The Resurrection of Our Lord
John 20:1-18

I cannot tell you how good it is to hear the statements of faith by members of PAUMC shared by video at the beginning of today’s worship service. The people (and pets) have spoken: “Christ is risen. Alleluia!”

If we were worshipping together in our Sanctuary this morning, given all that we have been through these past few weeks, I would have likely asked you to stand and declare it again and again. Shout it to the rafters: “Christ our Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

And I’m guessing that it might have more meaning now than ever – the hope of recovery and new life springing forth after so much anxiety, vulnerability, weakness, pain, fear, thousands and thousands of tears, amid the grief and loss, staggering statistics around death and diagnoses.

I don’t think it is possible to watch bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks and see multiple members of a single family dying – young and old and in-between – and not be grateful for life, faith, and someone that loves you.

Amid all of the social isolation, social distancing, face masks, rubber gloves, learning how to do all things new, figuring things out come what may – and even though we are not out of the woods yet – arises the very hope that some way, somehow, we shall rise up out of this mess, this darkness, this pit of hell, emptiness, sorrow, and unknowing. It gives us hope that God is still with us and we shall land on our feet someday.

That’s what we celebrate today wherever we are. No building can hold God’s message of love for us. No city, town, cathedral, St. Peter’s Basilica, plague or virus, nor storm in the midnight can trample out the testimony that Christ our Lord is risen.

I’ve been thinking about it. As we have been experiencing a global pandemic, I am willing to say that around the globe, in every nation upon the earth, in every language possible, people are declaring this same sweet refrain. The Pope is saying it in Rome. Family and friends are shouting it in India, England, France, China, the Philippines, South Africa, Ghana and Guyana, the Caribbean, South Korea, China, Japan and all the places where we were born and held, nurtured and loved. They are declaring the same good news: “He is risen. Alleluia!”

And there is something about a repeated message. Just like news reporters and journalists, the governor and politicians understand that they must keep repeating the same message over and over so that it might sink in and we grasp the enormity of it. We too must also repeat our witness.

When we hear something over and over and over – whether good or bad – it becomes embedded in our mind. And after a while it begins to find a home there. It becomes the dominant voice telling us who we are, what we believe, and instructs us on how to behave.

And oh, how we need to get the messaging right. In these dark times, the world is asking: “Is there a word from the Lord? Where is God? What is God doing?” The church must respond: “Yes there is a word! Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

The gospel writers were pretty dramatic about it. They tell this story that is larger than life. It is grand, ubiquitous and miraculous. It is “other.”

This is the way they tell it: just a few days before the resurrection, after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, after sitting at table in the upper room, after the arrest in Gethsemane, the disappointments, betrayal, and denial, Jesus was seen hanging on a cross. And he stayed there suffering and dying in guilt and shame that was not his own.

They describe a crisis in the land. The hearts of the people were aching. They were disillusioned and afraid. Death was everywhere. Nobody could figure out where this thing was going or what would happen next.

And around mid-day as Jesus, worn out by so much suffering he could take it no longer, breathed his final breath. The writers say that the sun refused to shine and darkness covered the earth for 3 long hours.

The earth shook and rocks split. Tombs were opened and some of the saints got up out of the grave.

I mean, come on!

They tell us that the veil in the temple was torn in two. The curtain, the barrier, the symbol of separation that had kept people out and distanced from God was ripped apart. The high priest was no longer necessary. All would now have access, equal access to the throne of grace.

Now, I wasn’t there. I’m not a scientist nor a psychic. I don’t study rocks, and earthquakes. I can’t debate the details or tell you how or even if things occurred as described.

But here’s what I will say: something happened. Something happened that changed the world forever.

Something happened and I believe that enough of it is true. I know that new life can emerge out of darkness, after death, after emptiness, after despair, confusion, and hate.

And perhaps new life is calling to us right now; new patterns of being and engagement with one another. New truths where we acknowledge that we are not so invincible or so independent after all.

Maybe it really doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom as long as everyone is consensual because when we are hungry, broken, and tired it doesn’t matter whose hand reaches out to help. All loving hands look alike. All kind acts of healing love are the same to those who receive.

Perhaps it is time for us to dream new dreams, learn something new. Maybe it is possible to slow down a bit, spend quality time with our partners, spouses, and children – really see them, listen to them. Perhaps it is time to grow weary of television, Netflix and Hulu, so that we can open a book and remember the joy of reading or meditating for a while.

Perhaps we should look again at the kind of political systems that killed Jesus and the kinds that are still killing people today and maybe we say, “Yes, we can do something about it!” Health disparities are wrong. Poor people should not die unnecessarily.

Piety, religion, comings and goings to the church building without some alignment to the pains of our neighbor is not Christianity at all.

Perhaps we can agree this morning that Resurrection may not be automatic, but it is possible. And I want to be resurrected, how about you? I’m not planning to go back to the same old things when the pandemic is over. I am more determined than ever to rise out of everything that has been killing me and to be a freer agent of grace in the world. I’m not believing anybody’s witness or testimony more than this next story.

It was early in the morning. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb while it was still dark. I’m guessing her mind, body, and spirit were weighed down. She is well aware that there is a stumbling block in her way. There is some large, impenetrable stone at the entrance of the tomb keeping her from what she loves.

But she went on anyhow. Sometimes, we have to go on anyhow. We have to find the courage, faith, and sweet resolve to go on.

And lo, when she arrives at the entrance, the barrier that was in the way had been moved. How did it happen? I don’t know. But I believe that it did.

In the end, she is alone in her tears after Peter and John have come looking. She is alone when she encounters Jesus and meets him for herself. She is alone when he calls her name as he calls all our names. She is alone but not alone ever again.

And then she is off again to tell the story: I have seen the Lord! I have seen him for myself! I have seen and I know that love is real; his love is true. Christ is alive! This too is our witness, our testimony.

I have seen him. Jesus is alive and lives within me with power over life and death. This is our blessed home, come what may.