Alleluia!, Easter Day (C) - 2004

April 11, 2004

Note to the reader: The Easter Acclamation is to be used as a call and response "refrain" throughout the sermon, repeating it three times at the end.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Or is he?

Book after book, magazine article after magazine article, movie after movie, all try to tell us just who this Jesus was. Or, more properly, is! When to pin Jesus down as being this or being that is only to place him back into some kind of tomb. When we pretend that we know just who Jesus is, we simply domesticate him to be the person we need him to be and close him up in another tomb of our own making.

"The only excuse,"writes John Shea (The Challenge of Jesus, The Thomas More Press: 1975), "and a lame one at that, for another book on Jesus is that we are never quite through with him. When the last syllable of the last word about Jesus the Christ has been spoken, a small, balding man who until now has been silent, will say, ‘Just a moment, I….’After two thousand years people still journey to Jesus. They bring a vaunting ego and last year’s scar, one unruly hope and several debilitating fears, an unwanted joy and a hesitant heart—and ask Jesus what to make of it. We have only gradually become aware of the hook in Jesus’promise, ‘I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.’This not only means he will not go away, but that we cannot get rid of him! He continues to roll back the stone from the caves we entomb him in. It is only because Jesus insists on inserting himself into the thick of our plots that we insist on commenting on him." (Shea p. 11)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

So after forty days of Lent and the magnificent journey of Holy Week, it all seems to hinge on the actions of one woman; one previously crazy and insignificant woman; one woman, tradition holds, once possessed by evil spirits. A quintessential outsider, a powerless, and much maligned woman, the likes of which have been on parade all of Lent: the Samaritan Woman at the well, the Man Blind from Birth, Nicodemus, Martha, the confrontational housekeeper, the stinking Lazarus, and now Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene.

She leaves the house while it is still dark. That is, it is still Sabbath. Time to rest. But she who had always been restless until she met Jesus can rest no longer. He was the only person who had ever made her feel healed, healthy, and whole. When she was with Jesus all the demons seemed to vanish into thin air. So she had followed him and ministered to him, listened to him and watched him as he spread his Good News of God’s love for all people.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

So Mary Magdalene is the first to find the stone rolled away from the tomb. She runs to tell the others. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb! We do not know where he is?"Who is this "we?"Wasn’t she alone at the tomb in the still darkness of Sabbath morning? Are the demons back? Is it possible that she already knows that we who are reading her story are already with her wherever she goes? That we who come to eat and drink with him week in and week out on the first day of the week, that we are somehow inextricably linked with her so that wherever she goes we go, wherever she runs, we run, when her heart is racing, so is ours, because we, too, have been to the tomb in the darkness and can see that the stone has indeed been rolled away?

They run back. It is like a footrace. Peter and someone called "the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,"look like a couple of kids racing down the streets of Jerusalem, the City of Peace, the City of God’s Shalom. Their hearts and feet are racing! The other disciple outruns Peter. But then he puts on the brakes and does not go in. He sees linen cloths lying about, but stands back.

Peter, ever the impetuous one, goes in and sees the cloths, like swaddling cloths, lying all about. As he surveys the scene, the other disciple comes in, he sees and he believes.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

There is endless speculation as to who this other disciple whom Jesus loves might be. Some say John. Others say the Samaritan Woman at the well. Still others say it is whoever reads or hears this Gospel and also sees and believes. That is, the beloved disciple can be you or me. We don’t really know, except that as soon as we stepped closer to the communion rail and accepted the bread and the wine for the first time, we, too, began to see and believe. And once one eats of this bread and drinks of this cup, one cannot help but have the feeling in your heart that you are a disciple whom Jesus loves.

All this takes only a moment. Then the boys return to their respective homes.

Only Mary stays behind, all alone, weeping. She stoops to look in, and where before there had been nothing but swaddling cloths lying all around, there were now two angels asking her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

And as she blurts out her answer she turns and bumps into someone else who is also asking her,

"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?"Whom do I seek? Why am I weeping? Why is everyone asking me these questions? Who are those men in white in the tomb? Can’t any of them see what has happened? Oh, no, it’s the demons again! I’m losing my mind! "You’re the gardener—you tell me! Where have you put him? You should know, not me! You work here. You tell me. Whom do I seek? Why am I weeping? Why indeed!!"

Then it happens. He says one word.

"Mary."

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

She has heard this voice before. Only one person ever said her name in just this way. But it does not look like him. It cannot possibly be him. But suddenly her heart is racing again! It is about to leap out of her chest as she throws herself on the one she has supposed to be the gardener! Thank God I am not crazy after all. The demons are not coming back! And are never coming back. It is Jesus.

"Rabboni!" she cries as she embraces him.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

And for a moment it seems as if it is all in her hands, in her embrace. It appears as if she can hold it all back, keep him there, hold onto him forever and ever, when he says,

"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father, my father and your father, my God and your God. Go and tell the others."

And with that, she is given a new task. And our text simply says,

"She went and told the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’and she told them all the things he had said to her."

It took courage for Mary to go back to the tomb. It took even more courage for her to let go of Jesus. But in doing so, she gives birth to the Church. By her witness, by her testimony, the history of the world is changed, made new, transformed. Her words to his friends are the first Easter sermon ever preached! Because of her testimony, we are here today! Mary continues to run through the ages to this very day, gathering us all to be a community of his people, his beloved disciples.

Like those first disciples she calls, we all race to the tomb and stoop over to see for ourselves. Like Peter, Mary and the beloved disciple, we do not all see the same things, we do not hear the same voices. Except the one voice that calls us each by name.

He calls us today. He calls us by name. He calls us to be his beloved disciples. He calls us to follow him so that we may do something beautiful with our lives and bear much fruit.

Like Mary, he also calls us to let go of him. We can shut him up in tombs of our own making, or we can be like Mary and let go and go and tell others about our Risen Lord. In letting go, like Mary, we will find that we are more fully embraced by him, by his love and by his God than we could ever imagine.

And like the people who were changed by her words, others lives will be changed by ours. We are never quite done with Jesus. And thank God, he is never quite done with us!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

And so are we. And so are we!

Amen

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Contact:
Christopher Sikkema