Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Jesus Makes Us Part of His Story”
Sermon, Year C, Easter, March 31, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 20:1-18

Imagine this first miraculous day! This very first Easter.

We are very lucky where we are in time. We know how Jesus’ journey to the cross ends. We already know the whole story. We go through it every year. We read the story of Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we read it knowing how it ends. Knowing that it ends in disaster, and then in Easter.

We read the story
of the betrayal,
the arrest,
the trial,
the denials,
the disciples fleeing,
and the burial.

But we read this every year knowing how it ends. We know that burial is not the finale of that story. For us it is a mere retelling of a story we already know like retelling the story of Goldilocks or the Wizard of Oz. We know how it ends.

But these first followers did not know. They didn’t know. That story hadn’t been written yet because They WERE the story. They were living the story! It was being written as they lived it. The ending was not written for them until it happened. They didn’t know that Easter was coming. Jesus had mentioned it, but they didn’t seem to really comprehend it or get it. And so for them, Jesus was very much buried, and very much dead. Dead and gone.

They had buried their friend, and spent a day wondering what would happen to their movement without their leader. Wondering if they even had a movement. Was this thing that they had been doing, even worth doing any more? Or was it just a big useless lie and a waste of time. Were they fools to ever have gotten involved with this guy, this Jesus who had been crucified and buried.

Because Jesus wasn’t just a teacher of a new morality. His disciples, the people who were with him, thought he was the messiah. More than just a mentor, good friend, teacher, or a miracle worker. He was to be the messiah. The one who was going to save Israel, the one to bring God’s liberation and salvation to a people who have throughout their history known occupation, exile, destruction, and slavery. That’s who he was supposed to be.

And they had just buried him. Buried him after he was executed by the violent privilege of the empire that some thought he was supposed to overthrow. Whatever he was about to do, it looked like he lost. It didn’t happen.

How do you deal with that? All of your hopes and dreams were in this man, and you just buried him.

Do you run away? Lock yourself up in a room in despair? Kick yourself for being so foolish to ever get involved with this guy, for wasting three years of your life?

Or do you remember, like Mary Magdelene does, that whatever may or may not have happened, you loved that man. He was your friend. Even if maybe he was a fraud about what you thought he was, he was still your friend and you loved him, so you do what love does – you act in love. You go to the tomb to take care of the body like you are supposed to. Deal with your emotions, deal with the truth and the facts later. But right now there is a body to be taken care. There is one last thing to do before you can really say goodbye to this person you thought was special. There is a body to be anointed, as you had just anointed it a week ago with costly nard, anointing his feet with your hair and your tears, at a meal with the brother that he had just raised from the dead.

One last duty of love to do. And so you go to the tomb in the darkness of early morning. And you get to the tomb and there is nothing there! The stone’s been rolled away. No body inside. Just some linens. And it is good to know that our Lord is tidy, for the linens were folded.

So you run back and tell the other disciples, they run to the tomb. They look in and see you were telling the truth that it is indeed empty, and they run back home.

But you stay. You stay and you weep as Mary wept here. In despair, maybe. Or sadness. Or maybe, maybe though she was sad and wondering what happened to the body, but I wonder if there were some tears of hope here. Some tears of the joy of hope that maybe those words that Jesus had spoken earlier that he would die and would rise from the dead, maybe he was right. Maybe some of Mary’s tears are tears of hope that he might have been telling the truth. That it could all be real.

Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be impressive if you were right about who you thought that man was?

And we now in 2013 know it’s true, because we are on this side of that story.

But at the time Mary didn’t know that. Not yet. She’s still at an empty tomb.

The man shows up that she thinks is the gardener until he calls her by name. “Mary”, he says to her. And she recognizes him. The power of a name, especially when spoken by one you love and who loves you. There is something special to the way that people you know and are intimate with, whether it be your significant other, your spouse, your family, your friends. When your name is spoken in love it sounds different than when a stranger says it. Jesus knew her, and he says, “Mary!” and she recognized him.

She knows it’s him. She know he has returned to life. He has stepped back into her story. He has stepped back into her story. The story is not fully written yet. Just as Jesus’ has stepped into our story through this event. stepped into our story to let us know that we are loved, and that he will never abandon us. That he is always, always part of our story, because he has made us part of his story. And we continue almost 2000 years later to continue to live that story. To be Christ’s disciples, to spread the Word, the Good News, and to live as Christ called us to live. Because Jesus is part of us and we are part of Jesus.

I am going to read a very old sermon on Easter, that goes back to the fourth century. So it is 1700 or so years old. This was given by St. John Chrysostom, one of the great mystics of the early church. it is a homily that is still read in many of the Orthodox churches today. it is a meditation on Easter.

If anyone is devout and a lover of God,
let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a grateful servant,
let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting,
let them now receive recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour,
let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour,
let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour,
let them draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour,
let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first;
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
just as to him who has labored from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first;
to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.
He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord,
and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!
And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed:
“Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”.
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Heaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead,
has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.
To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

Amen and amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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