Sermons That Work

I Have Seen the Lord!, Easter Day (B) – 2006

April 16, 2006

The Light has burst through the darkness. The long night is over. The poet John Masefield cries with us,

Oh glory of the lighted mind.
How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind!

We have walked in sorrow since Thursday night. We were lost. Now light breaks forth and joy visits our minds. We are no longer lost. We blink at the Light, but we are suspicious of sudden joy. After so much sadness, after the loss of hope, joy is a surprise beyond imagining. We blink again, not believing the evidence of our eyes, thinking, We must be dreaming.

Imagine for a moment what it is to be a child again. You look around for your parents and fear grips you. You start crying and someone asks: Why are you weeping?

You answer:
I am weeping because I have lost my mother and my father. I have lost my anchor. I have lost everything that held me firm on the earth.
But there is your mother stretching out her hand to take yours as she says, Come with me, my child You are safe now. And then you hear your father saying, Do not be afraid.

This is what this sudden joy after so much sorrow feels like. Still we are not persuaded.

We had accepted the end. Now our eyes tell us that it was not the end, something else was happening. Is somebody interfering with our reality? We hear the cry, Don’t give me any false hopes! and recognize our own voice crying.

As we contemplate resurrection, different voices and answers come at us from all directions. They usually begin like this: “The scholars tell us …” for the current trend is to offer explanation and analysis. The skeptics agree: No one can return from death; no one has returned from death. What you see is a vision. The longing of the heart is so great that the mind sees what it wants to see. On and on come the explanations. “The scholars tell us …”

But here comes Mary of Magdala. Let us listen to her words on the resurrection; she was an eye-witness after all. We imagine her answers:

“This is what I too thought at first. That he was the gardener. That he was a vision. That my wounded, orphaned heart was making my eyes see what the heart longed for. But then I remembered that I had given up all hope. My tears were enough testament that I had accepted his death. My grief was as real as that dead body I had watched Joseph wrap in the clean linen. I had seen him being laid in the tomb. This, this is not what I expected. So don’t tell me it was a vision. Still, when I saw the empty tomb, everything inside me asked: Is it possible? Can it be possible?

“In the early morning stillness, a familiar, beloved voice calls my name and all doubts vanish. He knows my name as he knows me. I know his voice. I know that only he calls my name in this manner — with agapē, with knowledge, with assurance, as if calling me back from death, recalling me to life as he had done long ago when he dispelled the demons. ‘Mary!’ I turn to look at him and I cry out, ‘Rabbouni!’ Beloved teacher — as I used to do. I know who he is. This is not a vision, this is my beloved teacher and friend. My savior.”

And we who have also been called by name believe her. We may not know him as well as Mary knew him, but we are known by him. For the moment we respond exactly the way she did. We don’t want to lose him again because that will plunge us into darkness. And now that we have seen the light, we don’t want to be left in the dark, ever again. We join the psalmist as he asserts:

I shall not die but I shall live.
He will swallow up death forever.

It is the most hopeful thought. We prostrate ourselves before him and grasp at his robe, at his feet, to keep him near us. Do we hear him chuckle? “Don’t hold on to me now. When I go to my Father, I will be available to all of you.”

Mary understands immediately. She trusts him after death as she did before his death. She runs to the other disciples. “I have seen the Lord.”

A wonderfully simple statement. “I have seen the Lord.” She doesn’t describe him, she doesn’t defend her sight of him, she doesn’t analyze her feelings. “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me.”

Ah, if we could only learn to do the same. Peter did learn it. When he preached to a diverse group assembled by Cornelius, the heart of his message was this: “We are witnesses. . . [he appeared] to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Maybe he was remembering Mary’s words to him on that first Easter morning: “I have seen the Lord.”

Paul also heard the same words and repeated them in his own way, crying out: “Have I not seen the Lord?” and then, after reciting a litany of appearances, he affirms: “Last of all, he appeared also to me.”

What about us? This morning we have listened again to the resurrection story. We have sung glorious affirmations of the Day of Resurrection. We will partake of Holy Communion and will affirm our faith. Let us pray the longing of our hearts. Let us ask to feel, to know the Presence. So we too can say with Mary, “I have seen the Lord.” Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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