Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter Sunday 2012

Acts 10:34-43                                                                                                                                     John 20:1-18

It has often been said - and observed - that bad news, particularly gossip, travels much faster than Good News, actually faster than the speed of light!  Somehow Good News is just not as exciting or as dramatic as what ol' so-and-so did when he thought no one was looking. 

I recall the story of a pastor who decided one day to stop at a local liquor store to meet the owner who was said to have once been a member of that pastor's church.  Sure enough the pastor stopped in one day, bought a soda, and visited with the man.  All went well since it was a slow day and they had plenty of time to talk without interruption, and the store's owner agreed he had been away from worship for too long.  "But", the owner said, "folks are not real pleased with my business.  They won't be so happy to see me return."  The pastor assured him everything would be ok.  The church is filled with wonderful people who will be happy to welcome a long-lost "prodigal".  Above all else, the pastor said, “remember it's not about being seen ‘at church’ - it's about offering oneself to the Lord”.

Sure enough, that very Sunday the liquor store owner's return was not the "hot topic".  What set everyone abuzz was the apparent drinking problem the pastor had, "judging by how often his car has been seen at that liquor store!"  The store owner shook the pastor's hand at the end of service and said, "You were right, preacher.  They hardly noticed me at all!"

Strangely enough, the first thing from John's Gospel that jumped out at me is Mary Magdalene's "assumption" - the same "assumption" people at the church made about how often the pastor's car had been seen at the liquor store!  The NRSV text says "Mary came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb".  So what does she do instead of having a closer look?  She runs to tell the others.  What does she tell them, though?  "They" have taken the Lord out of the tomb". 

It would be a reasonable assumption, of course, considering all that had happened before that dreadful Day.  "They" would be perhaps the Romans, but most likely the religious authorities who would just not leave well enough alone.  They had not only tortured this Innocent Man to death, but they had also mocked Him as well.  It would not be beneath them to desecrate His body as well.  Politically it would have made sense to do so because the authorities were well aware Jesus had a following that could continue to be a threat to the “established order”.  Removing and hiding His body would be a good way to put down this "rebellion" once and for all.

Matthew's Gospel says the Pharisees and chief priests tried to anticipate trickery by the disciples who might remove Jesus' body from the tomb in order to "prove" the Resurrection on the third day as Jesus had taught them (funny the Pharisees remembered this detail, don’t you think?).  So the religious authorities went to the Roman authority, Pilate, and requested that a guard be posted "until the third day" to prevent such a move.  According to Matthew, Pilate complied with their request. 

Peter and John arrived at the tomb to find it just as Mary had described, but they went inside the tomb to see for themselves that the body truly was not there.  Caution is required at this point in the text, however, because of the statement that John looked inside, "saw and believed".  What he "believed" was Mary's story.  By seeing the tomb empty, he "believed" what Mary had said.  The following statement: "for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that He must rise from the dead" reminds us that the only thing any of them "believed" at this point was that Jesus' body was missing.  That Mary had said "they" have taken the Lord's body suggests at this point that to the disciples, nothing less than foul play was suspected; "for as yet they did not understand ..."

"Then the disciples returned to their homes."  If it is true that foul play had been suspected - and by the hands of the powerful authorities who were able to convict and execute an innocent man - we could imagine Peter and John walking away from the tomb feeling completely dejected, confused, disappointed, and downright defeated.  Everything they had invested of themselves to this point had accomplished little more than to be reminded of who is really in charge.  The absence of Jesus' body - and the absence of their "understanding" - really did, for them, mean it was all over.  They killed Him, and there was nothing more to be said or done.

Jesus never taught about His Resurrection incidentally, and He never seemed to mention it only in passing as some minor detail!  It has always struck me as odd that this teaching did not seem to have occurred to them on this particular morning, but then I was not there and surrounded by such angry, hateful people who seemed perversely delighted at watching this Gentle Man be so mercilessly brutalized.  And Peter?  Well, remember he felt it necessary to run for his very life!  It could be easily "assumed" he would have told the others perhaps to warn them of potential danger if and when they were to be identified as disciples of Jesus.

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb."  She stayed.  Alone.  In spite of the potential danger.  Why do you suppose she didn't just walk back home with the others?  Why did she choose to stay back?  By the way the story is written, we could assume she had not really connected to the reality.  She needed to see for herself that Jesus' body really was gone (remember the text does not say she had actually "looked" inside until now; only that she "saw that the stone had been removed").   We can only "assume" that Mary had "assumed" by the stone's removal that Jesus' body was gone.

Luke tells of Mary Magdalene having had "seven demons" removed by the hands of Jesus (8:2), but tradition had named her a prostitute even though the scriptural text never says so.  Whether one of these "seven demons" had been that of a prostitute is not nearly as significant as the certain reality that Mary had been healed by Jesus; not simply "saved" or justified as we have come to understand the terms, but literally, spiritually, perhaps physically, but most certainly miraculously "healed".  Like modern-day addicts who are delivered from these "demons" of drugs and alcohol, Mary would have had a deeper and more abiding appreciation for what the Lord can do.  She experienced a genuine, life-changing moment.  She had not merely "witnessed" a miracle such as that of the loaves and fishes, or had just some “strange feeling”; surely in her mind and heart and soul she WAS a miracle!

Of course she stayed!  So would you.  So would I; because Mary had not been "given" a new job or a new car or a new home or any of those other, more material things you and I equate with "blessings".  Because she had enjoyed such an overwhelming experience, Jesus "owned" her!  Not only because He "redeemed" her, not only because He "saved" her ... but because she completely gave back to the Lord what had been restored to her - her very life! 

This is the true and genuine heart of a disciple, much like the leper in Luke 17 who was one of ten lepers who had been healed.  The other nine took their "blessing" and ran away to do their own thing and live their own lives, lives that had been restored to them.  This single leper was the only one who had returned to give his life - and all glory - to the Lord.  He, like Mary, realized his life had not been restored for his own personal use and his own personal goals and dreams.  They both realized their lives had been restored FOR THE LORD.  Of course Mary stayed!

And because she stayed, she was the one who saw the Eternal Reality that is Christ.  She saw not only the reality of faith but the fruition of faith when the Lord revealed Himself to her; yes, the perfection of faith that is Christ our Lord.  She truly had something to tell – not only that the tomb was empty … but that the Promise of Eternity has been fulfilled!  AMEN.

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