First Congregational Church
April 1, 2018
Easter & Communion Sunday
“Jesus Says to You, ”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Reader 1: Early
Readers 1-4: Early
Reader 1: Early on the first day of the week
Reader 2: The women came to the tomb
Reader 3: To anoint his body.
Reader 4: For burial.
Readers 1-4: But an angel
Reader 2: Had rolled the stone away
Readers 1-4: Rolled the stone away?
Reader 2: Rolled the stone away!
Reader 3: And Jesus' body
Reader 4: Was not there.
Readers 1-4: The living Lord was not among the dead.
Reader 3: He was risen
Reader 4: Just as he had said.
Readers 1 & 2: Risen!
Readers 3 & 4: Risen!
Readers 1-4: Risen from the dead
Reader 1: So that
Reader 2: We might rise
Reader 4: From dead ways
Reader 3: From dead deeds
Reader 4: From deadly habits
Readers 1-4: And pass through the valley of death without fear.
Reader 1: The tomb is empty
Reader 2: And Jesus is alive!
Readers 1-4: And so are we!
Ole’s sixth cousin, twice removed, was coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as always to shake hands. She grabbed the cousin by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" Ole’s sixth cousin, twice removed, replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor." The pastor questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."
After all the torture, mockery, sorrow, betrayal, agony, and travesty of the events leading up to and including the Sabbath, Jesus was buried in a caved tomb that didn’t belong to him, and all of those events and aspects painted a picture of despair and hopelessness, especially to those closest and dearest to him. So many people had placed their hopes in Jesus: political hopes, societal hopes and hopes of overcoming corruption. And then he was gone.
The Empty Tomb
20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Thank you, Michael and Sharon. Perhaps some of the real beauty of this passage is the wonder in it. There are questions like, what happened to the two angels sitting in the tomb? What kept the “other” disciple from going into the tomb, especially since he arrived there first? Was Jesus wearing such different clothing, was his countenance so different from before his crucifixion - that Mary didn’t immediately identify him, or was it her blinding grief? And just what were Simon - and the one whom Jesus loved - just what were they doing while the interaction between Jesus and Mary took place - whistling “Dixie?”
In the city of Hanover there is a graveyard that has been closed for a number of years—the Garden Churchyard. In that graveyard, closest to the church is a monument tottering from its foundation. It was built in the form of steps, and the massive stones were secured by heavy iron clasps, erected in the year 1782.
Beside the usual family inscriptions, at the base of the monument are engraved these words: “The sepulchre, purchased for all eternity, is not permitted to be opened.” Opposed to this determination of person, a beech seed, perhaps carried by the wind, found its way into a crevice of the foundation. In the course of years this little seed grew to be a strong, luxuriant tree, that mocking the proud inscription of the monument, raised the massive stones from their foundation, and rent the strong iron clasp apart. The now open grave reminds the visitor of the changeability of earthly scenes, and the fallacy of the human resolution to project plans to last for “all eternity.”
Just as I was closing the page of that “nice” illustration, at its bottom was a list of illustration topics for which one could use the story just relayed. The first category was most logical, that of resurrection. But the second was the word “Pride,” which seemed like an interesting pairing of words - resurrection and pride.
I’m guessing that when our passage was read, that there was something that struck you as, ‘oh yeah, I’d forgotten that part of the story,” or, there was a part that stood out like never before. Just so no one feels goofy about this very human phenomena, for me, it was the two angels sitting in the tomb.
Truth be told, it might have taken an extraordinary amount of time for me to remember that bit about the two angels, mainly because I think first of the single angel sitting on the rock that had closed the tomb in Matthew’s gospel. I’d also forgotten about the angel that “appeared to him and strengthened Jesus” while hanging on the cross - from Luke’s version. And speaking of angels, I had forgotten that there are 290 mentions of angels in the Bible. 290 between Genesis and Revelation.
Back to the empty tomb, was the part that you “missed” the part when Jesus said Mary’s name? Even if you remembered it, imagine Jesus standing there, at that empty tomb, and he says your name. Go ahead, say your name in your mind, with Jesus’ voice in your mind.
Some years ago, preaching guy, Tom Long told the story of Mary Ann Bird. Mary Ann had it rough growing up. Born with a cleft palate and a disfigured face, Mary Ann also had lopsided feet and so an ungainly way of walking. Naturally, she was the target of all the school-age cruelty the other children could muster. “Did ya cut your lip?” they’d sneer. “How come you walk like a duck?” Mary Ann lived in a dark world.
One year her teacher was Miss Leonard. Miss Leonard was short and round and a little doughty but she shined with kindness. Back in those days teachers were required to administer a kind of homespun hearing test. The teacher would call each student up to her desk, have the student cover first one ear and then the other, and the teacher would whisper something to see if the child could hear. Usually the teacher would say simple things like “The sky is blue” or “You have on new shoes today.” Mary Ann dreaded this test because she was also deaf in one ear and so this test would be yet another chance for her to be singled out for her deficiencies in life.
On the day of the test when it came time for her turn, Mary Ann waddled and shuffled forward. She covered up her bad ear first and then, as Miss Leonard leaned in close, Mary Ann heard words that would change her life. Because for Mary Ann’s hearing test, Miss Leonard whispered, “I wish you were my little girl, Mary Ann.” And through those words and in the midst of her personal darkness, Mary Ann heard the voice of Jesus, the voice of love, the voice of grace. And it changed her. Mary Ann grew up to become a teacher herself, and now she shines with kindness and grace for her students. And it started when Mary Ann heard Jesus call her name through the voice of a middle-aged teacher. Mary Ann.
We place a high value on names, so much so that full names are used at commencements and weddings and funerals and baptisms, even though names are not actually required for baptisms.
And not only does Jesus know your name, just as surely as he knew Mary Magdalene’s name, he speaks it to you all the time. It’s human tendency to forget that ours is a God who knows us intimately, by our personal name, in all our times - the good times and the not so good times, the valleys and the mountain tops and all the places between. Part of the reason we celebrate Easter is to remember God speaking to us, through Jesus, saying our name, the very God who created all that we have, the God who gave us the very Son of God and Son of Man and all that those two titles mean.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate one of the two of our holy sacraments, let us do so with God whispering your name in your ear.
Another huge part of the reason for celebrating Easter is that not only is this the God we have now, but it is the God that we will have forever, way beyond the days of earth and time. We will live in the security, warmth and the sense of being “known” by the one who traded his life for ours. For the gift of Easter, including the gift of being known and loved more than we can comprehend, let us pray.
Easter God and Resurrection Redeemer, thank you for giving us the most precious of gifts - that of your son. Being God, you could probably have figured out a way to accomplish the gift of life without Jesus, but you chose to give him, that we can understand him - and you - your love and mercy and grace and salvation and redemption better than we could ever have done on our own. Forgive us, when we forget - in our humanness - to live in and through that love - when we treat each other as less than precious. Help each of us to hear our names spoken in all the ways that you use - from sounds to silence, music to noise, nature to people. Thank you, for love. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.