Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter - We Are Resurrection People!

That's a recurring theme in my sermons, that and the al-fedjr, the twilight before dawn. Fitting touch-points on this Easter, wouldn't you say?

Jeremiah 31:1-6
At that time, says the LORD, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the LORD: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God.”

Colossians 3:1-4
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.‘” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This is the Word of the Lord.

How easily we say the words, “Christ is risen.” How simple it is to acknowledge that the tomb is empty, that the Lord has conquered death, hell, and the grave, that we serve a risen Lord. Easy, because, all too often, it’s just words, isn’t it? We are Resurrection people, after all. We live in this reality, the reality that says Jesus “is,” not Jesus “was.” We are Resurrection people. We associate springtime with resurrection because it’s an integral part of our vocabulary.

We forget, all too easily, that there was a time when, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “only place springtime happen[ed]… [was] on the graves, not in them.”

Mary Magdalene wasn’t going to the tomb that morning to check the status of the body. She was going to the tomb because she was grieving. This was the place where she could get closest to the one person who had looked on her as if she were human, as if she were valuable, as if she, a woman, were equal. At least there, in the twilight before dawn, she could be close to him again, just on the other side of a stone, close enough to touch, really. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Do you see how it was? No one was thinking about Resurrection, not because of a lack of faith or because Jesus hadn’t told them again and again, but because it made no sense, it was dancing to architecture, it was painting with math, completely beyond comprehension.

Jesus was dead. End of story. All those years, all those miles traveled, the stories and parables and healings and dangers and triumphs and evenings in a group around a fire, everything, all of it, gone.

So Mary Magdalene walked toward the tomb in the darkness. But it wouldn’t be dark for long.

Oh, it wasn’t like someone turned on the floodlights and everyone instantly understood it, of course not. No one got it, not completely, for a long time. In Matthew’s Gospel, right before the verses we call the “Great Commission,” the disciples are in Galilee, on a mountain, and Jesus appears to them, right there, as real and present as this pulpit or that pew, and still we read, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” This is very likely long after all of the events the other Gospels fill in for us between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Well after they’d broken bread with Jesus. Long after Thomas had been invited to touch the wounds in Christ’s hands and side.

Is it any surprise that, when Mary Magdalene topped that hill and saw, as the sky slowly began its metamorphosis from darkness to dawn, that the stone was rolled away, that her first thought was not Resurrection but robbery?

Sure, Peter and John ran to the tomb, but it wasn’t to confirm that Christ had risen, was it? It was to try and figure out who had stolen the body and where they’d taken it. We’re told that John believed, but we don’t know what, exactly, he believed.

How easily we say the words, “Christ is risen.” How simple it is to acknowledge that the tomb is empty, that the Lord has conquered death, hell, and the grave, that we serve a risen Lord.

John and Peter have gone, “returned to their homes,” whatever that means, and Mary Magdalene is left alone, weeping, so brokenhearted at the double loss, not only of her beloved teacher’s life, but even of his body, that the appearance of angels at the tomb doesn’t even faze her! Of course she doesn’t recognize Jesus at first, standing right there in front of her! Jesus is dead, and someone has stolen his body. Someone has taken everything, literally everything, away from her!

What does it really mean to be Resurrection people?

Could it be that one instant – that moment when Jesus says, “Mary,” and she realizes – she knows – she finally understands? That burst of joy, that rush of raw, jaw-dropping excitement that drives her to embrace Jesus, even when such a thing is unheard of, that consummation of a hope she didn’t even realize she harbored?

I think it’s odd that the last time we hear from, or about, Mary Magdalene is when she goes to the disciples and tells them that she has seen Jesus, and relays what He told her to say. The disciples have their own Resurrection experience, of course, and their lives are changed by the inflowing Holy Spirit. The great Good News of God-With-Us, risen and triumphant, bursts upon the scene and never stops sprinting. But it is Peter, James and John, the other Apostles, and later Paul, who spur the horses, not Mary.

I don’t know the answer, but I have suspicions.

We are Resurrection people, but we live in a place that, all too often, feels much more like that dark path through the cemetery than anything else.

How easily we say the words, “Christ is risen.” How simple it is to acknowledge that the tomb is empty, that the Lord has conquered death, hell, and the grave, that we serve a risen Lord. And how hard it is to make those words more than just that – words.

We celebrate the Lord’s Supper this morning, in part because it serves as a point of reference, a reminder of the fact that, and I am quoting Romans 5:8, “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Perhaps the purpose of us leaving Mary Magdalene there, bursting with excitement, stumbling over her words with joy as she tells the disciples that Christ really is alive, is that, in a way, she serves as another point of reference: a reminder that we live in what the Arabic-speaking people call “al-fedjr,” the twilight that is just before the dawn.

Mary Magdalene is perhaps a reminder that we really are Resurrection people, and someday the dawn will break. Someday we, too, will turn in awestruck excitement, and see the Risen Lord, and he will call us, too, by name.


  1. You are the poster child for everything wrong with the idea of CLP's. I've been reading your tweets and browsing through here. You are unbelievably ill-equipped to teach since you appear to have no theological education whatsoever yourself. If nothing else, please stop tagging your posts with PC(USA). Our denomination has a history of honoring the sort of intellect that you do not appear to possess.

    P.S. Disavowing the doctrine of Transubstantiation does not equate with disavowing belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Please stop tweeting what you don't know. It hurts us all.

  2. Beautifully put, John. The dude with the above comment needs a laxative.

  3. Dear cowardly anonymous commenter: The only one discrediting the PCUSA here is you. There are plenty of us who appreciate John's preaching. I have known plenty of MDivs and DMins unable to construct a coherent or meaningful sermon. If you don't like what John has to say, nobody is forcing you to read him.

  4. The Scots also call the al-fedjr 'the gloaming' and it has all the mysterious attributes that you infer. Celtic Christians would use that special time of day to spiritually reconnect with God - a resurrection of the spirit.

    I also drew a picture of the Empty Tomb this Easter. You can view it at the following link:

    Thanks for the message

  5. This is to THE (Anonymous Coward)

    You must not have been following John on twitter o his blog very long. Your obvious ignorance is a testament to that fact.

    Had you been following him awhile you would have seen him asking people for input on his sermons prior to delivering them and earnestly engaging constructive and honest critique to adapt his material so it is as close to truth, Christ, and love as possible.

    Had you followed him long enough you would have seen his orthodoxy and orthopraxy that exhibits and honest soul with character, education, and integrity.

    I have followed and known John for a year. He stood by me through text message while I sat in an ER hundreds of miles away from him alone and scared.

    I have seen him pray for those who no one else would pray for and demand we hold to the same standard of love and character.

    He is the poster child of what is right in the PC(USA). Though he and I have disagreed on some matters, we both find common ground seeped in Christ like love in accordance with the Greatest Commandment and Great Commission that I can truly call him brother, friend, and sometimes mentor.

    I am not PC(USA), but because of him and others like him in the Chicago area I have a deep and abiding respect for the PC(USA).

    I have little to no respect for those who hide in judgmental shadows behind the false bravado accorded through the internet. I hope that you reflect, repent, and learn from John.

    Here is the irony, had you expressed your concerns with him honestly and openly and with dignity and respect, you likely would have had a great conversation and made a friend.

    See? When John and I disagree, I know that it is often because of his high standards and deep regard for Jesus, God, scripture, and people. What are your standards and what do you regard? If it is any of these things, you could have a friend in John, but you instead choose to live in the shadows of being right as opposed to righteous.

    I love you, John.

    -Pat Green

  6. I say let the haters hate and lovers love. Not worth fighting someone who won't reveal himself.

  7. I stumbled across your blog recently and enjoyed reading your post. So, I added you to my blog list so I can keep up with you now. Having had too much caffeine and having tired of reading polity for a class :), I just read this post.

    I found it engaging and thought-provoking.

    This sentence resonated with me most of all: "We are Resurrection people, but we live in a place that, all too often, feels much more like that dark path through the cemetery than anything else."

    That's a powerful sentence. Many would not even venture to recognize the darkness. Thanks for reminding us of truth. Darkness isn't always a bad place to be.... as we journey through it, light can shine more brightly to us than when we're fully surrounded by light.

    Having been through several waiting periods in my life that seemingly always include darkness, I appreciate the thought on darkness.

    And, for some reason, Easter Sunday was a paradox for me as I felt like I was walking in darkness as I celebrated the light.

    debra dickerson

  8. Thanks for all the great comments folks. I'm a better exegete/preacher because of them.

  9. John,

    As a recovering Atheist/non-christian/wandering soul I love your posts. I have a hard time reconciling a lot of Christian teachings but your sermons help me understand a bit more. And your twitter ALWAYS keeps me entertained! Thank you!

  10. To "the". You are the reason persons turn away from the church. You and your pompous judgement/ finger wagging. A lot of fancy words and condemnation from someone too cowardly to give a name.

    Well, "the", I know nothing about your theology nor do I care. I do remember that little someone saying something about " Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone "