Easter is for Now!
Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: John 20:1-18
As many of you know, I often judge the commercial viability of a religious holiday by the number of greeting cards found at the local pharmacy that are associated with the holiday. I still have yet to find any Advent Cards with John the Baptist screaming to the crowds on the front cover, “Greetings from the Banks of the Jordan, You Brood of Vipers!” Nope, none of those. I have found a few Epiphany Cards, but most are for the Feast of the 3 Kings, a popular holiday in many Latin American countries.
But guess what? There are lots of Easter cards. Not as many as Christmas, but still a good selection. Why? Jesus coming out of the tomb sells much better than John’s yelling in the wilderness.
But again, much like Christmas, the message of Easter can easily get lost in busyness, commercialism, and nostalgia.
And even if we pause long enough to focus on the spiritual message of Easter, it has more to do with eternal life than the present. Don’t get me wrong, that eternal message is essential, and I am profoundly thankful for the eternal life that Jesus promised us. And that on Easter, Jesus proved beyond doubt that God can and will conquer death. I also know that even if I live a long life, say beyond 100; it will still be a blink of an eye compared to eternity. Because eternity is forever and life here is not, the eternal implications of a resurrection on Easter should be significant for each of us.
But no matter how short the rest of our lives are here, Easter should also significantly impact it. Easter invites us to find new life here and now. It invites us to find life where there is lifelessness. Where is the resurrection power of Easter needed for this moment?
Today’s scripture text is the Easter morning story, as told in John’s Gospel. Here we see Mary’s approach to the tomb on that First Easter morning. She approaches the tomb full of grief, expecting to see where they laid Jesus’ body on Friday evening. As she arrives, however, she encounters something very unexpected: the stone has been rolled away. Startled, she runs to get Peter and the other disciple, saying, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the other disciple then race to the tomb, look around, see the linen cloths, and return to their homes. Finally, Mary returns, not yet hearing from Peter and the other disciple, so she comes still with the grief of knowing that Jesus is dead and with the heavy burden of thinking that now his corpse has been stolen. Can you imagine her emotions?
Weeping, she also looks in, and to her amazement, two angels are there, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She is still locked in her fear and despair.
With these emotions, she turns to see whom she supposed is the gardener; he remarks about her crying and asks what this emotion is about. And still, she explains her concern about the missing body. Then comes the life-changing word, “Mary!” When she heard her name being called by Jesus, she knew it was indeed him. He called her name as he had countless times before in their many conversations. And now despair gives way to stunned joy.
The first word out of her mouth reveals something significant; it indicates who she saw Jesus to be. She said, “Rabouni,” which means teacher. He was her teacher, and she was his student or disciple. Even at this moment, he was teaching her the valuable lessons of the power of God and new and resurrected life.
Jesus then asks her to return to the disciples and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And she did! As such, she because the first to proclaim the risen Lord to others.
Can we stand with Mary this morning and see how the resurrection can impact our daily lives? Life can be challenging at times. The fact is that life can throw us some tough moments, ones that can bring us to our knees: diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, or stroke; the death of a loved one; financial struggles, upheaval in our relationships.
The deep emotions in these situations can keep us from truly seeing our Savior standing right beside us.
The good news of Easter is that when we slow down enough to stop and listen and hear Jesus’ clear small voice calling our name, we can be assured that he is with us even in these difficult moments. It is then that we, like Mary, can address Jesus for who he is: our teacher, our Lord, our guide for life and living, and place ourselves in his capable hands to teach us how to live.
And finally, like Mary, we have the privilege of telling others this good news. Just as Jesus commanded Mary to go and tell the disciples, we too can tell others: “I have seen the Lord.” This does not mean we need to hit people over the head with our relationship with Jesus; it means we can gently share his love with others. It means that if someone else is in despair, we show them God’s love with a kind word, a phone call, and a card that lets them know we care. It means that, like Jesus, we can love people into the kingdom with words of grace and forgiveness.
I end with a poem from the incredible heart of author Brian McLaren:
Christ is Risen!
Risen indeed! Alleluia!
For death is not the last word.
Violence is not the last word.
Hate is not the last word.
Money is not the last word.
Intimidation is not the last word.
Political power is not the last word.
Condemnation is not the last word.
Betrayal and failure are not the last word.
No, each of them are left like rags in a tomb,
And from that tomb,
(Excerpted from the website: https://brianmclaren.net/a-prayer-for-pastors-on-easter/)
These words speak to the here and now! These words speak to the resurrection power that brings the presence of our risen Lord into the present. These words also give us something to share with others.