Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sometimes a Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

A Sermon for Easter Sunday, B, April 16, 2006

The Rev. Andrew T. Gerns, Rector, Trinity Church, Easton
John 20:1-18

May only God’s word be spoken.
May only God’s word be heard and believed.

Sometimes words are worth a thousand pictures.

Take today’s Gospel for example.

“I have seen the Lord!”

What simple words Mary Magdalene brings to the other disciples of Jesus. No caveats like “You won’t believe this but…” She bursts in on the other disciples who are in hiding that first Easter morning and says, “I have seen the Lord!”

These words reveal many things: there is no defensiveness in these words; no self-doubt; no hint of a diminished self-esteem. There are no digressions or explanations. These words are what they are. “I have seen the Lord!”

These are the words of a person who has experienced something so amazing, so wondrous, so shatteringly real and so unexpected that all pretension has fallen away. “I have seen the Lord!”

Say it with me: “I have seen the Lord!”

Oh! You sound so sure right now, but getting there was tough. Her journey was not an easy one. In John’s Gospel we hear only of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb, not the other women mentioned in the other three Gospels. John tells us in the most detail how it was that she brought the news of the Risen Jesus to the apostles. She was truly a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a friend and apprentice of Jesus Christ. She was a friend—a person who knew Jesus and a person Jesus knew well. Jesus healed her and she became his follower. Tradition gives her the role as a prostitute, and currently she is the center of a lot of speculation in popular novels and such—which assumes that she is a person belittled and shoved aside by the church. Dan Brown’s novel conveniently forgets for the sake his core conspiracy theory that she is at the heart of this most poignant and detailed Resurrection narrative.

Mary is a friend and apprentice of Jesus. She goes to the tomb, John does not say why. And there she finds a tomb where the stone has been rolled away. She does not go in, but runs away. The first time she returns to the disciples, it is out of fear and distress mingled with grief. Here words are not assured but distressed: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

When Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb, she assumes that the grave had been robbed and that the body was stolen. Notice also that the apostles are not expecting this news…they have to run to see this for themselves. The Beloved Disciple peeks in, then Peter steps into the tomb; then the Beloved Disciple goes in, as well. Peter knows the body is gone; the Beloved Disciple believes that Jesus is risen, but neither of them know what this means just yet. That is left for Mary Magdalene to discover.

John is telling us in these few sentences some important facts: One, Jesus’ body was not stolen by his followers (they did not expect nor understand the empty tomb); two, Jesus was not resuscitated like Lazarus (notice the burial clothes are left aside in the empty tomb, whereas with Lazarus was raised by Jesus, he came out of the tomb wearing his burial cloths.); and, third, he is not a spiritual being translated directly to heaven. Jesus is bodily risen from the dead, and it will be Mary Magdalene who will discover that for the first time.

Peter and the Beloved Disciple return to home after investigating the empty tomb to puzzle this out, but Mary stays behind. She is now not only mourning the death of her friend and teacher, she is devastated that his body is gone. She stays near the tomb, weeping. Then she looks up and there are two angels who ask her why she is weeping.

What a silly question! Perhaps angels aren’t so smart after all! More likely, Mary’s grief is so deep that not even a vision of angels cannot shake her out of it. Listen to how plaintive her words are now: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Emotions and senses are on overload, here, because as soon as she says this, she senses someone behind her—outside the tomb—she thinks it is the gardener. Who else could it be wandering around the cemetery this early in the day. Who else would know what happened to a tomb and a body in his cemetery? She pleads with him, perhaps through tears, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

She wants so desperately to care for and properly mourn her dead friend and teacher, that she does not see Jesus standing before her until he speaks her name. Once again, a word is worth a thousand pictures: “Mary!”

Finally, she understands! Her friend and teacher is not dead—he is alive! His body is not stolen—he is right here! The grave is not desecrated—the grave and gate of death is burst open!

“Rabbi!” she says and she hugs him. Jesus tell her to go to the other disciples and tell them that he is going to his Father and our Father, his God and our God. The chasm between all of us and God is healed. The breach of sin has been closed. We are now God’s one, undivided family.

Seeing, and holding and talking to the Risen Jesus changes everything. Mary, this woman who was so tentative, and so weighed with grief, now goes to the disciples, bursts in on them and announces “I have seen the Lord!”

“I have seen the Lord!”

She brought to the empty tomb all her grief, and all her uncertainty and all her doubts and fears. At first, like Peter and the Beloved Disciple, she could only stand outside the tomb and wonder with her fears. Then gradually, she—like they—go deeper. But she goes one step further and puts her trust in the persons God sent to her and she is transformed. Still a friend and apprentice, she has moved from a grieving, fearful, tentative person in a bold, direct witness, a person who says out loud with directness and strength “I have seen the Lord!

Where have you seen the Lord?

When Mother Donna was ordained a priest, I gave her an icon. It is an icon of Mary Magdalene bringing the news of the resurrection to the disciples. When I saw it, I knew it was perfect. In the icon, Mary Magdalene, dressed in the red symbolic of her complicated past, stands in front of the eleven disciples telling them all the things that the Lord Jesus said to her. She is in the characteristic pose of a teacher. Hand up, finger pointed. Have you seen that pose before? It is the gift Mother Donna brought to this community these past 21 months: gathering, teaching, proclaiming, showing us the Risen Lord. Sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures. And through her ministry here we can now say with her and Mary and so many Christians through all the ages “I have seen the Lord!”

Where else have you seen the Lord?

Certainly in this community, gathered for worship, for ministry and service, for teaching and learning and in care for one another. Time and again, in beautiful worship, shared meals, quiet moments of prayer and companionship, in good times and in hard times, this gathered people have shown the risen Lord to each other and to the people outside these four walls. We say “we have seen the Lord” with every meal shared in the Soup Kitchen, when we welcome the addicted into our midst and when we open our hall for music and fellowship. In all we do, we show more than a thousand pictures ever could that the Lord lives. We like all the baptized, are the face and hands of Jesus to a world that seeks life, hope, justice, direction and purpose.

We see the Lord everytime we gather at this table for the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. We who are Christ's body meet Christ and are nourished for service at every little Easter when we share in the Eucharist.

We have seen the Lord when we find that our gifts for service are raised up and used in great ways. We have seen the Lord when we are comforted in our grief, supported in our difficulties and transformed in our learning and growth. We have seen the Lord as our creativity is called out, and when we give our hearts to God in prayer.

“I have seen the Lord!”

Mary’s meeting of the Risen Jesus in the empty tomb shows us that whatever happens in our life, there is the Risen Lord. Everything that separates us from God has died on the cross and is left in the grave. Whatever weighs us down, is taken away. Whatever tries to smother hope, is removed forever. Whatever deals death in your life, no longer has power over you. There is another icon here, it is the one on your bulletin cover and over there next to the Paschal Candle. It is of Jesus in grave, going deep into death and hell and rescuing Adam and Eve from their tombs. It is symbolic of the way that in Christ, God heals us and makes us whole and turns us into the people God created us to be.

But even these beautiful images cannot do justice to the truth and depth of God’s love for us. When God touches our heart, everything changes. There are no words, there are no pictures to describe adequately the power of God to transform and make whole. It is true, sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures.

If this is a life you are missing or long for, then I invite to come with us deeper into the emptiness of the tomb to meet the Risen Christ. And you who are baptized and already a part of Christ’s family the Church, then I invite you to come with us and go deeper. Because in so many great and little ways, at the moments and places of our deepest need, the wounded, crucified, and risen Jesus meets us exactly where we are, in exactly the way we need. And when we look past our tears and our grief and whatever weighs us down, there he is: Our friend; Our teacher; Our risen Lord and savior.

“I have seen the Lord!”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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