. The resurrection is God’s promise to complete the story of God’s ultimate victory over all enemies, including death.

And Jesus risen from the dead is the one and only reality with power to save – heal – free – and transform us – and this broken world…

Jesus has risen from the dead to save us from sin and death. And in the last book of the bible, Jesus also says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And in the second letter to the Corinthians we’re told ‘if we are in Christ – there is a new creation.’ Jesus, risen from the dead, is the first fruits of this new creation. Now as Jesus invites us to see him as he is – and rise from the dead with him…We, the body of Christ, together are the next fruit. Challenged and charged to live forever with Jesus and tell the good news, as Mary does… (and…)

I often feel inadequate to talk about Jesus and tell his story… Because I remember so many ways in which I’ve messed up or missed opportunities to talk about Jesus…appropriately…

This week I’ve been remembering a conversation after I first joined the Methodist church…(in the small village of Adamant, Vermont, about 25 years ago)… I remember talking over the phone with a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time, telling him I’d gone through major changes in my life. “Jay, guess what,” I said. “I’ve actually joined the Methodist church.” (I guess I thought this would be significant news, considering all the time I’d spent with him when I lived in DC – mostly eating, drinking beer, and watching the Baltimore Orioles.)

But Jay said, “Tim – I believe the Methodists are one of the larger Protestant sects.” (He didn’t quite say it, but I understood he found the news underwhelming.) But then he said, “Now if you ever meet this guy Jesus – call me up… I might be interested.”

When we’ve met Jesus people are likely to either be very interested – or to want to run in the other direction. Because people can usually figure out – Jesus will change our lives. Which makes some people want to learn more. And others want to run the other way.

But even when folks want to run the other way…Remember – the first disciples also ran away at first. That’s a normal human reaction to meeting Jesus, who changes everything. This need not be the end of the story.

Jesus risen from the dead challenges our every assumption and calls us into an entirely new life. That’s why Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame) has said… “Easter is a time when Christians have to ask themselves – ‘Do I really believe all this? And if so –  why am I living the way I am?’”

But even when or if we’re pondering – to figure out if we believe in this Jesus guy, risen from the dead – Even if we’re deeply perplexed by our lives – and wondering if this really is… all there is – The gospels again remind us –

Most of the disciples who heard the  news from Mary still didn’t really believe… Till they also saw the risen Jesus for themselves…

And for most of us, most of the time, this is still how our faith grows. Hearing the news from others lays the groundwork… Reading the bible, learning to pray, learning to listen for God speaking in ever-deepening ways – this builds the foundation for faith.

But it’s only as we hear God’s Spirit, God’s word, speaking to us personally…. that we really start to get it – and be changed forever…

Whether we’ve been taught about Jesus from birth, or are just getting to know him for the first time…

Whether we first start to recognize Jesus through a word spoken, a prayer answered, a healing touch, a silent stirring of the Spirit…

However we begin to come to him, believe in him, trust in him…

However we first really begin to see Jesus…for who he is…

It always takes a lifetime… to really know Jesus…

But the good news of Jesus is –

Whether we see him and know him already, a little, or a lot –

Or whether we’re just beginning to seek – just beginning to ask big questions –

The truth of Jesus is –

He seeks us long before we seek him –

He sees us long before we see him –

He knows us far better than we know ourselves –

He loves us much more than we love ourselves  –

And all who seek him will be found by him –

And all who ask will be able to say, from the heart –

With and without words –

“I have met the Lord.”

(And – )

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed.

Amen.