Sermons That Work

Let Us Prefer Nothing…, Easter Day (A) – 2002

March 31, 2002

Let us prefer nothing to the love of Christ;

And may he bring us all to everlasting life.

Brothers and sisters, we come together this Easter Day to celebrate. Christ is risen, and we affirm: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” We know that this is a happy day, a day to put on our best clothes, a day to plan a wonderful meal, a day to come to church with the whole family, a day to sing glad hymns. But the people we encounter at the tomb in today’s Gospel didn’t know that. They weren’t having springtime thoughts about flowers coming from the dead earth, or caterpillars turning into butterflies. The thought of eggshells cracking open for baby chicks, or of those prolific little bunnies as signs of new life, did not enter their minds. That’s because they were still in the middle of the story.

Mary Magdalene was the first one at the tomb that Sunday morning, according to the Gospel. It was dark when she arrived. She didn’t come to check and see if Jesus’ body was still there. She came, we can only suppose, to grieve. Probably she wasn’t sleeping well. After all, the whole world had come crashing down around her head. She had centered all her hope and trust and love in Jesus Christ, and now he had been cruelly executed. When she arrived at the tomb she found that the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away. Running to two of his friends, she said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Enter Peter and “the other disciple” into the story. (Most people think that this other disciple is John, since he is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved.”) Peter and John ran to the tomb. They saw the linens, and apparently had some notion about what had gone on, but all they did, at least in this Gospel (John), was go back home. We still don’t know a great deal about what their thoughts were, except that John, at least, “saw and believed.” Peter and John seem to have “cameo parts” in the story. It tells us much more about Mary Magdalene than about these two disciples.

After Peter and John had gone home, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. She still thought that someone had taken away the body, and she didn’t know where to find it. No wonder the angels asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She was asked the same question by Jesus, whom she at first took to be the gardener. She didn’t recognize Jesus, the very one she was looking for, because her mind was fixed on finding a dead body. Not until Jesus spoke to her, called her by name, did she know him. At last she had found her Lord. She had come to the tomb with grief in her heart, but her weeping had been turned into joy.

And now here we are, nearly 2,000 years later. We come to church today to celebrate the Resurrection. And, yes, we are dressed up and we are singing those glad hymns, and very probably we will have a good dinner in a little while. But really, aren’t we like Mary Magdalene in many ways? Don’t we, too, carry around a lifetime of grief in our souls? Perhaps it is the loss of loved ones that causes us grief. Perhaps it is the frustrations and disappointments we have suffered in our lives. Perhaps it is the weight of our own sins, the bad choices we have made in our lives. Perhaps we bear the wounds of pain inflicted by others. Perhaps physical ailments weigh us down. Yes, we believe that Christ is risen. We know we have cause for great joy this Easter Day. But the grief is there, too. However, like Mary, we have a Friend who understands, a Friend who calls us by name. Today, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we can put down our grief at the feet of Jesus, and when he calls our name, we can answer, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”

And finally, look at what Mary did next. Following the Lord’s command, she went to the disciples and said: “I have seen the Lord.” And she told them everything that Jesus had said to her.

We who gather in this place also see the Lord today. Do we recognize him? We hear him call us by name. Jesus is made known to us as we read the Holy Scriptures, as we receive the Body and Blood, and as we enjoy the presence of our brothers and sisters. And, like Mary, we are called to share with others the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. At the end of this liturgy, we will be dismissed to go forth. Perhaps we need a special form of the dismissal today: “Go in peace and tell the world that you have seen the Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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Christopher Sikkema