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April 8, 2012—Easter Sunday
As people of the book, we believe in the power of stories. We have experienced the power of transformative stories in lent, as we talked about the cross, and as the cross became personal for many of us. We heard Jay Burkholder talk about the experience of making this cross, which showed up unexpectedly last week. We heard Ken White talk about the cross, with its embracing arms. Katie Ernst described the cross as a reminder of God’s familiarity with our pain—but she did not let God off the hook. She lingered with many doubts about God and God’s power.
Lent was a time for us to reflect on the cross, examine its meaning in our story. But, thankfully, with the stripping of the table and its new symbols in place, lent is over, and we are reminded that this story does not end with the cross. The cross was the confusing, low point in the story. Today, and for the next 50 days of Eastertide, we celebrate the empty tomb. We celebrate the resurrected Christ.
How do we get from the cross to the resurrection? I wish it were as easy as just switching around a few symbols. How do we get from death to life, from abandonment to hope? It’s hard to switch gears, to move from the reflective and the penitential to the rejoicing, praising, and boisterous song singing that we rightly do today.
In our story from the gospel of John, three characters made the transition—from the cross to the resurrection—in three very different ways. Mary came to the tomb early that morning to pay her respects, and when she discovered the tomb was empty, she ran to tell the other disciples. Later, after she returned to the tomb with two of the disciples, Mary sat by the Jesus’ grave, crying. When Jesus came to her, she didn’t even recognize him, until he called her by name. “Mary!” And then the a-ha moment, the moment of realization and recognition. “Rabbi!”
Peter and the other disciple, the disciple Jesus loved, heard the news from Mary and ran to the tomb. The other disciple got there first, but didn’t enter the tomb. When Peter arrived, he walked fearlessly into the tomb, saw the funeral clothing askew, but we don’t know what he thought about it. The other disciple came in after Peter, surveyed the scene and understood and believed immediately.
We don’t know what Peter thought when he surveyed the resurrection scene. But the other disciple understood—his eyes opened to the new reality. And Mary—her response was to assume that someone has taken away the body of Jesus. But it took Jesus calling her name for Mary to understand what had really happened.
I wonder what made it so easy for the beloved disciple to so readily believe, what made it so difficult for Mary, and I wonder why we have no response from Peter. Why such different reactions from these three disciples?
All throughout the gospel of John, Jesus encountered people that were at different places in their faith journeys. Nicodemus, that rich leader that came to Jesus in the night, had many questions for Jesus about what it meant to be born again. But Jesus did not judge Nicodemus. Jesus knew how hard it was for him. Jesus was simply present, explaining his presence, his light, in the world.
Later in John 20, Thomas told his fellow disciples “Unless I see the mark of his nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And Jesus did not judge. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” There was no judgment there. Jesus met Thomas in his disbelief, and called him to belief, in whatever way Thomas could get there. Even if it meant that Thomas would put his hand in Jesus’ wounds.
All throughout the gospel of John, we meet characters that believe and do not, folks that find it easy to follow Jesus and believe his claims, and those that find it very difficult. And for all those that were truly seeking, really trying to understand, to believe, and to follow, Jesus showed compassion.
Jesus saved his venom for those that were sure they knew the truth, those that had made the law their idol, those that lacked compassion. Jesus saved his outrage, anger and vitriol for the religious leaders who had lost sight of belief in favor of perfection, in favor of the law.
But for Mary, Jesus saw her confusion, her disbelief, and he called her by name. Disbelieving Mary, unsure Mary—she was the one who was called to tell the disciples the good news. She was the first person that day to really see Jesus.
And for Peter who—for once—was silent, Jesus gave Peter a most important role. Peter became the rock of the church. The church was built on the denial of Peter, the questions and confusion of Peter, this loud and impulsive disciple.
So often, I long to be that disciple that Jesus loved, the one that came to the tomb, saw Jesus’ burial gowns eschew, and got it. I wish it were that easy for me. I wish I didn’t have the questions of Mary, the doubts of Thomas, and the silence of Peter. I wish I looked at the world every day and saw the resurrection, and saw the transforming power of God breaking into our world. Some days all I see is the cross, the brokenness of the world. And some days that is where the story of Jesus’ life ends for me.
I am encouraged today to know that God does not judge our unbelief, that God is not discouraged by our questions. Instead God keeps calling us and working with us. And according to this story, the more our unbelief, the more opportunities we have to serve, to follow, to be called.
Today we celebrate the resurrection—we rejoice that death could not hold Jesus in the cold tomb. Today we sing, and rightly so—Christ is alive, Up from the grave he arose, Lift your Glad voices in triumph on high. We sing because we believe in the resurrection. We sing, even though we have doubts. We sing and pray, through our questions, our wondering, our silence. And God honors that.
Blessed are you, people of the resurrection. Blessed are you in your doubts and questions, in your misgivings and confusion. Blessed are you, people of the resurrection. For in your doubts, God calls you by name. In your silence, God works with you. In your belief, God rejoices. Blessed are you, people of the resurrection. Rejoice and be glad! You are being transformed by this story! Christ is alive, and God will reveal God’s self to you, in your belief and in your unbelief. AMEN.
What can I do?