The Way of Courage
John 20:1-18 | Easter 2019
Holy Family Episcopal Church, San Jose CA
Good morning. It is a gift to be with you.
We have journeyed through a season in preparation for today; a season where we have prayed, and fasted from the things that hinder our ability to receive new life. We have given up chocolate, or taken on new forms of prayer, and practiced restraint. Lent is a season that expands our capacity for courage; because each time we repent-turning back to our loving God- we practice saying “yes” to new life. And saying “yes” to new life is a courageous act.
As this Holy Week has taught us, through its rhythm and rituals, we only get to an empty tomb, to new life, to resurrection, by going through the cross. Wisdom knows that a compassionate, emerging life, is birthed through facing suffering.
And suffering is a dark place that we would not rather go. Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches that our lives are like a house. We spend most of our time in the living room of the house, on the surface, moving about our lives distracted and keeping busy. Just below the living room is our basement. It is in the basement where our suffering lives. Our suffering wants to come up to the living room- to be seen and soothed. But often, we are too afraid to face our suffering, so we keep it in the basement, repressed. Thich Nhat Hanh says this is where violence comes from. He invites us to face our suffering, to move through it, so that we can become more compassionate.
Wisdom knows that compassion is birthed through suffering.
And suffering is a dark place, and it is this exact dark place from which we get our resurrection story this morning. The Gospel of John starts us in the dark. Hear it again,
“While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…”
Mary Magdalene, the closet female disciple of Jesus, is distraught, grieving, and longing to be close to the body of Jesus. She has just watched her friend and teacher be viciously killed by the Roman empire. In the midst of her grief, she gets up to go put her eyes on the body of her Lord.
If you have ever lost someone you love, you will understand her longing to be close to him. She is going to the tomb to pay her respects.
I can feel this with her, can’t you? Mary Magdalene trying to sleep, tossing and turning, covered with sweat and tears, in sheer grief- confused and upset- staring at the ceiling of her home- until she just can’t take it anymore- so while it was still dark, she risks going out alone. She courageously faces the dark. She courageously chooses to draw near to God, even when the stench of violence still permeates the air.
While the disciples are tucked up, hiding. Mary Magdalene courageously goes.
And as she goes, she travels swiftly.
Can you feel her heart beating quickly in her chest?
She sees that the stone has been pulled away.
The new earth under the stone smells like wet dirt.
Mary Magdalene pivots, and sprints back to the boys. She gets Peter and John and exclaims, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
The tomb is empty.
John goes on to tell us that the two disciples race each other back to the tomb. The guys race, Mary Magdalene trailing behind. Peter can’t bare to go in, John goes in and believes. Mary Magdalene stands outside, weeping.
Wisdom shows us that we will all respond differently to this good news. There’s space and love for each of us.
It is at this point in the Easter story that we really start to feel that maybe this morning isn’t all about new dresses, flowers, and polished Hallelujahs. Perhaps this Easter story is a little bit more confusing, gritty, and messy than we like to admit.
Mary Magdalene is showing us something…
Perhaps she is showing us that encountering resurrection, and new life, feels like standing in the dark, tears streaming down your face, courageously holding out irrational hope.
John tells us that while Mary is weeping, Jesus appears to her.
It is in the midst of her suffering that our loving God draws near to her.
And Jesus is not radiant or polished. She mistakes him for the Gardener- and what a beautiful thing to think.
I have friends who are gardeners, who are farmers, who are the ones who put their hands in the earth, who tuck seeds into the earth, who understand that the dark womb of the earth is the right nourishing place for a seed of new life to sprout forth.
I heard someone once say that Mary mistook Jesus for the Gardener because Jesus still had the dirt of the tomb under his fingernails.
This is good news for us, isn’t it?
That we have a loving God who doesn’t require us to be spiffy or polished to receive new life. Instead we have a God who is mistaken for a Gardener at the time of his Resurrection. Even in new life, he still is relating to our humanity.
John tells us that Jesus snaps Mary out of it when he calls her by name.
Mary hears her name come from his lips, as she as heard it whispered a million times before.
She cries, Rabboni!
This exchange is one of pure intimacy. Her naming of him as Teacher, would of only been spoken by a close disciple.
She has seen the Lord.
And the Lord has seen her.
Can you feel the weight of this gaze?
Their eyes locking, seeing each other,
Love flowing between them.
He is new,
And now so is she.
Her tears dry-
Resurrection is here.
Perhaps the tomb is actually a womb.
Jesus instructs her to do the most courageous thing now, to go share the good news, that the Lord is risen, and that Jesus is moving on to God—healing and new life are reality.
Mary Magdalene is the first to proclaim the good news. She is our first apostle, the first preacher and evangelist of our faith. She is the first to receive the resurrection, and the firs to share the gift of God--- the gift of new life with us.
Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber offers us a vision for this new life. She says:
“New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy.
New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to admit that I’m not right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming- never even hoped for- but ends up being what we needed all along.”
And I would add, new looks like this community of Holy Family.
New life is here.
The Lord is risen,