Faith United Methodist Church
April 5, 2015
Rev. Krista Beth Atwood
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Prayer of Illumination:
O Risen Christ, open us to the power of your resurrection as we celebrate it anew this day, that we too might rise to new life in you. Amen.
Sermon: While It Was Still Dark
Last week I was having a little “Holy Week” anxiety, as many pastors do this time of year. There was a lot on my mind. As I was getting ready for bed Wednesday night I was thinking of all the things I needed to do the next day and wondering if I would be able to get it all done. Now this sort of thing isn’t unique to pastors. We all know what it’s like to go to bed after a particularly difficult or stressful day and have that stress show up in our dreams, right?
The next morning I woke up before dawn and stumbled into my home-office where I do my morning devotions. As I was sitting there, while it was still dark, I realized that I had already gone through the whole day in my dreams. I had dreamed about the meetings and the tasks and the writing I had to do. It was an exhausting feeling realizing that I was going to have to do it all again, expect for-real this time. And as I went about the day I kept having the feeling of déjà vu. A couple of times I actually had to ask myself if I had already completed a particular task, or if it was all in my dreams. It wasn’t a very restful way to spend a day, or a night for that matter.
So it was with this experience in mind that I read our Gospel lesson, the story of Mary going to the tomb while it was still dark. We presume that she went to the tomb to honor her teacher and friend, and maybe even to anoint him with burial spices. I can’t imagine that she’d had a very restful night prior to this early morning journey. The events of the days past ~ Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion ~ must have been heavy on her mind, even as she considered what was to come. It’s not surprising that she jumped to the worst possible conclusion when she saw the stone rolled away. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.”
It’s really no wonder that ‘resurrection’ wasn’t the first thing that popped into Mary’s head. Resurrection isn’t something that you expect. It doesn’t happen every day. So she ran to find Peter and John to tell them the bad news. When Peter and John arrived at the tomb, blinking in the early-dawn light, they also didn’t know what to think. Their dreams had likely been filled with the violence and betrayal of the past week. Even the Scripture tells us, “They still did not understand… that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” Without fully appreciating what they were witnessing, Peter and John left Mary alone at the tomb
Well, at least, Mary thought she was alone. However, she soon was joined by two angels who wanted to know why she was so distressed. I wonder if Mary questioned herself, wondered if she was dreaming or seeing things as the night turned to day. But before she had much time to think about it the cemetery gardener showed up ~ or a man she supposed to be the gardener. Looking at the gardener, maybe she had a sense of déjà vu. Yet, it was only after he said her name that she recognized him as Jesus.
And then Mary remembered. She remembered all that Jesus had taught. “I am the resurrection and I am life…” “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the good news, will save it….” And suddenly what she had forgotten ~ what hadn’t seemed all that important in the wake of Jesus’ tragic death ~ made perfect sense. The darkness became light.
Nothing that Mary or the disciples saw or heard made sense until they remembered Jesus’ words. And, you know, the fear of the early followers, their hazy memory, their reluctance to believe just makes them more real for us, doesn’t it? They weren’t perfect, not by a long shot. And neither are we. If Jesus can transform them, then the same is possible for us. Mary was transformed from fearful follower to witness, telling the disciples what she saw and heard. What might Jesus transform in our lives ~ grief over lost dreams, broken relationships, fears kept hidden inside, guilt that keeps us trapped in the past?
We don’t expect a resurrection, but guess what? We get it. We get it and, because of it, our lives and our death will never be the same. Even in the midst of the darkest night God is with us. Even when we awake before dawn, exhausted and worried about the day ahead, Christ is right beside us. Even when we think all hope is lost, Jesus speaks our name. Resurrection is not just something we observe. It is something we experience.
Richard Lischer writes, “We can’t make him real anymore than we can make the wind blow or create life from nothing. (That’s God’s work) But we have seen the Lord. We can participate in his risen life and testify to him in the community.” After her dark, lonely walk to the tomb Mary remembered. Because Mary remembered and shared what she saw, we too can affirm Jesus’ words. “I am the resurrection and I am life….” Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Amen.