Easter People - Sermon Summary 4.17.22
The hymn of preparation was “We Sang Our Glad Hosannas” from the Faith We Sing (#2111). I like it because it recaps Holy Week - how we got here. Last week we celebrated Palm Sunday. Jesus - proclaimed as Son of David, King of Israel - entered Jerusalem in a direct counter to the Roman Imperial procession. He entered on a donkey in humility. He challenged the powers that be both religious and secular - knowing full well it would lead to a Roman cross.
He took our brokenness, our sin, and he challenged our use of power and control - and he took all of that with him to the Tomb. Some of us thought the story had ended. What else is there to think when the one we proclaimed as messiah is tortured and hung on a cross? And yet we gather this morning because death and suffering do not have the final word!
When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb - the text I preached on a couple weeks ago - Lazarus was bound in the burial cloths and Jesus cried out to the community to “unbind him.” This morning - as we celebrate the empty tomb - notice that Jesus is not bound.
The burial cloths have been laid aside. Death has no hold on him.
In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb. She sees the stone rolled away and runs to tell the disciples. Simon Peter, the leader of the group, and the beloved disciple race to the tomb. There’s all this one-ups-man-ship. Who got there first? Who looks in? You can hear the tensions between various early Christian communities in this scene. The disciples are still fussing over who is the greatest, even now.
They saw the empty tomb and “they believed.” But what did they believe? John tells us they did not yet understand what the scriptures said, “that he must rise from the dead.” So they believe… the tomb is empty, that the body is missing… but they don’t understand. They go back to what the other gospels tell us is a locked hiding place. They are filled with fear and confusion - they had thought he would make all things new… and now we don’t even have a body.
Mary stays at the tomb, weeping. She looks in and 2 angels say “Why are you weeping? He is not here; he has been raised as he told you.” She notices someone approach. She presumes it is the gardener and she says “Please, sir, tell me where you have taken him.” And Jesus says “Mary”
Have you ever experienced God calling your name? That sense of peace, of presence For me, ultimately, that's what the whole of the Scriptures is about. God is calling your name. God is patient and kind and humble not arrogant, boastful, or rude. God is love and God is calling your name… and when you recognize that, you begin to see the fullness of what God has done for you. And for me. And for them over there too! Mary now sees. She responds “Rabbuni!” … “teacher!” We learn something else about John's audience here. He has to translate what is a fairly common Hebrew term to make sure that his non-Hebrew speaking audience understands it. John's community is somehow separate from the community in Jerusalem and the Hebrew speaking early church.
John's gospel is telling us a story of cosmic significance, rooted in Hellenistic thought. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and through him, all things were made. That light was coming into the world and darkness could not overcome it. That's John's gospel. And throughout, John is proclaiming Jesus’ divinity and inviting us into that wholeness.
“Mary” Jesus calls her - and yet Jesus is not quite finished. “Don't hold on to me. I have not yet ascended to my father” rather “Go. Tell my brothers.” Mary Magdalene is appointed the first apostle. She is charged with telling the story. And still today, we wrestle over whether women can be priest and pastors, whether women can tell the story? Of course, they can. Of course, they can. Even in our United Methodist Church where since 1959, we have ordained women. We take some pride in that - 1959, it took us that long to figure this out and still there are congregations in our conference that would refuse a woman minister. Part of my own call to ministry is to help change that. Because I would not be here celebrating Easter morning if it were not for the witness of women. So… how do we tell the story? How did Mary tell the story? I often preach on Luke's gospel where they consider the account of the women “an idle tale”… because it's unbelievable… Our bulletin cover image today is a wonderful painting by an artist named Linda Maassen (who have not been able to find out a great deal about,) but these colors of Resurrection, this light emanating. It tells the story. It tells the story that light overcomes darkness, that love has already won.
We gather on Easter because some part of us knows that love has already won. Joyce read for us the next part of John 20. The disciples, hidden away, believing… we're not sure what. In fear of the religious authorities, probably castigating themselves for not standing with him. Peter reflecting on the times he denied him… and now the tomb is empty, and they don't know what to think. Suddenly Jesus is in their midst, and he is still the crucified one. He bears the wounds on his hands, on his side. and yet He is not bound. He's no longer bound by time or space, a locked door is nothing to him, and yet it is him.
He is still fully divine and fully human. In this blending of categories that we can't get our minds around, he is with them. And he says to them, “peace be with you.” Shalom, Wholeness. The peace of Christ. “Peace be with you.” Again. Again, he says to them, “peace be with you. I have to believe that a few of them have that same experience that Mary had just had. They understood that he is with them, that he is calling them. They hear their names.
He says to them, “as the father has sent me, I send you.” And he breathes on them and he says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” If you were with us in our midweek services, one of the things I did this year, we've been reading through the Gospel of John, and I pointed out midweek that Palm Sunday was in John 13 and today we're reading from John 20 this morning on Easter A lot happens midweek. A lot happens in John's gospel in chapters 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. These chapters are full of prayer and teaching, largely about the Holy Spirit. Jesus has promised them an Advocate that one that will continue to teach and guide them as he has. Jesus has promised that God is still with them. He breathes on them, “receive the Holy Spirit” and then he issues quite a challenge!
Church - how in light of this story of Easter are we to BE church He says to the disciples, “if you forgive sins are forgiven. If you retain, they are retained.” The power of forgiveness that the religious authorities have persecuted him because only god can forgive sin. and Jesus has claimed that mantle. Proclaimed himself divine. He can forgive sin. Certainly, he can. That power is now given to the apostles, to the church, to the very men who just denied him and scattered! I firmly believe this is spoken to the women who bore witness and told the stor too. Church, if you forgive… They are forgiven. If you retain, they are retained What you bind will remain bound. What you unbind is free. That’s a lot of power!
So, I had us read from Hebrews. It's an early Christian written, one of the larger books in the New Testament and it is written with a deep searching of the Old Testament. Combing through the Old Testament, finding and interpreting the texts as a witness of Christ. Interpreting the Hebrew scriptures to make sense of what has happened in the Christian community - that Christ is Risen, that Christ is risen indeed! That we have a great high priest, who has made the ultimate sacrifice, who has called us to be the church. Our reading from Hebrews quotes the prophet Jeremiah and a promise of a new covenant. “I will put my laws in their heart, God says, and write them on their minds. I will be their god and they will be my people. I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” God proclaims that he will unbind the people. That we will live in love, in perfect love, which cast down which cast out brokenness which leads to wholeness. Hebrews goes on and he uses the image of the temple. The temple in the first century was based on the tabernacle from Moses’ time. It had different courtyards for different people. The women had to stop at one place and the men could go a little farther. The non-Jews were even farther out than the women. Only the priest, Aaron's people could go on to the next court and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies - and then only at certain times. The Holy of Holies was divided from the rest of the temple with a massive cloth. Hebrew’s and some of the gospels use the image of that curtain being torn asunder at the moment of Christ's death and in his resurrection, there is no barrier between us and God. Christ has become the temple.
Christ has become the curtain. Christ has united us with God! And so “let us hold fast,” the author of Hebrews writes - “for he who has promised is faithful.” The one who promised the prophet Jeremiah that a new covenant was coming. The one who led Moses in the wilderness. The one who promised Abraham a great nation. He who promised is faithful. The one who promised the Holy Spirit would dwell among us. The one who promised that “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” He who promised is faithful. Our task is to love one another. To obey the commandment that he gave the disciples at the last supper, according to John, when he washed their feet. When he served as an example. We, the church, are to unbind one another. We, the church, are to love as Christ has loved. We, the church, are sent forth into the world to be Christ to the world. Not to beat each other over the head with one bible passage or another, but to be Christlike!
How we read scripture matters. A great part of my ministry is designed… is hoping... to inspire you to read scripture and yet, when we read scripture, we can use it for our own purposes, or we can use it to be transformed for the transformation of the world. See, you can argue that genocide is biblical. Slavery is biblical. Abuse is biblical… but none of those things are Christlike. How we read scripture matters. How we celebrate Easter matters. The world now knows Christians as judgmental, dogmatic, cruel, exclusionary… Sometimes, that's because we've taken a stand against an evil that needs to be spoken against and the world doesn't want to hear it but quite frankly, more often, it's because we have misused religious power and authority to build up our own power and authority and to try and control and limit others instead of unbinding them.
Let us be an Easter people Let us be known as a people of Christlike love.
The early church had no earthly power, had little money, and it transformed the world. In the face of persecution and violence, it proclaimed love and wholeness… and people flocked to it! Because it upended the caste systems and the exclusionary and domineering systems of both Rome and religion. And created a new family, a new royal people, a priesthood, where rich and poor, slave, and free, male and female, Jewish and Greek - all could come together as one.
They were an Easter people.
Now, it's our turn. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Christopher Eshelman, Pastor - Fort Scott First UM