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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

Living the Resurrection in a Good Friday World

Pilgrim Congregational Church
John 20:1-18
Living the Resurrection in a Good Friday World
Rev. Peggy O’Connor
March 27, 2016

Once again…Good morning and...have you heard? He is risen!...Risen indeed. Allelulia, Allelulia, Allelulia. SONG.

Easter is a joyful day for Christians. All around the world today our sisters and brothers in Christ are filling churches and rejoicing saying Allelulia, which means praise the Lord, as well as Thanks be to God! Christ is risen...He is risen indeed. And we do so with good reason. For Christ has risen from the grave. God has triumphed over death. Following humanities worst moment; despite the terrible actions of many; life rises from death; bursts forth from the sealed tomb; and forever changes us and the world. This is the Good News that we celebrate today.

Even our clothing celebrates today. Bright colors are brought of the closet...no matter the temperature. For some, hats are dusted off and worn with pride. This is a special day and we mark it in every way we can for we are the people of the resurrection. Sadly, our celebration does not last for long. In fact it is just one joyful day, which is a problem.  By relegating the Easter miracle of resurrection to a single day, we limit our ability to fully appreciate and absorb all that it means and all that it holds for us.

We treat Easter as we do Christmas...an event that ends when we go to bed. We enjoy it and move on. In our rush to say and sing Alleluia, we overlook the fact that Easter was not a daylong event.

If we turn to the Biblical accounts of the Easter event we see our error. There we learn that Jesus' followers did not understand what had happened for some time. The Bible always compresses time so it is hard to calculate the days, weeks, and months involved but we do see that they certainly did not get it right away.

They were confused and had to grapple with what was happening. The empty tomb...the linens folded and left behind...the angels...the gardener... these were the surprises of that first Easter...surprises that no one could understand. What did it mean that people saw him?  Who could say? No one knew which meant that they were all confused...frightened...overwhelmed... and those feelings guaranteed that they spent a lot of time talking and trying to figure things out together. 

But we think of them as, well them…the disciples and followers of Jesus. They had all the time in the world. Their lives and their world was very different from ours. We live busy lives…we don’t have the time they had. And, even if we do have time, we live in a violent world. Terrorism, drug epidemics, homelessness, black lives matter, Flint Michigan…these things and so many intrude and make our world seem overwhelming. Many live in fear for their lives daily…others live in fear because our media seems to specialize in fear mongering…sensational headlines make even natural events like storms seem like menacing evil that is just over the horizon…about to attack us. In such a world, how can we linger in the joy of Easter?

Well, let’s just think about this for a minute. Is our world so very different today? In Jesus' time the Roman occupation consumed the people with its onerous taxes, violence and repressive laws. People worked every day to have enough for that day. Life was hard. Death was never far.

Today terrorists try to define our realities with violence and destruction. So far this year there have been 231 violent attacks around the globe. The Brussels attack is the latest and sadly, we know it will not be the last. The insidious nature of terrorism, like that of the Roman Empire, is that it threatens to make us all victims…if not physically then emotionally and spiritually.

Today, just as on that first Easter, the struggle for the living is how to live as people of the resurrection when we live in a Good Friday world. Of course the people at the first Easter did not know what had happened and we do. That makes a difference. But our task is very similar to theirs. They were trying to figure out what the empty tomb and the sightings of Jesus meant. We are asked to figure out what the empty tomb and the risen Christ mean for us today. Of course it is a whole lot easier to sing today, have a nice meal with family, and then go back to our daily lives tomorrow than to immerse ourselves in these questions. But they are important questions made all the more important given that we do live in a Good Friday world, which threatens to consume our joy with its version of reality...a version of light, love, forgiveness, and joy with darkness and violence.

The only protection...antidote...vaccine for this dark violence is the resurrection. But, the question becomes, How do we live the resurrection when all we want to do is hide from the alternative?

Well we cannot do it alone. And thankfully we don't have to. We have each other to lean on and to help and we have the Bible to guide us. Specifically, we have the women who can show us the way.

First, we would do well to follow Mary Magdalene's lead and let the story activate our imaginations so that like Mary we become active participants in the story. When she saw that the stone had been moved she ran to tell Peter. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb...We don't know where they have laid him." Clearly Mary Magdalene was not alone at the tomb...she says WE don't know where they have laid him. In all of the other accounts Mary Magdalene is joined in her journey to the tomb by other women.  

They discover the empty tomb and Mary runs to tell Peter the bad news. She does not keep it to herself. She runs as fast as she can to share it. Perhaps we would do well to develop this habit of sharing our faith with one another, most especially when we are confused or unsure. What does this mean? How do I understand it? How am I to apply it to my life? These are not solitary questions. Even though they sound very personal they are for us to answer together.

Peter and the other disciple show us the alternative to Mary’s response to the empty tomb. The come running but are unable to make heads or tails out of what they see. They look in…one then the other…they go in…one and then the other…they look at one another…they scratch their heads…they fuss with their beards…and they go home. Isn’t this what we often do when we can’t figure things out? Do we ask for help? Do we admit we are stumped? Maybe…but more probably not. We shrug and then get back to the things we do understand…our tasks and meetings and committees.

As tempting as it is to leave the mystery of the empty tomb Mary stays.  It is confusing and makes no sense but she lingers. She weeps, we are told. Were they tears of grief and sorrow? Were they tears of fear and frustration? Perhaps they were both. But no matter her inner turmoil, Mary withstood the urge to go home.

The message for us is: Don't walk away when you don't understand or are confused or can't explain logically or scientifically what happened that day. Stay...wait...see what happens next. It is a risk. You may have to stay in the mystery for a while...or...maybe angels will appear.

Well that is what happened for Mary. She looked into the empty tomb except now there were two angels sitting there. They asked her why she was crying and she tells them that someone has taken Jesus' body away. Before they can respond Mary turns to look behind her. Perhaps she heard something? It is unclear. But when she turns she sees a man standing there. He asks her the same question...why are you weeping...and a new one...for whom are you looking? Sure that he is the gardener she asks if he has taken Jesus. If so she will go get the body herself.

Mary is brave isn't she? She confronts the empty tomb and sees angels and is not deterred. She is determined to find Jesus and to bring him back to the tomb. She wants to set things right. While her intent may be misguided the message this part of the story send is still…don't walk away...stay...see what happens...keep asking your questions. They may lead you to a place you have not even imagined.

We have all given up on somethings in our lives...well I know I have. And, if you are like me, you regret at least some of those moments and there are times when you wonder what would have happened if you hadn't given up. The job you gave up on...the job you took because the one you wanted didn't come through soon enough...the dream you nurtured for years but then let go of...the relationship you walked away from…the trip you thought you could not afford or for which you thought you could not afford the time…we all have had these experiences.

While there are things from which we must walk away for our own well-being…abusive situations in particular…today's passage encourages us to stay the course in matters of faith. Don't let life pull you away. Don't let your fears or doubt push you to move on. Stay and wait.

The last thing that we can learn from Mary this morning is to share the good news. Jesus tells her he is ascending to God soon and to go tell the others. Given Peter and the other disciples’ reactions to the empty tomb... silent examination, perhaps some head scratching, and a silent walk back home, I think we might have excused Mary if she had taken her time in sharing the news...or even if she had kept it to herself. But Mary goes directly back and announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord and she tells them what he said to her. Of course they do not believe her. Who would…who could? But that does not dissuade her. She continues talking about what happened.

We are meant to share the good news of the Resurrection, even though we cannot really explain it in any rational way. We are called to witness to the defeat of death that happened that day, even though it is beyond our understanding. We are meant to risk ridicule and our own self-consciousness and to proclaim the good news of this day.  

To drive the point home that we are to linger in the wonder, joy and mystery of Easter, the church designates every Sunday as a mini Easter. It is what we celebrate every week. Somehow that has gotten lost and we think we are just coming to church to worship God. Well we are…but it is because of the resurrection…and it to give thanks and praise for that act of love and forgiveness.

We come today to proclaim the resurrection…Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia! Even as the faithful then and the faithful now struggle to explain it. We believe it by faith and in faith we declare it…least it be lost.

I read a post on face book quoting a three year’s answer to what is Easter? The child said, “Jesus got dead and then he went back to California where he goes to school.” Cute…and perhaps not too alarming given that it was a 3 year old. But the responses from adults were alarming. They were full of laughter and encouragement…as if not knowing was the right answer.

If Mary, the disciples and the other followers of Jesus had not stuck around after that first Easter Christianity would never have been born. IF they had not kept the stories alive by telling them over and over again they and our faith would have been lost.  

Now it is our turn. If we don’t proclaim the story who will? So be unabashedly a Christian today…and tomorrow and next week. Tell the story for truly, just as it was the antidote to the hateful violence of the Roman Empire, it is the antidote to the violence of today.


Posted: Wednesday March 30, 2016