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Yet More Life -- John 20:1-18 (Easter Sunday)

Each of the four gospels tells the story of Easter morning – each with its own nuance – what people saw, and the stories they told. On Easter morning 2020, I’m particularly drawn to the way the Gospel of John tells the story – with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb while it is still dark outside. I’m drawn to the tender touches of the story that connect it to our world today – that somehow make this story feel fully present, and fresh, and raw.

Mary goes to the tomb alone. In the other gospels, they go in a group. But here, Mary heads toward the tomb in solitude – carrying her grief, and her sorrow, and her bewilderment. And even Peter and the Beloved Disciple – they race toward the tomb, but there grows this distance between them. The Beloved Disciple arrives first, and stops at the threshold of the tomb, but doesn’t go in. Peter goes in first. And then the Beloved Disciple enters. They take turns going into this confined space. And then they go back to their homes. They don’t gather everyone together. They return to their place of shelter.

And then there is the weeping – Mary weeping – a world full of weeping – at the mystery of death and loss and grieving. And even when Mary recognizes Jesus, and goes to grab hold of him, Jesus pulls away, “Don’t hold on to me.”

In the Gospel of John, the bodies in this story stagger through their world, distant from one another – and at the same time, caught up together in the sorrow of their world... and, on this morning, in the miracle of Resurrection. Distant in body, but in all this together.

And I think of us. And of our world.

But this is their world, and we should spend some time there. Mary’s story doesn’t start at the tomb – she has been a steadfast follower of Jesus. Scripture identifies Mary Magdelene as one whom Jesus has healed – Mary has experienced first-hand Jesus’ healing touch, and she’s followed him ever since. Luke tells us that she is one of a group of women who have followed Jesus – and supported Jesus in his ministry – followed Jesus all the way to the cross. When Peter denies Jesus, and all the other disciples flee into the night, the women remain – Mary remains. As Dr. J Alfred Smith Sr says – “The women were the last at the cross, and the first at the tomb.” Mary was there as they crucified Jesus, and she was there when they rolled the stone in place over the tomb.

And now, now, in the dark before the break of day, Mary staggers back to the tomb, and she finds that stone rolled away – it is a body blow to her. She assumes, of course, that grave robbers have come – and it is trauma upon trauma – Jesus’ body brutally crucified – and now there is no-- body to grieve. And so Mary runs to tell the others.

And Peter and the Beloved Disciple come running. And there’s this strange moment. The Beloved Disciple gets to the tomb first – but stops at the edge of the tomb. He doesn’t go in. He’s come to see – but he doesn’t go in. One of my gospel teachers identifies this Beloved Disciple – the one whom Jesus loved – as Lazarus – the one whom Jesus raised from the dead – and says that this Beloved Disciple doesn’t go into the tomb – because Lazarus knows what a tomb is like – he has been there before – he has tasted death.[1] This Beloved Disciple goes in only after all that has had time to register, and he goes back into the tomb – this time empty –and he experiences resurrection once again, and believes into life, once again.

But in so many ways this is Mary’s story. When the men return to their homes, she stays. Last at the cross, first at the tomb, still at the tomb. Mary’s not giving up. Mary stays at the tomb, and goes looking for the body. She goes into the tomb and encounters angels who ask her why she’s weeping.

And then Mary turns, and encounters... Jesus. She doesn’t recognize him at first.. resurrected. And Jesus asks her, “Why are you weeping?”

Now, do you remember a couple weeks ago when we read the story of the raising of Lazarus – and Jesus stood outside the tomb of Lazarus, and Jesus wept – Jesus wept tears of rage – raging at death. Now, Jesus stands outside his own tomb – alive – and asks Mary, “Why are you weeping?” because Jesus knows that death no longer has power over life.

Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener and says, “Look, if you’ve moved the body, just tell me, just tell me, and I’ll take care of him.” Standing at the edge of this tomb – there is so much love.

And Jesus says, “Mary.”

And in that moment – at the sound of her name spoken in the voice she has known and loved – Mary sees – Mary sees Jesus – Mary sees the Risen Christ. And as she reaches for him, Jesus says, “No, don’t hold on to me. Go and tell the others.”

If ever there were a morning aching with the need for life, it is this morning – Mary’s and ours. If ever there were a day that needed Resurrection, it is this day – Mary’s and ours. The Risen Christ stands in the midst of a world filled with sorrow and grieving and death, and says to Mary -- don’t hold on to me – as if he is saying to her – don’t cling

to the me you have known, because there is yet more life to live. Resurrection life – right here, right now – in the midst of all this – and on into forever. There is yet more life to live.

You know, I’ve heard friends say – and I get this – they’ve said, “With all that’s going on in the world, it feels like we should just stay in Lent this year. This feels like a Good Friday world.” I get that. Do you?

But even so, even so – every Easter and always, we begin again. Every Easter, God comes to us and carries us out again into Resurrection. You see, God’s love is just too big and too strong to leave us in Holy Week. There is yet more life to live.

And even after Easter – then and now – the Risen Christ continues to show up – with yet more life to live.

In the Gospel of John, what happens next is Jesus appears to the disciples who have now gathered together. And Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” and he breathes on them. Jesus breathes on them the warm breath of the Risen Christ. And says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit; just as God sent me, I am now sending you.” It’s not just a moment of resurrection; it’s a moment of incarnation. It’s like Easter and Christmas and Pentecost – all rolled into one. The spirit of the Risen Christ – God’s Spirit – breathed into us – alive in us – the Word made flesh – in us. In their world of sorrow and death – in their bodies and in their lives – there is yet more life to live.

And I see that in our world too – every morning, there is yet more life to live – more life beyond what we had imagined before.

I see that in the real estate agent in the East Bay, who isn’t selling a lot of houses lately, so she has started a volunteer organization to make sure that folks who have lost their jobs have enough food to eat.

I see that in the folks in our church who’ve offered to do grocery runs for those who can’t leave their house – the Conants and the Nelsons and J who are helping get groceries for Nick Morris, and the Street Chaplaincy – supporting the Street Chaplaincy’s weekly hot meals for people living outside.

I see that in the nurses and doctors and health-care workers who walk back into those hospitals every morning to work for the lives of their patients, at the risk of their own.

I see that in this amazing thing that we are all doing together – this sheltering in place. We are now four weeks into our sheltering in place, and we are seeing the curve flatten. The pandemic is by no means over -- and we must persist -- but we have done together what no one of us could have done alone – we have slowed its pace, helping the medical community build capacity for testing and care. We are collectively saving life – we are collectively helping to bring about yet more life.

Every morning there is yet more life to live. Right here and right now. But the power of Resurrection life doesn’t stop there. The tender touch of this Easter morning story IS about Resurrection life right here, right now, AND, it is ultimately about God’s Resurrection power that is stronger even than death. On that Easter morning, Mary went to the tomb in a world full of fear and suffering and death – and we know what that feels like – we know what that feels like in our world – in our bones.

And what Mary encountered that morning was the Risen Christ with the promise that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love – not life – not death – not things present – not things to come – not any power in this world – not height, nor breadth, nor length nor depth – nothing – there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Death no longer has the last word – not in the lives we live today – not in the life we have forever.

There is a time for every season. And now it’s time for us to leave the season of Lent behind. We have traveled through our desert places, and we have come to the healing spring. And the healing spring is God’s unquenchable, unconditional, unshakeoffable, never-ending, life-giving, eternal love for us in Jesus Christ. Now, it’s time for us to move boldly into Easter in the sure and present promise of Resurrection. Now is the season for us to keep moving through this world of pandemic, every day—courageously and together –

· persisting,

· sheltering in place,

· reaching out,

· giving, loving,

· helping to feed the hungry –

every day bringing yet more life to a broken and hurting world.

Standing, together, in the sure knowledge

that this Resurrection life -- this yet-more-life --

is ours to live now and forever.

© 2020 Scott Clark

[1] Herman C. Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple (T&T Clark International, New York: 2005).

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