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Faith United Methodist Church

April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: John 20:1-18

Prayer of Illumination:

Holy One, we worship you today knowing that we are your Easter people. We read the story again and marvel at the sight of your rising Son. Help us reflect the light of Christ that others might see and give glory to you, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon:                                          A New Home

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! We are the people of the Good News and this is a day of very Good News. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

That first Easter, though, didn’t start out as a day of good news. Just a couple days before Jesus was crucified on a cross. The hope of the world had been executed, given a criminal’s death. To Jesus’ followers it certainly seemed like the end. Their hopes had been dashed, their dreams ruined. Defeated, the disciples left Jesus and went back to their homes ~ back to what they had known before Jesus ~ perhaps with the idea that they could put this whole Jesus mess out of their minds.

Mary Magdalene, though, wasn’t ready to go home. The truth is that Mary Magdalene probably didn’t have a home to which to return. As a single woman with what some have described as a “bad reputation,” there were few places that would accept her. Jesus, though, had accepted her, had loved her and provided her with a home. Following Jesus as he taught and healed probably felt more like home than any place she had ever lived.

So on that Sunday morning following Jesus’ death she gathered her anointing oil and burial spices and went to the tomb of her friend, expecting to find his dead body. And why wouldn’t she? Dead bodies don’t usually get up and move around. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus was nowhere to be found, she suspected the worst. Jesus’ body must have been taken away, stolen.

And who could blame Mary for thinking this way? As Craig Barnes put it, “Easter is that last thing we are expecting.” We understand that death is final. And Jesus’ death was not a rumor. There were many eyewitnesses to his crucifixion, including his own friends, followers and family. Everyone knew that Jesus of Nazareth had died. And, despite all that Jesus had taught, no one expected that he would rise from the dead.

That life is filled with many experiences of death is no secret. Like Mary, we know the pain of loss. No one can get through life without it. In the midst of life we are in death. Death comes to us in the loss of precious loved ones. Death also comes to us in the loss of cherished hopes and dreams. In a short time we learn not to expect too much because then we won’t be disappointed. Of course Jesus body had been stolen. What other possible explanation could there be?

Peter and John, the Beloved Disciple, didn’t seem to know either. Summoned by Mary, they arrived at the tomb and saw just what Mary had described. The stone rolled away. The tomb empty. Indeed, Jesus’ body must have been stolen. What other explanation could there be? After a short time, the disciples left and returned to their homes. To do what, we don’t know. To resume their fishing business? To settle down with wives and kids and everyday responsibilities? To put the last three years behind them?

But there was no going home for Mary. Mary had found love and acceptance with Jesus and his community. Mary found something in Jesus that she found nowhere else in life. The mistakes that she made were forgiven. The sins she committed were forgotten. He understood her pain. She mattered to Jesus. So, to her, home was wherever Jesus was and, at that moment, she didn’t know where to find him.

Standing outside the tomb weeping, she barely noticed the two angels that joined her. When they asked her why she was weeping all she could say was, “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Then, when Jesus himself came to her she didn’t even recognize him. It’s hard to see clearly with tears in your eyes. It was only in hearing her name that she finally realized who was standing before her. Even so, it was a short reunion. Mary soon became the first evangelist. Dashing off to the disciples she proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mary knew that she couldn’t go home without first finding out what had happened to Jesus. And now, knowing, there was no going back. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Life and death would never be the same. The disciples, summoned from their homes, soon embarked on a whole new life. What started as a day of grief became a day of good news. As Craig Barnes describes, “After the resurrection, things do not return to normal. That’s the good news… After seeing a risen Jesus, we see there is no normal.” Mary Magdalane, the disciples and even us, today, are given the gift of a new home, a new place of acceptance and love, in the Risen Christ.

Today, in just a short time, we will leave this place. Some of us will go home. Others may go to see friends or family and enjoy an Easter meal. I plan to go home and partake in a favorite Easter tradition, the Easter afternoon nap. Wherever we go, we take with us our grief and our joy, our disappointments and our hopes.   And, wherever we go, we carry with us the promise of the resurrection.

Perhaps it is difficult to believe that resurrection still happens. It may be easier to think of resurrection as a one-time event that happened sometime long ago. Easter, though, is not a memorial to an historical event. Easter is the celebration of new life that is God’s gift to us every single day. When we proclaim the Good News we don’t say, Christ was risen. We say, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Because Christ is risen, we know there is no going back, only going forward. Because Christ is risen, our true home is in Christ. Because Christ is risen, we can live with expectation beyond our present situation. Because Christ is risen, we can dare to imagine a new home, a new world. Preacher Frederick Streets suggests that the resurrection story, “…challenges our penchant for wanting to live a narrow life…It invites us to believe and be open to the undetermined ways God will reveal God’s self and God’s power.” Mary discovered this when she met Jesus outside the empty tomb. We discover this when we step outside our comfort zones and dare to believe.  

Life can be difficult and no one knew that better than those first followers of Jesus. Like Mary, we may find ourselves weeping outside a tomb of doubt and despair. Like Mary, the hope of resurrection may be the last thing on our minds. But then we find we are not alone. Then we find our true home is not in a certain place or time, but in the never-ending love of God through his Risen Son, Jesus our Messiah. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Amen.