We all come to this Easter morning from different places. We all have different things on our minds. We come here gathered as a congregation on our front lawn as the body of Christ showing up in this congregation, in this time and place. We all come from different places and families, various religious backgrounds.
We all gathered together today because today is important. It is significant. Today is the day that we come together to recognize and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s gospel account presents us with the narrative that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised.
We begin with Mary, Peter, and an unnamed disciple discovering that Jesus’ tomb is now empty.
Mary arrives first seeing that the stone has been removed from the tomb. She jumps to conclusions. Her perception of what has happened is that someone has entered and stolen the body.
We then shift to the experiences of Peter and the unnamed disciple identified only as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Like Mary, as she ran to them, they run to the tomb. The unnamed disciple arrives first. He bent down and looked in but did not go in, he waits until Peter arrives- and Peter, true to form, goes in and finds that the tomb is empty and the linen wrappings that Jesus had been laid in are lying there, rolled up by themselves.
It is significant that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head has been rolled up and put in another part of the tomb. If the body had just been stolen, it is unlikely that grave robbers would have taken the time to unwrap the body. In this account of the arrival at the tomb, there is no angel; no heavenly messenger. John tells us that the beloved disciple “saw and believed.” We are left to ponder just what it was that he believed.
The two disciples go home. There are no shouts of joy, no celebration. The emptiness of the tomb does not seem yet to have made a difference.
We return to Mary standing outside of the tomb. Weeping, she bends over and this time looks into the tomb. She does not find an empty tomb this time. While the body of Jesus is not there, there are two angels. In response to their question of why she was weeping Mary shares her interpretation, “they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”
She then repeats why she is weeping again to a man she believes is the gardener.
Jesus then said to her “Mary”.
Something in the tone of his voice causes Mary to stop and recognize him.
Jesus asks her the same question, “Why are you weeping, whom are you looking for?”
Whom are you looking for?
Whom are you looking for this Easter?
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “ I have seen the Lord”.
One sees the grave clothes neatly folded and believes. One sees the same thing and there is no indication that he believes anything. One is surprised into believing by hearing the sound of her name.
In each of these disciples we find ourselves at one time or another.
John could have written a less complicated story. “Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple went to the tomb. They saw the linen wrappings lying there and believed Jesus had risen from the dead.”
John leaves room in his Gospel account for each of us — for one who sees and believes, another who sees and leaves uncertain, and one who needs to hear her own name.
There are different witnesses. And there are different responses. One sees and believes.
One sees and leaves uncertain.
One, when she hears her own name, knows.
Wherever you are this morning, whichever disciple you can most relate to this morning, know that this day is for you.
Whom are you looking for?
There doesn’t seem to be judgment in this story on those who comprehend more slowly, just a recognition that people experienced the Risen Lord at different speeds and at different times.
Resurrection Sunday is for us all. Whether we have celebrated the Risen Lord many years or whether it is new to us. There are children here who are just beginning their faith journey and learning for themselves what it means to have Jesus as their Lord.
We are in different places and we have different stories. The Story that we come here to recognize together this morning is that Christ has Risen. He has Risen indeed.
What difference does this make? It makes a world of difference for a hurting, dying world. We can have hope because the Lord whom we worship has risen from the grave. Death has no power over Him and death has no power over us. We are called to be His disciples because like Mary, “we have seen the Lord”.
We who have seen the Lord are entrusted with sharing this a hurting, dying world.
Linda Salisbury sent me an article this week that was in the Washington Post. The article shared how church membership in the U.S. has fallen below the majority for the first time in nearly a century. The proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50 percent, according to a poll from Gallup released last Monday. It is the first time that has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73 percent.
There is a shift toward disaffiliation, and for some Americans religious membership is seen a relic for of an older generation. Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University has written a book entitled “The Nones: Where they come from, Who they are, Where they are going.” It is a book about disaffiliating Americans and predicts that in the next 30 years America will not have one dominate religion.
What does the world like Burge argues in his book, in terms of politics, policy and social service, look like? How do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked when Christianity is half of what it was in America?
We are just beginning to regather as a church after a year. We are all wondering what this is going to look like and what St. James is going to look like, if people will have become used to not going to church. I beseech you as Paul did in his letter to the Romans to not let it be so. That we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world. (Romans 12:1-2). Presenting yourself means showing up.
We are called to be His disciples because like Mary, “we have seen the Lord”.
We who have seen the Lord are entrusted with sharing this with a hurting, dying world.
There is hope for tomorrow. The Lord is Risen. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.