April 16, 2017 / RESURRECTION / Sara Wolbrecht / John 20:1-18
Easter morning, for us, is about returning to the story. Jesus’ story. About stepping into it as if we’re there, smelling the scent of damp earth, waiting for the sun to rise, feeling the sense that the darkness of night is just beginning to lift as the sunlight begins to glow in the east. Moving with Mary, first in her grief to Jesus’ grave. Then running with her, frantically to find Simon Peter and John. Joining John and Peter in their wonder and confusion as they race to the tomb. And to hold with Mary and John and Peter, not only what is happening this first Easter morning, but also the weight of all that had happened in the last three years with their rabbi Jesus, let alone the last week, as the King who rode into Jerusalem, with shouts of Hosanna, so quickly became the one to whom those same crowds cried, crucify!
We step into all of it, marveling at the details of the story, trying to hear something fresh in what for many of us is a likely a story we still envision in cartoon form from the pictures of our childhood bibles. It is so familiar to many of us. And so we come to the empty tomb listening for how this moment in history still speaks to our lives today, this moment when the world turned upside down.
So are you up for it? Are you willing to listen together to what God might nudge us with from this amazing yet familiar story of resurrection?
Awesome. To pave the way, first, let’s review where we have been as a community here at Salt House over the last six weeks (and catch you up if you’re a guest). For the season of Lent, we experienced various prayer practices, and we returned to an image, a posture for us to hold, that we imitate from a moment during the Last Supper. It is said that during the meal, John, reclined against Jesus and it is believed that in that moment John heard the heartbeat of God.
John becomes an image of the practice of listening. Listening for the heartbeat of God. Listening for the beat of the sacred deep within ourselves and one another, and deep within the body of the earth. So we become people who at our best, live 24/7 with a special kind of stethoscope, listening for that heartbeat of God. Which means today, we listen for the heartbeat of God in resurrection. In Jesus’ story of a cross and empty tomb.
So let’s dive in. To place ourselves in the story, where we’re headed is to Mary. Though Simon Peter and John cause a lot of commotion – the real heroine and central figure in John’s telling of Easter, is Mary. Who heads to the tomb alone, who after the flurry of response from Peter and John (who run off), Mary stays – outside the tomb, crying.
Let’s step into the story with Mary together, and sit with her as she weeps. Join her there at the empty tomb – in tears. …And then, when the moment is right, stoop down and look into the tomb itself. And watch 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, throughout scripture, angels tend to tell them not to be. When people are in tears, notice: angels ask why. Why are you crying? they ask. She cries because, as she says: they have taken away my master. Jesus was her rabbi, her friend.
Now as we stand with Mary and ponder her answer– turn around and see the strange figure who’s standing there. Who is he? What’s he doing?
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? Zoom out with me to the 30,000 foot view. 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 – given to humanity to tend to. 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 narrative. And some of us may even really believe that, too.
And yet, that’s not actually the Jesus 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. John is making the point that: on this side of resurrection, 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 it begins. At resurrection. Often called “history’s hinge,” Jesus’ resurrection is the moment that changed the story, that changed the world we live in to now be on the trajectory of restoration. The world turned upside down.
And it really is the turning upside down of everything. I want to take this from the cosmic level to zoom back to the personal where we started, to see how resurrection turns our lives upside down, messes with us in beautiful and surprising ways.
Now, remember your response to the question we asked earlier: when is a time you felt or said: God is good! Think of those times. Really, we’re asking, when was a time you felt the heartbeat of God, right? An experience of the goodness of the sacred. I’d guess those were times when things were going pretty well, right? We tend to say: Life is good! when we’re feeling good.
So here’s where the upside-down part comes in. Resurrection turns the world upside down by declaring that the heartbeat of God does not just beat when we feel good. Or when we’ve succeeded, rocked it as a parent or friend or partner. The heartbeat of God is not only there in times when we have visible blessings (#blessed). Not just when we are moved by love and gratitude and everything is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
Resurrection tells us the heartbeat of God finds us, and finds us not only when things are good, but God finds us on our own Good Fridays. When have you had Good Friday moments in your life? When we, like Mary, have stood broken hearted in death, and walked to the tomb of that which we’ve lost. When we have been wronged by a friend. When we are in grief and loss. When our dream seems to have no hope. When we’re overwhelmed by the suffering in the world. When we can’t pay the bills. When the cancer won’t quit. When we feel alone, weak, vulnerable, suffering. When we’ve failed. All of these Good Friday moments in our lives…The heartbeat of God finds us – like Jesus found Mary – to say, yes, even then, in those times, God is here.
So how do we respond to knowing that because of new creation, God is there in our Good Friday moments? Well, I hate to tell you, but it means we actually choose to walk toward those times. With courage we enter into the darkness and we do not run in other direction. Which may cause you to stop and ask: I’m sorry, what? Why, why do we walk toward our Good Friday moments? N.T. Wright says it this way:
“I am convinced that when we bring our griefs and sorrows within the story of God's own grief and sorrow, and allow them to be held there, God is able to bring healing to us and new possibilities to our lives. That is, of course, what Good Friday and Easter are all about.”
― N.T. Wright, Christians at the Cross
We counter-intuitively move toward the darkness in our lives, our grief and sorrows, and bring them within the story of God’s own grief and sorrow – to Jesus’ tomb, not only to sit with Mary in her tears, but to actually cry our own tears of grief and anger. And it is there, like Mary who is greeted by Jesus himself, we are met with healing and new possibilities. The technical term for this is, of course, resurrection. Our video named it as The Risen Way. We walk toward Good Friday moments, knowing that something will rise on the other side. This is living in a world turned upside down.
In light of all of this, I invite you to find your heartbeat – something we’ve done throughout Lent, grounding ourselves in our bodies and in this rhythm of God. Having named all this we turn to why this matters for us, and what we can do about it today. Stay in touch with your heartbeat as we ask two questions.
To get at our first question, come back to a time when you have felt or said: God is good! I wonder if even though it may have been a time when things were good, I wonder if maybe it was after you lived through a Good Friday moment. That to get to the good, first there was grief and sorrow. The longer we live the more deeply we recognize how the greatest moments of joy, love, meaning, will so often come quick on the heels of our sorrow. Right? Because that’s how resurrection works. Has this been true for you? That those “God is good!” moments of life have been on the other side of grief? It has for me.
And you know what? Those times in our lives? That is resurrection. The years of therapy that lead to a better marriage? Yeah, death and resurrection. The other side of cancer treatment? Death and resurrection. Moving to a new place and doing all the awkward work to find community and make it your home? Death and resurrection. All the ways we live through transition – death and resurrection. Let’s call it what it is. And it is vital for us to remember those times in our stories – even though they may have left us bruised, broken, even ashamed for what we lived through – we claim them as resurrection for the healing on the other side. We celebrate that we were found by the heartbeat of God on Good Friday, that pulled us through our sorrow into resurrection. You have those stories!
My favorite story of resurrection in my life is hands down our story here, at Salt House. It is so fitting really that our first worship service was on Palm Sunday (during Holy Week). Two years ago now – happy birthday. Two years old! It’s good to be a toddler. But we are only here today as a people who belong to each other because death happened here.
Friends, for those who have been around Salt House you know our story is a story of death and 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 across town. They gave it all away, letting it die so something new could rise up.
And out of death, we rise. There were renovations, and sweat and dreaming and prayer. Meals and building community. Then two years ago we flung wide our doors at Salt House.
Since then, not only have y’all by the grace of God created this collaboratively together – this thing that we are together, that happens on Sundays, and in the ways in which we eat together, and the ways in which teams of folks are gathering to grow together and serve together. We also said our unanimous YES to God to our unused, unfinished basement becoming a day center for families experiencing homelessness – talk about resurrection, yes?
And new life literally rising up out of the soil in our community garden. And the new life that will rise up in the yes we said to God to selling the northwest corner of our property. To become a 24-hour home for families and women who urgently need somewhere to sleep, eat, shower, be safe, receive help and care. Death happened here. Grief and sorrow – Good Friday at its cruelest, that was carried to the tomb and held in the story of God’s grief and sorrow and we get to live on this side of resurrection, my friends. This is new creation! And we get to see what God will continue to do, together. Isn’t that remarkable?
So the first question we hold alongside our heartbeats is the question of resurrection already – when has the something new risen up out of the sorrow in your story? Can you think of a story of resurrection in your own life? (Hand) I challenge you – your mission if you choose to accept it – to talk about your story later today as you gather over brunch or with family to celebrate Easter – actually tell someone, today, your story of resurrection. Are you up for that challenge?
The second question we end with is the question we need to ask every Good Friday and Easter in some form. Still in touch with that heartbeat, grounded, we come back to stand with Mary at the tomb and hear the angel’s question asked of us: why are you crying? My friends, for what do you cry? What grief or sorrow do you need to hold at the tomb? What big or small Good Friday is fresh for you, or you have lived in for a while? I think of tears shed within our own community for the loss of a place to live, for surgeries, for trouble in the family, for infertility, heart-breaking decisions that have been made this week. Tears shed for Syria, for bombs dropped in Afghanistan. So many tears. Easter morning, as we celebrate the promise of resurrection in our world and in our lives, we must ask ourselves this question – and only you can answer it.
And I get it. It’s hard to be present in what we’re actually feeling. I like avoiding pain as much as the next person. But bringing our griefs and sorrows within the story of God – Jesus’ cross and resurrection tells us, here, here in the pain is the heartbeat of God. Here, in one betrayed by a dearest friend. Here, where the holy one is made the fool. Here, in torture and a body broken. Here, in sacrifice. Here, in love poured out unto death.
For here, is a body broken and blood poured out for the healing of the whole world. A body that then rises from the dead to say in no uncertain terms that whatever sorrow we carry today – that is never the final word for our lives. Because we live on this side of resurrection.
So our second, final question – for what do you cry at the tomb today? Do you have a response? (Hands) I challenge you to also speak of it today – what is your Good Friday (add to screen with “resurrection already”): my Good Friday that you watch and wait for now? What grief and sorrow need to be held within God’s story – and name it to someone today. Two missions for you to tackle, over ham.
As the band comes back up, we finish by naming why this matters: here at Salt House we aim to be a school of love – looking to the life of Jesus to show us a pattern for how to love well – ourselves, others, God, our world as best we can. And being people who live the Risen Way, the pattern of walking into Good Friday moments, to find death and resurrection, listening for the heartbeat of God, this gives us access to the best possible life of love we can live. Connected to the source of love and resurrection, Jesus himself, we become people who ceaselessly believe that newness is possible. And to hope like that, you best believe that is what love looks like.
So my friends, in response to all of this I say to you: Christ is risen! (Indeed!) Let’s pray: