A Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
John 20:1-18, NRSV
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
My beloved friends, this Easter (let’s just be honest) feels far from ordinary. Our annual traditions have shifted radically—reimagining what worship could and should look like during this time of social distancing. How has your own Holy Week been different from years past? Is it the lack of being able to gather with family and friends? Or perhaps not being able to treat your children to our St. Patrick’s Easter egg hunt? Or perhaps not being able to procure the ingredients necessary for your delicious, annual honey baked ham?
And during this month when we have been physically apart, have you hit your breaking point? I can imagine more than one of us has had a mega meltdown in recent days. I can name for you the instant when I hit my own breaking point—the moment I lost control this Holy Week. I must admit, it feels rather insignificant compared to this global pandemic. But for me it represented just how far from normal we actually are.
On Thursday afternoon Jessica, our parish administrator, drove down to Reno to pick up our white festal vestments at the dry cleaners, those vestments we wear only for special occasions—like Christmas and Easter. And well….the dry cleaner was closed. And y’all…. I flipped. I completely snapped. I broke down in tears, weeping. I mean learning to work Zoom worship has been one thing, but to not have my white vestments—to not be able to wear this beautiful gift that our beloved Dave Mussati had given me; to not be able to pull my chasuble over my head with ceremonial pride; to not be able to wear my Easter best—it completely demolished me. But thankfully a couple of saints in our congregation obviously helped me out come Friday.
So when I read today’s passage from John, the climax of the entire Gospel narrative, I noticed for the first time just how broken Mary Magdalene was. She is demolished. She has lost it. She has hit her breaking point. Life for her is far from normal now. I mean Mary Magdalene is resilient—don’t get me wrong. She has been with Jesus through it all: traipsing around Galilee and Judea; wandering miles upon miles with him as Jesus healed the sick, feed the hungry, and raised people from the dead. According to John’s Gospel, Mary even made it all the way to the foot of the cross and stood there watching as her friend, her companion, her teacher suffered excruciatingly. Where others fled, Mary persisted. Where others denied, Mary witnessed.
Yet, in today’s Gospel Mary Magdalene has hit her breaking point. Her life has been thrown completely off course. One day she is following Jesus on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, sharing a Passover meal with him and the other disciples. And the next day, he is dead. She watched. She saw it happen, as his lifeless body was pulled down from the cross. Then, because it was almost the Sabbath, it was hastily wrapped and carted off to the tomb. Mary and the other women could not treat his beautiful and broken body carefully and intentionally, lovingly preparing him for burial.
So after the Sabbath, early on a Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary returns to Jesus’ tomb in order to find some sense of normalcy. All she wants is to anoint his beautiful and broken body. All she wants is to participate in this ancient ritual of her people. All she wants is to feel like she has some semblance of control over what has been completely out of control. And so, when Jesus’ body is not there, she looses it. She hits the fan. She snaps. She keeps exclaiming over and over again: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” And she weeps, oh does she weep. So much so that she cannot even see the miracle of two angels sitting right before her as the tears continue streaming down her face. So much so that she bumps into a man whom she thinks is the gardener, not originally recognizing him as her Lord, her Savior, her Teacher.
The angels, and Jesus himself, do not scold Mary; do not tell her not to cry; do not tell her not to display her grief, her anguish, her agony. Instead, they only ask her, “why?” Why are you weeping? Is Mary weeping because she believes Jesus is dead? Is she weeping because she cannot anoint her friend’s broken body? Is she weeping because now she has no idea what direction to turn? Is she weeping because her life will never be the same again? Probably all of the above, and all valid.
And are we not weeping for the same reasons? Weeping because of so many lives lost? Weeping because we cannot even physically comfort those who are suffering or bury their bodies properly? Weeping because we have no idea how to fully get our economy, our country, our world back on track? Weeping because we know that life will never be the same again after this? And perhaps, nor should it.
Mary could have gone back to the way things were. She could have denied that Jesus had risen from the grave. She could have written it off as a hallucination or dream. But Praise God, she does not. And Praise God, Jesus does not get exacerbated with her when she mistakes him for the gardener. Instead he softly and tenderly calls her by name… “Mary.” And what was her breaking point, now becomes her turning point.
Her teacher is here! Christ is alive! He is risen! And all of a sudden she is ready to embrace this new future. She is ready to discover the new normal. It will be a normal far beyond her comprehension. And as soon as she settles in that same story will shift like sand. Jesus will ascend to heaven, leaving his disciples yet again. But his friends are unaware that it is just the close of one more chapter. Until the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and stirs things up a little bit…. No stirs things up a lot a bit! All of a sudden this motley crew of women and men will leave their places of comfort, leave their homes, leave their safety nets in order to spread the Good News over all the earth: that Jesus has died and has risen!
My friends I hate to tell you (or perhaps I am pleased to) but I think we have hit not just a breaking point, but a turning point. We have reached the climax of our cultural story, whether we are ready for it or not. This time when our world has shuttered to a stop, it has revealed both the best and the worst of our humanity. We cannot return to what was normal after this pandemic. Yet if we believe in the Good News of the Gospel, there is so much more too look forward to as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and as a world.
How might Christ break open our own pain and suffering and turn our hearts toward love of our Go and love of our neighbor? How might we find rebirth happening in the hear and now, as the human race slows down and the earth appears to be healing itself? How might we recognize just how broken our system has bee and change the world so that it works for every beloved child of God?
My friends, our breaking point is now our turning point. Let’s not return to normal. Instead, let’s claim this as our own resurrection.
*And a special thank you to Annabelle Beauchamp for use of her beautiful artwork.*