That GOD chooses to reveal the truth of Jesus to Mary, shouldn’t surprise anyone actually reading or following along in the big story.
Jesus and the life of faith
Easter C | John 20:1-18
This is a big story. A story dealing with life and death and even the very idea of life itself. A story of escape and narrow victory. A story of perseverance and redemption. And in the end, we find new hope and new life.
A story of a man who wasn’t just a man dying and not really staying dead. A story that combines these common elements of life about the life every one of us leads and the supernatural and metaphysical parts of an extraordinary life and a most extraordinary response to death.It is the story of life. Click To Tweet
It is a big story. The kind of story we can’t very well tell in a single sitting, not in ten minutes one Sunday. So we devote a week to its final week.
We gather on Sunday for the Palms and the Triumphal Entry. We share in the celebration of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah into the holy city.
We remember on Monday as Jesus occupied the Temple and drove out the forces of its corruption.
We remember on Tuesday how Jesus returned to the Temple to teach a powerful message of life and witness to the grace of GOD in spite of the ungraciousness of the Temple authorities.
We remember on Wednesday how a woman washed Jesus’s feet and anointed him for burial in Mark’s gospel. And we recall in Luke’s how Judas began to conspire against Jesus.
We receive in communion on Thursday, in remembrance of the Last Supper and we wash each other’s feet to participate in the humble service to each other that is part of our tradition.
We tell the story of the Passion on Friday and pray over the death of our savior.
Then Saturday night and Sunday morning, we come together to see what has happened, how the world has changed, to announce the return of Jesus. He who was lost has been found; where there was death now there is life.
God With Us
And here we are! Easter. The son has risen. His hour has come and past and we behold his coming again. And the story we receive is once again the story of new birth, of the dead coming back to life.
Such a big story, when it remains big, has the potential to lose some of its power, some of its luster.
The detail which always captivates me, is that this big story involves once again the failure of the apostles to wrap their heads around it; to grasp its magnitude. For it isn’t the disciples who arrive at the tomb and believe and receive the good news of Jesus’s return. It is, in every account, the women.
Here, in the gospel we call John, we have two disciples competing with one another, racing to the tomb, both still competing, it seems, to be crowned the greatest disciple. An idea seemingly even lost on its writer, who insists on describing one of them as Jesus’s favorite.
But it isn’t until they leave that two angels appear to Mary Magdalene and tell her of Jesus’s return. They wait until Peter and the other are gone so they can tell only her. Then she can relay the message to the others. She can be first to preach the Good News.
This is a small detail in a big story, but it is a small detail that embodies the very character of the whole big story. A story which begins in the beginning, or it begins with a miraculous birth, or even at the moment of Jesus’s baptism. Wherever we choose to start, we find a story about presence, a story about GOD’s willingness to be present with us, in spite of us. To be with us in our hurt and in our loss. To come as Emmanuel, as “God with us”.
God with us. Not only with the powerful or the male.
The Story of Life
That GOD chooses to reveal the truth of Jesus to Mary, shouldn’t surprise anyone actually reading or following along in the big story. That the angel reveals part of the plan to another Mary, the young unwed woman who would bear the child of GOD. Or going all the way back, that GOD spoke directly to yet another unlikely woman, Sarai. GOD doesn’t look for the powerful. GOD raises up the lowly, the weak, the ignored, and the overlooked.
This great big story goes further back than this week and takes weeks and months and years to tell because it didn’t just begin a week ago, or thirty years ago, but thousands of years ago. It began with the calling of an unlikely couple to go on a journey and promising them a family as big as the night sky.
The story of Jesus, the last week, the Passion, Jesus’s death and resurrection: the whole Easter story is a story of redemption and reconciliation. It is the story of restoration and bringing us all home.
It is the story of life.
A story revealed in the outcast and the sinner and the tax collector and the fisherman. A story revealed in the follower and the disciple, the benefactors and the cured. A story revealed in miracles and in teachings and prophecies. A story of unlikely heroes and uncomfortable truths and rejected truth-tellers. It is a story that upends our expectations and makes everything we think is right about our world into a wrong and everything we take as true into false.
The story we tell on Easter is the story of change and new life. It isn’t the story of the status quo; the story of returning to who we were before. It is not a story for our usual pews or for our beloved traditions. It is a story which reveals a savior who came in an unlikely way to proclaim unlikely news with unlikely followers. An unlikely Christ who died a ridiculously likely death at the hands of the powerful.
Easter Is the Story
Theologians have many different understandings for Easter, for what we actually are celebrating this morning. There are many theories for what we think it all means. More significant than these theories, however, is that the redemptive power of Jesus was revealed to us in the crucifixion at all — and more to the point, that it is revealed through the crucifixion, rather than by it. That it is revealed in the crucifixion, as it is revealed in all the other moments of Jesus’s life and love and sacrifice.
As revealed in the curing of the demoniac or the feeding of the multitudes. As revealed in eating with the unsavory and in redeeming the lost. It is the life Jesus lived that gives power to this moment, and it serves as part of the picture, as an element of the story: of the revealing of the real Jesus.
Too often we hear that Jesus’s death matters more to the cosmos than his life. But I say that regardless of his death and even his resurrection, it is his life, and it is the story Jesus’s life revealed that really matters: the story of GOD’s love of humanity, GOD’s mercy for the weak, GOD’s hope for us all. It is the dream Jesus works to fulfill and the upside down economy he hopes we embody, that he enfleshed for three decades and taught people to enflesh in themselves.
Easter is a time of rejoicing, of praising GOD and singing alleluias. It is a day of happiness and gratitude. It is a season of relief from the dark days of Lent.
It is also a season of embodying the story and giving new life to our work of restoring creation. It is a moment of respite in a story of great struggle and a break from a long, tiring journey.
Easter captures the spirit of the story and is the embodiment of the story. It is the story. A story of liberation and hope and mercy to a people marginalized by the powerful. A story of our work and our participation in a great big project which needs all of us.
A story that calls to us to participate, like a Choose Your Own Adventure. That calls us to embody the story like Mary Magdalene and to tell the good news that our GOD destroys death and our Savior lives. Because ours is a GOD who is with us. Always. To the end of the age.
[Also check out the sermon from the Great Vigil]