Sermon. 4. 12. 20 Easter Sunday
Rev. John Steitz
Jesus had been executed on a Friday. His battered body had been taken down and quickly put in a grave before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath.
Now on Sunday morning, before dawn, Mary goes to the grave to complete the burial preparations there wasn’t time for at sunset on Friday. When she gets there she sees that the stone covering the grave had been removed. Jesus’ body is gone.
She ran back to the disciples to tell them. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved race to the grave. They see that indeed Jesus’ body is gone. They return to the safety of their homes.
Mary stays behind weeping. Be with Mary in this moment. With Jesus’ death all hope seems to be lost. And now there isn’t even a body to mourn over. This is a moment of complete despair. Mary is overwhelmed in a flood of grief.
She sees two angels who ask her why she is weeping. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” she answers.
It is at this moment that Jesus, the Risen Christ, comes to Mary. He also asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” adding, “Whom are you looking for?”
After she gives her reply, Jesus calls her by her name, “Mary!” and with this, she knows who he is.
The Risen One tells her not to hold on to him, but to tell the disciples that he will be ascending to God. With this she goes to the disciples proclaiming as the first evangelist, “I have seen the Lord.”
For Mary despair has been replaced by joy. Hope has been restored.
Jesus had gone up against the most powerful empire to that time practicing nonviolence. He had embodied a Way of living quite different than the way of the domination system. Jesus’ Way was then and is now a Way of Love. The power that he embraced a nonviolent liberatory power.
The supremacist power of the Roman Empire had crushed him. He had been arrested, beaten, mocked, and tortured to death on a cross.
The power of the Empire ruled supreme. On Good Friday Jesus’ Way seems like a cruel fantasy.
Now however, God has risen Jesus from death. Everything is changed. Everything is transformed.
With Jesus’ resurrection God overrides the power of death. Death’s dominion no longer has ultimate power.
People still die. But embraced by God’s Love we are set free and blessed with new life in God’s everlasting Love.
Jesus’ rising also means that the Empire no longer has the ultimate power. Yes, they can still arrest, beat, mock, torture, and kill.
But death, and fear of death no longer has ultimate power and control. As the early church expands the Empire will try everything it can to repress and oppress those who believe in Jesus.
But the believers no longer fear the Empire. And with fear gone there is nothing the Empire can do to stop the church. The resurrection has a political dimension.
The Empire can have all of the war chariots, and soldiers, and swords. It can have the most advanced, most powerful guns, missiles, tanks, submarines, aircraft carriers, and fighter jets. All of this is nothing compared to God’s Love.
All of this violent, supremacist power means nothing to those who put their faith in Jesus and his Way rather than trusting the way of Empire as their ultimate concern.
With the resurrection, the nonviolent liberatory power that Jesus enacted, the Way of Love that he embodied is no longer a cruel fantasy. Now Jesus’ Way makes sense.
Paul and the early Christians understood this point. Without resurrection Jesus’ Way does not add up. It is foolish. With resurrection Jesus’ Way is the most excellent way to live.
We celebrate Easter Sunday as the Day of Resurrection. The day that God’s Love conquers death. The day that Jesus’ Way makes sense.
We sometimes speak of a “come to Jesus” moment. A transformation that so changes a person that they live their lives radically different than they did before.
Mary doesn’t so much have a “come to Jesus” moment as she experiences a “Jesus comes to her” moment.
This is the way of the Risen Christ. Jesus comes to us, where we are. In the midst of whatever is going on in our lives, Jesus comes to us.
The Risen Christ comes to Mary, comes to the disciples, comes to Thomas who doubts, comes to the two on the road to Emmaus. The Risen Christ comes to us.
Maybe not in the way and form that Mary, Thomas and the disciples experienced, but still Jesus comes to us. As with Mary, Thomas and the disciples, the Risen Christ comes to us as we are, and radically accepts us for who we are.
When Jesus comes to us, who does he find?
Jesus comes to us as we are, and radically accepts us for who we are. So, when I ask you who Jesus will find, there is nothing in this accusing you or anyone of anything. This is not a Jesus is coming, you had better get your room cleaned up, get your house in order, get your life straighten up.
Besides Jesus is already here. And Jesus knows that our human condition is fragile and flawed.
When Jesus comes to us who will he find? Jesus radically accepts you for who you are. Are we able to do the same?
We are living at a time that requires us to be mindful, to be aware of who we are and how we are doing. Many of us may never have needed to be so attentive. Not only by washing our hands and keeping physical distance. By being self-aware.
This self-awareness is not selfishness. It does however allow us to be self-accepting. To embrace Jesus’ radical acceptance of us as an act of love.
Things in the world today can be very frightening. Things in the world can seem very out of control. The normal ways of doing things no longer work, and they aren’t safe right now. And we do not know how long this will last.
We long to a return to normal. We long for a return to being able to go out and do our jobs, or to go back to school. Right now we long to be able to just go out and do things like we used to be able to do.
We long to be safe. We long for being able to be with family and friends in person, not only on the phone or looking at a video on the computer. We long to be able to give people we care about a hug. A simple hug.
When Jesus comes to us who will he find?
Remember, if we are scared, if we are lonely, if we are weary, if we are confused, if we are angry, whatever… Jesus radically accepts us for who we are. Right now in this present moment.
Everything in the world right now has been turned upside down. But Jesus’ Way has always been an upside down way.
No matter what, nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ. The resurrection is God showing us that God’s Love is stronger than death.
The Empire of the virus can shut down entire nations, shake up the global economy, and force us to stay inside. The Empire of the virus like every Empire is violent, it can kill.
But the Empire of the virus is not stronger than God’s Love. Fragile bodies may succumb, but the resurrection that we celebrate today means that the Empire of the virus, just like the Empire of cancer, and the Empire of heart disease among other Empires of death, has no ultimate power over us. God’s Love has set us free!
Praise be to God! Amen.