Easter, Hope, Love and Transformation

John 20: 1-18

20 1-2 Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, and gasping for breath she told them:  “They took the Master from the tomb. We do not know where they have taken him.”

3-10 Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran together but the other disciple got to the tomb first. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth which had covered Jesus’ body lying there, but he did not go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, and entered the tomb, and observed the linen cloths lying there. But the cloth used to cover Jesus’ head was not lying with the other cloths but separate, neatly folded. Then the other disciple, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and he believed. The disciples then went back home.

11-13 But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

13-14 “They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have taken him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she did not recognize him.

15 Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have taken him, tell me where so I can care for him.”

16 Jesus said, “Mary.” Turning to face him, she said “Master!” She reached out to touch him, but 17 Jesus said, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he had said to her.

Psalm 27:1-5; 11-14

The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid?The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?2 When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.3 Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid.Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.

4 The one thing I ask of the Lord—    the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

5 For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.    Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.

12 Do not let me fall into their hands. For they accuse me of things I have never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence.13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.14 Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Acts 10: 34-40

Peter said, “I really am learning that God does not show partiality to one group of people over another. 35 Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all! 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen,


Happy Easter! It is a time to celebrate. Bring on the smiles, the family gatherings, the turkey or ham and potatoes and dessert! Bring out the cameras and the texting of friends and other family members who are not present!

But, before all of the above and music of joy and before the lights come on there is darkness, pain and suffering. Holy Week explores the darkness of Jesus’ path to death. His torture by the soldiers, his trial before Herod, Pilate and the religious authority figures of his day, his agonizing experience on the cross until he met death. A relief perhaps.

In the darkness of the cross Jesus cried out My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Echoes of Psalm 22. Imagine the pain and agony of body, mind and Spirit he must have experienced to cry out like that. And then later into the hands of God he commits his Spirit, his whole self.

When that was over and Jesus was taken down from the cross, his body wrapped in linens and herbs and spices applied to his lifeless body, placed in a tomb in a garden and a large stone placed to block the entrance. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark and saw that the tomb was empty! Her hopes had been shattered as were the hopes of the disciples. The disciples went home! Mary Magdalene stayed.  

Are we the disciples who left and went home or are we Mary Magdalene who stayed to experience the darkness, and to weep, and to seek an answer to the question: where is he, where is my master, my teacher, my Lord? The angels ask Mary “Woman, why are you weeping?”. A good question to ask ourselves when faced with the unknown. Mary then turns away from the tomb, she sees Jesus, but she does not recognize him at first. When might we recognize the risen Christ?  We look inside ourselves. We see that we have wronged others by neglect, by abandoning God from our lives, by ignoring love and compassion which Jesus showed us so well through his ministry.

We often ignore the darkness, avoid the pain and suffering and rush into the celebration. We do not witness the darkness which resides in us. We bring balloons and flowers and celebratory music and pretend that the darkness and suffering are only in the scriptures and do not affect us at all.

But the darkness is there, lurking and crying to be let out. Darkness hurts so we find ways to ignore, discount, avoid our own darkness. And we then do not recognize Jesus or the Buddha, or the coming of Elijah or The Prophet and others who are calling out to us to just breathe and see the wonder, mystery and the awe of Beauty.

The late Gerald May in his book the Dark Night of the Soul has observed that “the dark night (can) be a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely. The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding. It happens mysteriously in secret, and beyond our conscious control.” Mary Magdalene found herself in the dark night and her perseverance and her love in the face of darkness and the unknown allowed her to ‘see’ the Risen Christ in her heart. Transformation. There is Light in the Darkness.

The resurrection, that great, wonderful, awe filled mystery of our faith ought to be present in our lives. Jesus gave himself to suffering and death out of love for all the creation, for humanity. And because he loved and because God resided in him, he continues to live in us, if we choose to invite him into our lives.

We all experience the seasons of sorrow and joy, of fellowship and loneliness, of death and life. We can not have sorrow without joy and we can not have joy without sorrow. This is what makes life so exceedingly difficult at times and yet so wonderfully beautiful and filled with awe and wonder at other times.

But what might the resurrection mean for us? Rev. Johnny Sears of the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation, a United Methodist affiliated education organization writes that a True resurrection requires that we first die to our notions of individualism, nationalism, and all forms of economic exploitation and injustice—anything that pits “us” against “them.” We are all in this together, whether we acknowledge it or not. We carry the stuff of God in us, all of us. Imagine if more and more people in the world realized this network of love resides in community.

Do we not sometimes wonder where God is in this world of division, of hate, mistrust and lies? A world of violence, of tragic mass shootings? Just in the first half of April, the season of the Passover, of Ramadan and of Easter,  20 people have been killed by gun violence and over 100 people injured in our nation. April is only half done! Where is God?  Many churches have the flag of the United States displayed in the sanctuary, often near the cross. We say we are a Christian nation, then where are we?

There are at least 12-armed conflicts around the world as we speak in every continent except Antarctica. In the world today there are over 84 million people who have fled their homes due to violence, poverty, and injustice. Many Christians and non-religious people speak harshly of those who are LGBTQ persons, of persons of color, those who worship differently, those who speak a different language and more. The heart of Christianity, the heart of Jesus is warm and inclusive. Where is God we ask. Christianity has millions of members worldwide. Where are our Christian values? Where is the love that we say we have?

There is an online comic strip called Coffee with Jesus (http://www.coffeewithjesus.com/)  In one episode a young man asks Jesus why there is so much hatred, division, and violence in the world. Jesus responds: Yes, I have been meaning to ask you the same question.

Jurgen Moltman, a contemporary Christian Theologian writes that “Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope does not point to another world. It is focused on the improvement of this one.” Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World

Acts 10 tells us that Jesus was killed but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen. In whatever way we might see Jesus in our lives let us experience a resurrection in our lives. The Psalmist (27) writes that God is my light and my salvation and that the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of God all the days of my life, delighting in God’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. Teach me how to live, O God. Lead me along the right pat. The right path we know is to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Do unto others as we would have them do to us. Easter calls us from the cross and the empty tomb to reform our ways, to make a new beginning. Easter calls us to look at the world as Jesus would and respond as Jesus would. There is no meanness or cruelty either of words or physical violence. Is not Jesus also telling us to “stop what we are doing to each other” and rekindle what is hopeful, what is God Stuff in us and what is loving kindness toward others and the world? That is the resurrection. That is the hope of Easter. Amen.

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