March 27, 2016 / EASTER: WHAT'S YOUR STORY? / Sara Wolbrecht / John 20:1-18
When I meet people, one of my favorite questions to ask them right off is: so, what’s your story? And some people kind of chuckle or get a little caught off guard unsure about how to respond. Some people start telling me about what they do, why they’re here, or their weird double-jointed elbows. And today – this Easter Sunday, my friends, this is my question for us, I wonder: what’s your story? What story are you living? (Beyond double-jointed elbows). We’re all living a story. A story about who we are, about how we see others and the world, a story about what we do with our gifts, passions, desires, hopes, our brokenness, pain, longing. A story about how we’ll leave a mark on this world and on others. A story about what we do with this one wild and precious life we’ve been given. (Especially if we weren’t sitting here on Easter, what would you say?).
What could you tell us about your story? Because no other day, quite like Easter, Resurrection Sunday, as we see the empty cross and abandoned tomb, no other day calls into question the story we are living quite like Easter. That’s why we began with that video – to be reminded that God’s story is our story – from Adam and Eve to Jonah and the prodigal son. But today, Resurrection Sunday, begs us to ask what it means that our story is a resurrection story. But first, get in touch with your own story – what story are you living?
How we’ll get into this is simply to dive into the story we’ve just heard read for us, John’s telling of the Easter story – for many of us the story is so familiar – if we grew up in the church then many an Easter craft of crosses and tombs and palm branches and Jesus is a white robe has been made by our hands. So I invite us to try to shake off some of that familiarity, and try and hear this with fresh ears.
Let’s walk through what we’ve heard: …You may have noticed there is a lot of running. Peter and John race to the tomb after Mary first races to tell them that the stone is rolled away – there is more running in these few verses than the rest of the gospels combined. John gets there first and peeks in, Peter, never one to think before he acts, goes in, there are the burial linens. Then John goes in, too, he sees and he believes (it says). Then they go home.
But Mary stays – standing outside the tomb, crying. Let’s step into Mary’s story together, and stand with her as she weeps. Join her there at the empty tomb. Think of someone you know, or have seen in the news, who has cried bitterly in the past week. I think of tears shed within our own community for the loss of a place to live, for surgeries, for heart-breaking decisions that have been made this week. In Brussels, tears cried after the bombings on Tuesday; the Ivory Coast on Wednesday. And yes, our own tears – for so many things. Bring all those folks to stand there with Mary, with us. …And then, when the moment is right, stoop down and look into the tomb itself. Be prepared for a surprise.
Because: angels. Where did the angels come from? They hadn’t been there a few moments before, when Peter and John had been inside the tomb. Or maybe they had been. Maybe sometimes you can only see angels through tears. Maybe. When people are afraid, angels tend to tell them not to be. When people are in tears, angels ask why. Why are you crying? they ask. What words come out of your mouth? Whoever you’ve brought with you to stand here, listen to them say it too. They have taken away… my home, my husband, my children, my rights, my job, my dignity, my hopes, my health, my life. For Mary, she says: they have taken away my master. Jesus was her rabbi, her friend.
Now as we stand with Mary and ponder her answer, and the answers the question would receive today from around the world – why are you crying? – turn around and see the strange figure who’s standing there. Who is he? What’s he doing?
And who does Mary think this man is? …Mary’s intuitive guess that he must be the gardener, was wrong at one level and right, deeply right, at another.
Because: here is one of those sneaky places where John, with one little detail, draws us out of the little story we’re reading, to remind us that this Easter morning moment all unfolds as a part of a much, much bigger story.
So what is happening here? What does John point us to? Well, the gardener, huh? Gardeners take care of gardens, right? Where else in the Bible is there a garden? (Think back to the beginning). In Genesis. In the story of creation. John draws us out to remind us that this is part of God’s story. And that God created this beautiful world and everything in it – and it was a garden – with plants and trees of every variety. With animals and mountains and rivers and seas. God’s good world, God’s creation – a garden. A garden given to humanity to tend to, for Adam and Eve to be the gardeners, the caretakers of this place. But we know that they did not stay long in the garden, and the good creation did not stay quite as good.
A lot of Christians at this point in telling God’s story may jump in and point out how the world is now an evil, sinful, corrupt place, and therefore we need to set our eyes on “eternity” and that the point of Easter is that it makes it possible for us to evacuate to another place called “heaven.” Somewhere up there. Many of us are really familiar with this idea. And some of us may even really believe that, too.
And yet, that’s not actually God’s story. This is not actually what the Bible says – at all. No talk of a mass evacuation off this planet when we die. Instead, throughout the Old Testament as the story of God’s people in God’s creation unfolds, there are prophecies, promises, visions of how God wants to restore all things. Here. God wants to work within this world to eliminate everything that corrupts and harms and distorts his beautiful creation, and make it new – kind of a big ol’ makeover. To be a place like the present earth we know but made new. That is what is actually promised and described in scripture. That God will move this world on a trajectory toward new creation. (You can read Isaiah 65 as one place to see that).
So for Mary to assume that Jesus is the gardener, is actually fabulously accurate in that on Easter morning, we do find ourselves in a garden once again. For this is now the New Creation. One of my favorite modern-day theologians N.T. Wright says it this way: In his death, Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation from coming into being. –N.T. Wright
This is it. This is the moment. Often called “history’s hinge,” Jesus’ resurrection is the moment that changed the story, that changed the world we live in. Which yes- means that the new creation, the restoration of all things has begun.
Let’s continue to stand with Mary. Did you notice Jesus’ question? He asks: who are you looking for? Or also translated, What are you looking for? (leave on screen) Which seems a straightforward question at first – she came looking for her friend, Jesus at his tomb, which really, shouldn’t be this complicated because a dead body should be where it’s supposed to be.
And yet – friends, as we consider together what story we are living, this is the question Jesus asks us, too. What are you looking for? In other words: (add to screen) How do you see this world? What are you looking for as you move about in your life? What do your eyes pick up, what do they miss? And underneath this question is the real question: (add third question to screen and leave) Can you make out the signs of New Creation?
Jesus is asking Mary – can you see the signs of New Creation? Are you looking for them? Because new creation is right here – literally standing right in front of Mary, and absolutely right here in front of us, too. Because: Resurrection insists that there’s a whole new world quietly exploding right here within this one. New creation is quietly exploding all around us.
Friends, this is the story that we’re invited to live. God’s story that insists that new creation is quietly exploding around us – and to choose to be people who look for it, seek it out, who even through our own tears can see the new life that is standing in front of us.
But here’s the hard part. New Creation is most often found in places of darkness and death. And can we just name that this is the part that sucks. Resurrection does not mean that everything is bright and shiny and easy and happy. It’s not that “everything is awesome”! all the time. We don’t just see the world as glitter and rainbows. The invitation is for us – like Mary – to go into the places of pain and grief. To be honest about our tears. To walk towards death in order to find new life, BELIEVING that there is new creation on the other side. Uuuuugh, really? Can’t we just skip over the death part? No. Jesus had said it again and again and he lived it, too - We die, and then rise.
And new creation, on one level, on one level we experience it as a very intimate, personal process – in that we let the possibilities of new creation be born in us, as we face addiction, perfectionism, our fear, anxiety, grief, all our broken bits – we let God into those personal places, so that they can die. Remember N.T. Wright’s words: In his death, Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power. We let all of the painful parts of ourselves get taken into Jesus’ death, too. The frustrations, the lost hope, the pain. They don’t have power over us! And new creation begins to explode.
New creation is also a communal process – this is also what we do together as community. We become a community that belongs together and finds ways to accompany each other through the hard, tender work of new creation – of dying and rising. We’re there to hold each other, to say “yeah, I’ve been through it too.”
And then together we also get to look for where new creation might explode in the world – into places of pain, suffering, need, death in our neighborhood, in our world, we see them, we choose to step into them together, we choose to live a story together where God is bringing about New Creation in us, and in all the places in the world where it is needed most. To be people who say, “Yeah, I’ve been through the dying, too, it sucks, but just wait until you see what comes in the morning.” That’s the story we’re invited to live as community.
And that has absolutely been our story for us here at Salt House. Friends, for those who have been around Salt House a while you know our story is a story of resurrection. This building was built in 1955 as Trinity Lutheran Church. And the good, God-loving people of Trinity courageously closed their doors after 58 years of life and ministry in this place. They walked into death. Death happened here, my friends. And Trinity donated this building to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church.
And out of death, we rise. (Old sanctuary picture). This was a picture from my first day on the job in August, 2014. Then, there were some renovations, some sweat and dreaming and prayer. Some meals and building community. And then on March 29, 2015, we flung wide the doors at Salt House – our first service. One year ago! And today we celebrate one year of life together here. We celebrate the new life that has exploded here in this building and in us. The laughter, the tears, the moments of honesty and confession and standing together in who we are before God. The connections and sparks of new friendship. The eight months of reading Mark’s gospel! The learning, the listening, the aha’s, the singing, the praying, the giving of our time and money in ways that impact the world. Oh and the eating. We’ve had some 25 dinners together around the table. And we’ve experienced together how good and sacred things happen when we eat together.
I give thanks to God that the people of Trinity Lutheran, when Jesus asked: what are you looking for? They said, through their own tears: we’re looking for new creation! I don’t know if I could have been as brave as they were, or as open to what God could do in this place if they let it go.
And this year, oh we have seen how God has a way of surprising us – like Mary, surprised by Jesus the gardener. One of the great surprises for us is seeing what God is doing with our 3000 unused square feet of concrete and drywall in our basement. And what can God do with an unused basement? God can use it to provide day shelter and internet and fun toys and a kitchen with warm food and clean laundry for homeless families. One year ago, we didn’t have eyes yet to see what new creation might be. We didn’t see that one coming! But now we do see what can be – the new creation, a day shelter for homeless families will open in our basement this fall. That is new creation! And we get to see how we’ll continue to be a part of it, together.
Friends! I am so thankful for what the last year has been for us, together. For you, for so much hard work, for people stepping up to serve, pray, cook, paint, invest in others. ON this first anniversary of ours, iI must say that it is my great joy to be your pastor and to see what God is doing in this place – and most of all, to see what God is doing IN YOU. New creation is exploding within us, and around us. Can we just take a moment clap, cheer, give thanks to God for the new creation here at Salt House? Yes.
As we close this time, we come back to standing with Mary at the tomb. And we ask ourselves: what story are we living? For God’s story is our resurrection story. Which means we stand today – and everyday – with our feet on the good soil of new creation. We stand in the story, God’s story, of love poured out unto death, of forgiveness extended to all, of tears that turn into delight, of grief that is redeemed into joy, of death that has lost its sting for Jesus has triumphed once and for all. Are you looking for it? Can you make out new creation through your own tears? For together, in resurrection, this is where we live our story – what will you do with this one wild and precious life? Let’s look for resurrection: for Christ is risen! (Indeed!)