April 12. Easter Sunday (John 20:1-19) Good morning my beloved ones, We are missing being together, maybe today more than some other days, it is an important day of celebration, this day of Easter. I miss you all very much. But my heart is glad knowing that Christ is risen, and yes today our church building may be empty, but so is the tomb! empty, because Jesus is risen!
But did you catch some of the details of this story… that again, we can see our own situation reflected in this story, maybe in a different shade than we might in other years. Did you hear, how truly bewildered the disciples were that first Easter morning, trying to understand just what had happened, getting it wrong at first, thinking Jesus’ body had been stolen… Mary was there first, then went to find Peter and another disciple, who raced to the tomb, but then after looking in that empty tomb went back home, each to his home. Alone. Each on his own, still, Easter morning, in grief and bewilderment. But Mary was now, alone, near the tomb, weeping in grief and confusion. In that moment, the resurrected Christ comes to her. Her grief has overcome her so, the tears are blurring her vision so, that she cannot recognize Jesus, until he says her name. and then she goes and tells the others, but that evening they are still Gathered in fear locked in a house, trying to keep everyone out. They were afraid- but even there, the resurrected Christ comes to them. Jesus does make house calls. Even when we huddle inside our homes, with the doors locked. Jesus can come to us anyway, brothers and sisters. When we are bewildered and sad and confused and weeping, Jesus comes and Jesus is alive, no matter what else has happened.
Last week on Palm Sunday, I spoke about how some of these details speak to our situation now, what Jesus went through, the crucifixion and I even mentioned resurrection. Today the day of resurrection, we have to remember the crucifixion. The whole story goes together, to have true meaning.
This past Thursday, Maundy Thursday we did at home the simple worship with our kids, and we washed one another’s feet. We talked a little first over the dinner table, what this story is, what it means. Lucas said he knew it was Passover, he asked what that means, so we talked about how Jesus and the disciples were gathered to celebrate Passover at that last supper. And where that tradition comes from, we started talking about the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. Trinity protested, about how God could cause suffering like that, even to the Egyptians.
And that got me thinking about this story, this whole long story that is God’s story and our story. You might remember that important first testament story, how to free the Israelites from slavery, God used plagues to convince the Pharoah to let them go. Plague after plague and finally to kill the firstborn sons of the families, unless they had marked their doors with the lambs’ blood, that Pass-Over ritual.
In order to free the oppressed, the Lord Put the pressure, then real pain, on the oppressor. To free the Israelite slaves, God did harm to the Egyptian slave-holders.
And that is one way to save, but if you consider carefully you see, We humans, we are on different sides of the equation on the same day-
We are oppressor and oppressed
Sinners and victims
And in the story, God’s story, our story, It turns out that Escaping from slavery didn’t last for making society where all are valued, all are equal, all provided for. Moses brought the people a whole lot of laws to help them live that way, but it still didn’t. There was always going to be someone looking to take advantage, someone looking to exploit, step on others, conquer, put in prison for debt, force into labor or force into marriage and on and on…
The Roman empire was one prime example of what evil humans do. In Jesus’ crucifixion God revealed what we do. The lengths that we go to hurt one another.
In Jesus’ crucifixion God took that evil we do into Gods self. The one who is both God’s first born, only begotten son, the one who is God and human at once, received the undeserved punishment, and didn’t fight back.
This was no plague to put pressure to end it, to switch the victor and victim- this was a move to reveal a new way – God’s way- That doesn’t seek vengeance, that doesn’t pain the other.
The way that Absorbs it, absorbs the pain, takes the undeserved punishment, the spite the shame all of it-
And transforms it.
In the resurrection God shined the bright light of justice and judgment on humanity, to show us ourselves.
And then to show us we don’t have to be that way. We can choose paths of life, even in the midst of death, and a death-dealing world, a vengeance and exploiting oppressing world- we can choose the way of resurrection.
This week, Derek Fujinaga shared with us in Grace group, something that he is aware of because of his work with non-profit organizations.
Streetlight USA is a group that rescues girls from being sex traffic victims. If they happen to be admitted to the hospital, there is a word they can say, so they will be taken to a safe place where their traffickers, handlers cannot reach them, and they can try to heal from those wounds and have new life in a sense. Because of increased reason to go to the hospital in the time of pandemic, this group is experiencing a great influx of girls who are being rescued. And right now they are in need of funding, because to provide for a complete checkup, mental health services and everything else, including the original reason whatever it may have been the girl was admitted to the hospital, it costs around $2400 for the first 4 days of one girl being removed from harmful situation.
It is awful and evil that sex trafficking exists, especially of underaged girls. But that is the world we live in. it is a Good Friday world. A world where human beings sin against each other, exploit others quite literally, and there is suffering and pain we inflict on one another. But in such a situation, I have to call it the work of resurrection, that something that in general brings more death, this awful virus, is bringing a side benefit of more girls benefitting from the rescue operation. A group that exists out of care and concern that this is happening, people who do not look away from that kind of suffering in our world, but engage it in order to relieve it. That this group exists – That is resurrection in our world. That somehow this tragedy of coronavirus means more girls are being rescued, is a sliver of resurrection in our world. It is God working to bring new life.
I am not at all happy about this virus. I do not wish for it or think it is somehow God’s plan in any way. At the same time, I have been wondering if there is Maybe a gift in this, for the church this year to have to reenact the first Easter, in such a specific way: each in our homes, like those first disciples, each dealing with death on a new level- whether that means grappling with death or illness of someone close or hearing about so many more deaths than would “normally” happen, and today, of all days, is predicted to be the peak of the deaths from this virus- or deaths of giving up pleasures and routines that bring us joy, or whatever hits home for you… it is so much, brothers and sisters- but it is maybe easier to see- as we wade through our grief -than other years that this is a Good Friday world.
I say this not because I want you to suffer, dear ones- but so just like those first disciples, you can also experience the joy of resurrection on a new level. Because Resurrection is not only the promise of joy in heaven forever with God- it is that, it is! But it is ALSO God showing us just how bad it is, the patterns that we are used to – showing us and then transforming us. revealing it all and then saying, but that doesn’t get the last say. There is resurrection. What you do with bad intentions, God transforms into new life.
And the resurrection in John chapter 20 comes not with trumpets and not with parades and not even in chocolate bunnies- though I love chocolate too don’t get me wrong- the resurrection sneaks up on you. The resurrection is kind of blurry and hard to understand and won’t let you hold on- but it is Jesus Alive and well, even though he did go through that excruciating death 3 days before. The resurrection comes like a flower blooming that you didn’t plant. The resurrection comes like a call from a friend you haven’t talked to in so long. The resurrection comes in one more girl who won’t have to live doing “that” anymore and can start to learn how to live free and unfettered. The resurrection comes like looking around and realizing yes Jesus is here, even though I can’t get to church. Jesus has made a house call. And realizing my church family is also experiencing the same thing, Jesus is there, and there, and there- and maybe resurrection this year can help us take Jesus into places where we sometimes try to keep Jesus out.
And with that I simply say again this precious gospel in three words: Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia.