“What We See on Easter”

April 16, 2017


Colossians 3:1-4

John 20:1-18


“You have been raised with Christ,” Paul writes. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is.”

We need help to see that we have been raised with Christ.

And we get some help today.

We are given the brass of Easter to tune our hearts again to the music of God’s new creation; we are given the drums of Easter to wake us from our slumber and lethargy, that we might open our eyes to see the path ahead flooded with light and seek again the things that are above.

We are given the crowds of Easter to know that we are not alone so that we might encourage others. Easter always challenges the cozy feeling that we are somehow insiders to the grace of God. Easter welcomes outsiders. It announces to everyone standing on the edges of life—and that’s each of us in some way—that God’s love is for everyone.

So I’m always glad that there are some who come to worship only on this day—not that we wouldn’t rejoice to have you join with us next Sunday and every week. But by showing up on Easter, you remind us that God’s love and mercy are for all creation. You remind us that we are here not for ourselves but for the world beyond these walls.

Now, the skeptical among us—and that means so many of us here, doesn’t it—the skeptical among us might say, “Well, how can you say that we have been raised with Christ? I don’t feel ‘raised.’ And I see little evidence in this gathered assembly that the people here are ‘raised’ with Christ. Everyone and everything seems just as they always have been.”

Such an attitude actually puts us in a place to better understand the resurrection and our lives.

Remember what we heard from the Gospel of John.

“And Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”

Look at Mary Magdalene —and notice three things.

The first is perhaps the most obvious—she is crying.

It might be her tears that made it possible for many of us to come to worship on Easter. Maybe just knowing that someone else would share your own sorrow today, knowing that someone else would weep with you allowed you to overcome your reluctance and join us here this morning. Or maybe you were surprised and comforted to find that you were not alone in your sorrow today.

We cry for people in Syria and Egypt. We cry for victims of continuous violence and insatiable greed in our own country. Many come here after crying about family problems, trouble at work, worry from school, concerns about illness and death.

This is not something to regret or try to change. There are few places left outside of a sanctuary like this where we can bring our weary souls and find some rest. There are few places left outside of congregations like this where we can cry and know that our sorrow is accepted and honored.

Certainly there is joy on this day. Remember, though, that joy is not to be confused with being happy. Joy is an energy that often comes when things are grim or painful. Joy comes uninvited and at the most unexpected times.

There is a joy that is deeper than the good times and bad times that life hands out, stronger than our best attempts and worst failings—a joy that lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves, a peace that grasps us and returns us renewed.

It’s one way that people find the energy to move toward compassion and sharing and beating swords into plowshares. Joy is one of the ways that we move into new life.

Often enough joy is accompanied by sorrow. Often enough joy comes with tears.

Mary weeps. We weep. Yet even in our sorrow we see something of the joy of Easter that moves us into new life.

Mary is also confused.

She was one who followed Jesus. She followed the whole distance.

She was there when they crucified her Lord.

She was there when they nailed him to the tree.

She was there, no doubt, when they laid him in the tomb, for in the pre-dawn darkness she knows just where to go.

Mary goes back to the tomb because she knows that the tomb was where she would now find Jesus. No longer would he be among those who followed him—making their lives whole, showing them God’s forgiving love, announcing that God’s realm was breaking into this old world,  holding out hope that life could be different, the world could be different. No longer would they know his laughter, his tears, the touch of his hand, the sound of his voice. No longer would they feel the way they felt when he was with them—so alive.

Because now Jesus was dead—and the only way to be near a dead person is to return to the place where the person is buried.

But even in the dark it is clear that something is missing. The stone is rolled away and the meaning is clear—not faith, but uncertainty: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

This confusion is also close to our situation on Easter morning.

We come looking for something and often don’t find it.

Some come looking for positive “proof” of the resurrection, something we can hold onto when doubts plague us, when the fear of our own death nags at the back of our minds. Now, in this congregation we affirm that science and faith are not mutually exclusive. But we know that science can neither prove nor disprove what happened on that morning on the first day of the week.

Or maybe we’ve given up the search for anything new. We prowl around the tombs of our own lives, looking for old resentments, recalling past hurts, nursing grudges. Certainly there’s no life there. But better to be surrounded by those dead things that give a kind of comfort than to look for something that probably isn’t there anyway.

We don’t see what we want to see, we can’t touch what we want to touch.

Mary looks right at Jesus—and thinks she is talking to a gardener.

She looks right at the risen Christ—and thinks she is seeing someone who might know where the dead body of Jesus is. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Is it possible to look at the living Christ and to see someone else?

We do it all the time.

We look at the face of Christ but we see the face of someone we don’t think is as good as us.

We look at the face of Christ, but we see a teenager asking troubling questions.

We look at the face of Christ, but we see a parent or some other hopelessly out of date adult.

We look at the face of Christ, but we see refugees who we would turn away.

We look at the face of Christ, but we see the undeserving poor.

The Risen One is not always easily identified, but is present in a thousand faces.

Mary weeps. Mary is confused.

And here’s the thing that might be most hidden, most forgotten, and maybe most important.

Mary is a disciple.

Mary stayed with the dying Jesus. Mary is the first to encounter the risen Christ. Mary is the first to tell the good news of Easter resurrection to others. She—and other women as well—stand as equals with the men who followed Jesus.

Mary first, and then other women and men, proclaimed the incredible news that life has changed and it will never really be the same again. Human life and all of creation are not just new, but different.

And, yes, we are different. “You have been raised with Christ,” Paul wrote to the early Christians in Colossae. And as a result, we should “seek the things that are above.” Now, of course, Paul is not talking about being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. Instead, he invites us to look beyond what is readily apparent.

There is something greater than our own lives, something that transcends our everyday, predictable reality. And Easter invites us to stretch ourselves into that new reality—to stretch who we are and what we do.

We who have been raised with Christ will not be bound by old ways of thinking and acting and living. We will find new meaning and new purpose for life as we search for them through acts of compassion, mercy, and healing, in the continuing quest for justice and peace, in the creation of beauty, the pursuit of truth. And most likely we will be out of step with those who want the world to be as it once was, those who are clinging tightly to the way things are.

Our vision can be obscured.

And then Christ speaks your name.

Then Christ calls to each of us individually and all of us together:

            “Congregational United Church of Christ.”

You are called, we are all called by name by the God whose love is stronger than death, the God who is making a new creation. You are called, perhaps in spite of yourself, back to life in its abundant fullness. Your life—and how you live—is of great, even eternal, importance. You turn and find that you are in the presence of the living God.

It doesn’t make sense—that one who was dead should now be living; that the living One calls to you.

Yet this is just what is happening.

It doesn’t make sense—that new life is possible even after the worst tragedies.

Yet this is just what is happening.

The living Christ is free in the world, where we are called to follow. Christ is present in the poor and the afflicted, in every life that we would deem insignificant or unimportant. And this is the amazing thing: Christ is present even in you and me.

Seek the things that are above. You—yes, you—have been raised with Christ.