April 8, 2012
Easter Sunday, Rev. Stacy Swain
John 10: 1-19
Will you pray with me, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. AMEN
The cross was to have changed everything for nothing can ever be the same after a cross death.
And that’s the whole point really– the whole point of the spectacle of crucifixion was not only to punish the dying but also to terrorize the living. To look upon the brutality done to a broken body would be to sear that image onto the heart forever. And in Jerusalem in the first century one could not help but see cross deaths, for the staging ground for crucifixion was in a prominent place, right outside the city’s main gate. A place all would have passed by. A cross was, in essence, the first century’s equivalent of a bill board advertising quite clearly what one could expect if one tried to take on Empire. One look at a cross death was meant to change that kind of thinking forever.
Jesus hadn’t been much trouble when he was in Galilee. The powerful elite of Jerusalem were not that bothered even when great crowds began to follow him. They thought that those people in that back water region of Galilee were just a bunch of misfits anyway, poor, uneducated, not of any consequence. It he wanted to give them something to feel good about, so be it. Nothing could come of that.
But when he came up into Jerusalem? Well for them that was another matter all together. And entering the great city in the way he did? Coming up to the city with a procession, with shouts of Hosanna and palms waving in the air. As if he s a victor returning from battle. A conquering King returning to his city. Well that was just downright provocative!
And then if that were not reason enough, they argued the very next day he goes into the Temple, and begins upending the tables and acting like he owned the place. Like he was a new king overturning a well honed system of political and economic power, overturning the religious collusion with that power. Well, that was down right, dangerous.
He had to be stopped, thought those in power. The people were starting to believe that what he was saying was true. That the kingdom of God was at hand. That the reign of love and justice was breaking into the world and recreating God’s shalom right now. That living together in peace where all had enough was possible. Well that could not go on any longer. The cross will change all of that talk of nonsense the power-filled thought.
And they were right. The cross did change it all. All of the hopes and dreams, the future that seemed so close and so real to the followers of Jesus while he was among them, well all of that died on the cross that day. They had wanted it so much. They had even begun to believe it possible. Had begun to believe that their lives mattered and that the suffering they endured was as painful to God as it was to them.
But, the pounding of those nails woke them from what they realized must have just been a dream; the broken body of Jesus woke them to the brokenness of their own lives.
And we don’t talk about this much, but I bet that many among those followers of Jesus felt betrayed by him when he died that day. Some may have even found fury in their hearts. Why had he brought them to this point? Why all this talk abundant life, of being gathered together as a new creation, unfolding under the care and attention of a God. Why all this talk when just the opposite was true. Just look at him there. Look at him dying. Doesn’t his suffering prove his word a lie?
And so for this Mary wept. She wept on the day he died. She wept throughout that Sabbath Saturday and she was still weeping when she came to the tomb that Sunday morning, this Sunday morning. She was weeping for Jesus whom she loved, yes, but she was also herself. She was weeping for all that was dying inside her. For all that was lost, for all that was changed.
Now, let me hit the pause button a moment, because we are at a disadvantage here. We know what comes next and knowing that makes it hard to really appreciate how shocking it all was, how shocking it all is.
I got some very small insight into what that unexpected revelation of Jesus’ resurrection might have felt like for Mary, just the other day. I was about to enter the front door of an establishment where I was meeting one of you for lunch. I had my hand on the door when a jogger who had just passed me on the sidewalk suddenly stopped and called to me. “Hi” he said with a big wide smile. I looked at him and politely nodded hello, perfectly convinced that he had mistaken me for someone else. I turned to make my way through the door when he called out to me again. “Stacy, it me.” I turned to him in confusion, “how could he know me when I did know him?” Then taking a step forward he said “It’s me, Jonathan.” And then in an instant of course it was Jonathan. There he was in plain sight. I was so happy to see him. How could I not have recognized him just moments before? How could I have not have known him?
I think my not knowing had everything to do with the context and my expectation. I did not expect to see Jonathan at that time or in that place, and so I didn’t. I did not see him even though he was right in front of me.
And so it was with Mary. Mary never expected to see the living Christ at that time or in that place and so she did not see him… She did not find him. The context she was now living in was one without Jesus. The cross had changed all of it. Jesus was dead. Gone. His words no more. The cross had changed hope into despair. Promise into fear. The cross took Jesus away. So how could he be right in front of her? He could not be right in front of her? No wonder she did not recognize him.
So she turned to go but he calls to her. “Mary!” He says. She turns back to him and with her name hanging there in the space between them she sees him. She sees Jesus. Her friend and teacher, her Lord is right there in front of her. Though he died on the cross, though the power filled did everything they could to change the trajectory of Jesus’ presence in the world they could not do it. He was before her again just like used to be. He was talking to her, helping her understand, and telling her what she must do next, just as he used to do.
In that moment, a bolder of despair rolled off her heart, and hope flooded in. Fear fled as joy dawned. All that he had told them, — that the kingdom of God was at hand. That the reign of love and justice was breaking into the world and recreating all that is right now. All of it was still to be theirs. The cross did not change that. The cross could not change that.
And because the cross was supposed to change everything and it couldn’t, well then, suddenly everything changed.
“Go to them” he tells her and she does. She ran! She ran from that place with the good news on her lips. And I imagine her feet barely touched the ground. And now she is not weeping but laughing. She bursts through the door where the rest are gathered and with her face aglow with the rising son, Mary tells them “I have seen the Lord.” And with those five words hanging a future reopened for them that they thought had been closed forever. They saw that not even all that Jesus suffered, not even all that they had suffered could separate them from the love of God made present to them in Jesus. That ultimately fear and despair, violence and suffering could not cannot put an end to the enduring presence of God’s love in their lives.
The good news of Easter’s message to us is this. Though there is much hardship and suffering. Though the hand of violence and fear is on our world. Though despair threatens to entomb us still, and though there may be times when we too come looking for God and find only absence, despite all of this, we can trust Mary’s witness. God has not gone from the face of the earth. God has not left us alone. The love of God is moving in the world still and is ready to call our name and startle us into see in every moment.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way: “
“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
“I have seen the Lord!” She cried. The cross changed nothing and with that everything for them that day, everything for us this day, has changed. “I have seen the Lord!” Alleluia, Amen.