Faith United Methodist Church
April 16, 2017
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: John 20:1-18, Colossians 3:1-4
Prayer for Illumination (Unison):
God of wonder and mystery, we give you thanks for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that has been made known to us in the words of scripture and in our lives today. Like Mary, standing astonished in the garden, we do not always recognize your presence with us. But when we hear your voice, we can truly say: “We have seen the Holy One, and we know that Christ is risen.” Alleluia! Amen.
And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sermon: Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Love, Wonder, and Generosity
It’s been a long Lent. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Over the past six weeks we’ve emptied our plates of a lot of things. Temptations, misunderstanding, regret, blame, doubt and fear have all been put out on the compost pile. And it was hard work, wasn’t it? Our Lenten series of “Emptying our Plates” invited us to look deep within and see what holds us back from true love of self, love of neighbor, and love of God. By emptying our plates we’ve made room to experience the miracle of Easter. We arrive here, on Easter morning, ready to be filled.
But filled with what? Personally, I’m really looking forward to Easter dinner in a few hours. It’s our tradition to have lamb on Easter. And cooking the lamb is Gary’s job ~ supportive pastor’s spouse that he is. So I can’t wait to have a little Easter-afternoon rest and then enjoy some succulent lamb, veggies and a piece of apple pie from my favorite gluten-free bakery – with ice-cream on top. My plate will be full.
And I’m sure I won’t be the only one. But I am not sure if this is the kind of “full plate” that Easter is really about. I mean, Easter dinner with family and friends is certainly a good thing to enjoy, but I think Jesus had in mind something a little different than eggs benedict and apple pie. We did the hard work of Lent in order to experience the true miracle of Easter. Jesus endured the suffering of betrayal, denial, torture and death. And we’ve arrived here on Easter morning to find that the tomb is empty. It’s resurrection day.
It’s resurrection day and it’s almost too good to be true. Almost. We know the story. Mary Magdalene heads to the tomb early on Sunday morning, perhaps to finish the burial ritual of anointing the body with perfumed oil and spices. What she finds, though, is not what she expects. The stone is rolled away and Jesus’ body has gone missing. Afraid of what this could mean, she runs to tell the disciples, who run to the tomb themselves. Peter and John see just what Mary saw: an empty tomb, but for the discarded burial wrappings. Unsure what this means, they head home.
Mary, though, stays right there. As one preacher put it, “…face to face with the empty tomb…” she remains at the site of her grief and cries. Her mind probably racing over all that had happened in the last week. Her tears attract the attention to two angels and, then, a man she supposes to be the gardener. Only he is not the gardener, but her good friend, the one who had died the Friday before. Jesus. Yet, she doesn’t recognize him until he says her name, “Mary.” And her joy could not be more complete.
Some have wondered why Mary didn’t get it ~ why the disciples didn’t get it ~ upon seeing the empty tomb. Isn’t that what Jesus said would happen? That he would be raised from the dead on the third day? But it is only in the moment of connection that the truth of the miracle comes clear. In the words of our Seasons of the Spirit, “Belief in resurrection does not come from an empty tomb. Belief in resurrection comes in restored relationship.” Our God, as revealed in Jesus, is personal, is on a first name basis with those who love him. It is only when her teacher makes a personal connection with her that Mary can grasp the significance of what has happened. Resurrection.
Mary left the tomb that morning filled. Filled with gratitude. Filled with joy. Filled with hope. Filled with love. Filled with wonder. Filled with generosity. She didn’t keep the news to herself. She shared it with others so others, too, could be filled with all the goods things she experienced. She may not have had Easter brunch that morning, but her plate was full, indeed full to overflowing.
And it is a wonder, really, because how often do we miss the miracles in front of us because we are too preoccupied to notice? Because our plates are too full of the wrong things. Mary could have been so consumed with her grief or fear or regret that she walked right by Jesus without even noticing, deaf to his call of her name. We use the expression, “I’ve got a full plate,” to mean that we are too busy ~ too committed ~ to take in one more thing. Perhaps we find our plates full with tasks or fears or responsibilities. Perhaps we find our plates full with opinions or grudges or offenses. Perhaps we find our plates full of broken relationships or nursed wounds or resentments. When our plates are too full we risk missing out on the miracles that life can unexpectedly bring.
But then there is Jesus, speaking our name. Calling out to us from the empty tomb. Inviting us to be filled. As Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) once said, “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen…”
Several years after the resurrection the Apostle Paul wrote the words Bonnie read for us from the Letter to the Colossians, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God…When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” It’s resurrection day. And not just Jesus’ resurrection day, but our resurrection day, too. When we look at it this way it might be easier to let go of those temptations, misunderstandings, regrets, blame, doubts and fears that hold us back and make us anxious. With Mary we can say, “I have seen the Lord.”
As Martin Copenhaver wrote in Feasting On The Word, “…what we proclaim at Easter is too mighty to be encompassed by certainty, too wonderful to be found only within the borders of our imaginations.” On Easter we proclaim the very things that are most difficult to believe. That love is greater than hate. That hope is stronger than fear. That joy is bigger than sorrow. That light is more powerful than darkness. That Jesus speaks our name.
Our plates are full this morning. Like Mary we have been filled. Filled with gratitude. Filled with joy. Filled with hope. Filled with love. Filled with wonder. And filled with generosity. And, like Mary, let us share this good news with others so they, too, can be filled with all the goods things we experience. Today is Jesus’ day. Today is our day. Happy resurrection day! Amen.