Resurrection of the Lord, Year A
12 April 2020
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
When I was on my internship I preached every other week and I got to choose the hymns for those Sundays. Well, I was a new immigrant and I didn’t know our hymn book very well, so I gravitated toward the hymns I knew, mostly old hymns from the sixteenth century.
I didn’t take long for people to ask me why we always had to sing such dirges. That these hymns could be considered dirges hadn’t even occurred to me. But it was a good question and before too long I sought help in choosing the music and learned new hymns.
Fast forward to the sunrise service in my first parish. One of my favourite Easter hymns remains a hymn in plain chant that dates back to the 11th century. And because it’s in plain chant, it does not give us the fanfares and the trumpets we are used to on Easter morning.
Christ is arisen from the grave’s dark prison
So let our joy rise full and free, Christ our comfort true will be. Alleluia.
Were Christ not arisen, then death were still our prison.
Now, with him to life restored, we praise the Father of our Lord.
It was a déjà vu moment. Why not a happier hymn?
We did not sing this hymn today. But I still love the hymn precisely because it does not give us trumpets and fanfares, because when Mary first came to the tomb, it was still dark. When Peter and the disciples first came to the tomb, they did not yet understand. They looked at the empty tomb and went back home. We don’t even know what it was that the other disciple believed. John tells us that he believed. I used to think that he believed in the resurrection. But he has not yet met the risen Lord. Perhaps all he believed was what Mary Magdalene had first told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
And perhaps that’s where we are at. Perhaps we are not certain of the resurrection or of what it means, or we are feeling restricted by the pandemic, unable to gather in our churches, unable to gather as families, unable to gather with our friends.
And so, even though our worship began in broad daylight at 10 am, perhaps it seems to us that we gather while it is still dark, dark in the world, our eyes opened to see the suffering, and robbed of our sense of security and safety.
Perhaps today, more than at any other time, we feel like we are right there with Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the other disciple, while it was still dark.
In the Gospel of John the resurrection of Jesus takes place in a garden.
John’s Gospel begins with the words, “In the beginning.”
Jesus is arrested in a garden, there is a garden where he is crucified, and Jesus rises from the dead in a garden.
In the beginning when God created the cosmos and created life and placed humanity in the garden, all was well. The first creation story in Genesis repeats the refrain that it was good, that it was very good after each day, so that the readers and listeners can join in. In the garden God is clearly present and humanity befriends creation on God’s behalf. We know that the story does not end well. Adam and Eve rebel against God, they seek to be independent, not longer relying on God but on themselves, and while God spares them, they end up outside of the garden. Paradise is lost.
The Gospel of John begins at the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Jesus is not God’s new invention but has been there since before the beginning, for through him all things came into being.
We are back in a garden and the garden is no coincidence. What happened in Jesus’ death and resurrection is to redeem the world and to restore creation. Mary, Peter, and the other disciple haven’t understood yet, but the garden signifies that this is the new beginning, God is doing a new thing, God is not only raising Jesus but restoring all of creation.
When Mary first comes to the grave of Jesus, we don’t know why she comes, we can only assume that she comes to grieve, to remember, to pray. She probably comes to understand the new reality that Jesus is no longer among them.
After Peter and the other disciple have returned home, Mary stands weeping at the grave. Two angels appear and ask her about her sorrow.
Then Jesus appears and asks the same question, “Why are you weeping?”
That Mary is weeping is mentioned four times in five verses. It seems that the tears of Mary summon the presence of the risen Lord. Mary is weeping and God hears her call.
Psalm 145 exclaims, ‘the Lord is near to all who call on him.’ Mary wept and Jesus came.
In the resurrection of Jesus, God is restoring all of creation, God is making it possible for people to again live in harmony with God and with one another. God is reversing the fall. God is lifting the prohibition to live in the garden.
We who come to the grave while it is still dark don’t only mourn the physical separation between us, mourn what seems like the loss of a way of life, mourn the economic hardship the pandemic has brought upon many, the illness, death, and mourning it has brought on others, and the fear it has brought on us all;
we also experience this moment as unsettling because we realize we are not as invincible as we thought we were, not as in control as we once believed, and we need help.
We are thankful for scientists and healthcare workers, grocery store and pharmacy staff, for national, provincial, and local governments, for charity and kindness among friends and strangers,
but we long for orientation in this new universe we find ourselves in.
Into this steps the risen Lord, who not only asks, why are you weeping, but who also asks us, “Whom are you looking for?”
This takes us back to the beginning, to chapter one of the Gospel when two of John the Baptist’s disciples begin to follow Jesus and he says to them, “What are you looking for?”
And suddenly it is no longer dark but Mary, and we with her, stand in the presence of Jesus, of the One who is the light of the world. The darkness has vanished and given way to God’s glorious light.
Mary’s grief is transformed into joy, and her encounter with Jesus makes her a partner in the mission of Jesus, the mission of God.
“What are you looking for,” says Jesus to us. And we answer, “a whole lot but it all begins with you.”