Easter Sunday 2021 - The Discovery
There have been twists and turns along the way, and it's not been a stretch to connect our experiences during Lent with the wider experiences we've all felt this past year.
A year ago, we celebrated Easter for the first time with an all virtual worship service, and we had such high hopes that we would have all put the pandemic in our rearview mirror by now.
It has not been an easy journey. But here we are---together. The worst is definitely behind us and we are making plans to return to in-person worship in our Sanctuary as soon as we possibly can.
This past year has been full of unexpectedness, and so I thought I would reflect on the unexpected discoveries that we have made---and do it on a day when we celebrate the most unexpected moment in history.
First, I think we all were surprised by the unexpected discovery that toilet paper is underrated...
And we also discovered unexpectedly through all of our virtual Zoom meetings, video conferencing, and the like that pants are overrated...
We also discovered some other unexpected things. You can still see a smile behind a mask. Hugs aren't always bad---even for those who don't really like hugs.
We've also discovered that hope comes in the strangest forms... It comes in moments of solidarity and kindness... It comes from seeing the tireless work of frontline workers... It comes from the ways we have reached out to help those in need when help was needed...
And in the end, we have come to understand that despite all of the evidence to the contrary, there is more that unites us than divides us.
This brings me to the Easter story and the way we see it now on this particular Easter. What do we really expect this Easter? After all we've been through... what do we really expect?
Are we still willing to be surprised by the hope of this story of stories? Are we able to see the Spirit of Jesus around us? Can we still believe?
Let's do something together today---let's read the story once more through the lens of our experience. Could it be that this past year has given us the ability to see more than we've ever seen? Maybe the wilderness journey is what we needed to understand the unexpected hope of the Resurrection.
Because The Wilderness Is Where We Encounter Resurrection.
First, let's take a look at this story a bit more closely. John begins everything in the dark--it's hard to see, everything is chaos. The world of the disciples has been turned upside down.
In John's account, there is only one follower of Christ who is brave enough to venture outside--to overcome her fears and come to the tomb. Mary Magdalene arrives expecting to find Jesus' body still in the tomb but instead finds the stone rolled away.
Instead of going in, she turns and runs back to the disciples to tell them that the body has been stolen. Peter and "The Beloved Disciple" - who we assume is John, but could also be a symbolic figure, because the author of John's Gospel loved to do that kind of thing-- race to the tomb, and go inside.
But they return back to their state of fear and trembling with the other disciples, unsure about what they've seen, not knowing what to think. They didn't stick around for the experience that would come next for Mary.
Mary's revelation unfolds beautifully, the light is coming up, and she is not alone. First, there are two angels inside the tomb, a perfect symbol of the ark of the covenant, and how all of that has changed now.
Mary doesn't even recognize Jesus in the gloom--thinking he's the gardener--another wonderful twist from John who is letting us see the dawn of a new moment in Creation.
It all speaks to surprise, wonder and unexpectedness. In fact, this whole story is shaped around the idea of knowing/seeing/believing in the midst of the unexpectedness that strikes us when we experience the eternal rhythms of Creation---order, disorder, re-order---dying, and rising.
When her name is spoken, Mary knows... then she sees... then she believes... Perhaps this is the most unexpected moment of all because it's when she hears her name being called that Mary knows... sees and believes.
She is then sent out of the garden to spread the Good News--the "curse" is lifted when humankind was driven out of the garden in the Genesis account.
What we learn here is so beautifully unexpected, but also part of a greater truth that has been in existence since the beginning of all things. A truth that is so hard for us to grasp because of our struggle to know, and to see and believe.
God is always unexpectedly turning the darkness to light, bringing order to chaos, raising to new life what we leave for dead.
Let me ask you something...
What is still in darkness for you? Where are you longing for light in your life?
Are you being haunted by your past? The losses you have experienced this past year? Maybe grief is hanging over you like gathering gloom, or sadness or anger. Some of you are watching this right now and you want so desperately to celebrate, but you can't let go of the hurt inside of you.
Let me ask you something else...
Like Mary and the disciples, where might you be missing the Risen Christ in the world around you? Has it become so hard for you to expect the unexpected when it comes to God that you haven't even lifted your head?
What would it feel like to hear your name? Just to hear the voice of the Risen Christ call your name? You would feel known then, right? You would think to yourself, it was all worth it. You would find the strength to get up off the ground and move toward that voice, am I right?
Well, I'm here to tell you that your name is being called right now. The voice of the Spirit of God in Christ--is what I'll call it---never stops calling your name. Ever.
Your voice is being called in the most unexpected ways---through friends... through loved ones... through a song you hear that breaks your heart... through the message that pierces your heart and feels like it was just for you... through the moments of grace that you experience that could not have happened except through Divine Intervention.
Then you might begin to know... just how loved you are, how known you are, how a part of the story you are.
Then you might begin to see... to see Christ in the world in all of Christ's infinite variety.
Then you might begin to believe... that Resurrection is possible, that evil doesn't get the last word, that Love Wins.
Then you might learn that with God the unexpected is well... expected, even in the wilderness moments of your life.
The Wilderness Is Where We Encounter Resurrection.