" /> St. Philip's Scotts Valley - Sermon 2013-03-31

Sermon 2013-03-31

Sermon 2013-03-31


Yearning for Resurrection

March 31, 2013
Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18​
Pastor Mary Blessing,

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Scotts Valley, CA


“Alleluia, Christ Is Risen!”   “The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!”


At least once a year, we all proclaim, “Christ is Risen”! Although we only proclaim this during Easter, I suspect every day, we all yearn for the truth that Christ is Risen.  We all yearn for the truth of Resurrection. 


 Whether we are able to put it into words or not, we yearn for New Life, to make a connection with Eternal Truth which sets things “right”.   We yearn not just to have knowledge of Jesus overcoming the grave; we seek also our own resurrection.


The problem is, if we catch ourselves yearning for resurrection, we surely then must remind ourselves that one day, we, too, will die.  I wonder if our hesitancy to claim belief in the resurrection isn’t really because we are afraid to face our own death. 


John’s Gospel invites us to face our own death, our own redemption, and our own resurrection as we hear different witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. These different approaches to death give us paths to follow, allowing us to fulfill our yearning for resurrection.  Let us consider these 3 disciples, Mary Magdalene, the Beloved Disciple, and Peter. Let us examine their 3 different responses toward Jesus’ death and resurrection.


Mary Magdalene awakes early Sunday morning following Jesus’ death. She sets out alone ready to face death, to let her grief pay homage to Jesus. But things are all wrong.  The stone has been removed from the tomb. The evidence is: someone took Jesus’ dead body; she is further grieved. She won’t give up until she finds him. She runs to get help.


Then there is the “Beloved Disciple”, the “one whom Jesus loved”, at first holding back, not going to face death, waiting. But when Mary reports the open tomb, he takes off, running to be the first to see for himself.  He simply sees the empty tomb, the abandoned linen cloths and knows:  Jesus has conquered death.  He doesn’t understand, he has no words to describe it, but he knows.


Then there is Simon Peter, initially failing to face death. Perhaps it is because Peter had denied Jesus 3 times.  Unlike Mary and the Beloved Disciple, Peter had refused to remain with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Perhaps he felt guilty. Peter was in denial, running away from Jesus, running from death. But, like the Beloved Disciple, as soon as he hears that the tomb is empty, Peter runs toward death, struggling to keep up.  When he arrives, Peter is the first to take action. In keeping with his usual impulsive self, Peter actually goes into the tomb. Peter exemplifies our complex emotions. “I’m with you Jesus, I deny you Jesus, I bear witness to you Jesus, I hide from you Jesus. I need to find you, Jesus”. It would be funny if it were not so tragic. 


All these disciples yearn for Resurrection, no approach is better than the other. Each is a sign of the human heart seeking redemption through resurrection. Perhaps you can relate to having one of these tendencies, or perhaps each of these different ways is experienced by us at different times, different phases of our lives.


So, is Resurrection for real?  I believe it is. I believe Jesus rose from his grave and appeared to his disciples. I believe the Risen Lord continues to appear today.


Recently it occurred to me that at some level, I have always believed in the Resurrection.  Originally, I may have had that “Pollyannaish” nature that simply believed, like the Beloved disciple, without much evidence.  Maybe it was just the trust of a child who felt a love beyond the love parents provide…a heart yearning to meet a transcendent presence. For whatever reason, even as young child I believed Jesus died and rose again. 


As my intellect grew, and the world influenced me to seek more concrete evidence for the Resurrection, I became a bit more like Peter—needing to peer into the tomb, poke around a little bit, to see what was really going on before declaring to others “I believe”.


Later, when life threw more challenges my way, I became like Mary Magdalene, down trodden and confused. Before meeting Jesus, Mary had a life which by all accounts would have been about as lonely and despondent as any person could be, tormented by 7 “demons”, which is Bible language for mental illness.  Jesus cured her of these “demons”.  Jesus brought Mary New Life, and she became one of his most faithful disciples. 


Mary’s fear at the empty tomb initially left her dismayed and upset—believing that someone has literally come and stolen Jesus’ body.  Mary didn’t actually look inside the tomb until after the men left. They left without finding Jesus. Mary remains at the tomb, crying.  


Finally, through her tears, Mary Magdalene decides to bend down and look into the tomb.  Angels appear; there is hope.  As she weeps, she tells them that someone has taken her Lord, and she does not know where they have taken him.  Angels listen.  Mary now senses the presence of someone else behind her, outside the tomb.  She doesn’t recognize him.  She speaks with him, but it is not until he calls her by name that Mary realizes it is Jesus, her teacher, her Lord.  Mary wants to embrace, to hold on to him, but he says no…she must not hold on. She must not remain. She must go and tell the others.  She must bear witness to the resurrection.


Mary tells the other disciples. Her story is still told today. The Beloved Disciple, Peter and all the disciples soon see the Risen Lord as well.  We learn that Peter even gets a chance for redemption; to speak with the Risen Lord and tell him 3 times that he loves him.  Peter eventually gets the chance to preach to multitudes, telling his encounters with the Risen Lord, as we heard in the book of Acts. And the Beloved Disciple goes on to write this amazing Gospel of John.


Christians from the early days write of their personal experiences with the Risen Lord, the most famous being Paul whose life was completely transformed from one who kills to one who reveals the immense power of God’s grace, God’s gift of love that forgives even the most heinous crimes.


Through the centuries we read of people who  went from yearning for resurrection to lives fully transformed by the power of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection to new life.  Famous saints, such as St. Francis, who went from wealthy soldier to prisoner, to one kneeling before the cross of Jesus to find redemption in resurrection. We see the witness today of a new Pope who takes the power of St. Francis’ conversion and makes it his own, washing the feet of children who are prisoners seeking redemption, seeking resurrection.


We all yearn for the redemptive power of resurrection. There are countless people suffering this day from the deep grief of a loved one whose life has ended. Perhaps they are faced not only with that death, but are truly looking head on to their own death for the first time. I pray they can find hope in the witness of Mary Magdalene, The Beloved Disciple, and Peter.  If we receive even a glimpse of the possibility of resurrection, our lives can be transformed forever also.   Contemporary Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr, says


”Once we have a personal experience in our own life of the risen Christ upholding us, naming us, loving us, freeing us, then we have nothing to fear.”

[Richard Rohr, from John Mark Ministries, http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/4614.htm]


Those of us who have received this grace are encouraged to share our experience with others.  And while I risk the danger of telling my own story to the point of others getting tired of hearing it, I cannot help but believe that on Easter Sunday there may be at least one of you who will be inspired and encouraged to seek the Risen Lord for themselves.


And so I witness my own glimpse of Resurrection.  By the grace of God, I did not have a life tormented by ”demons” or mental illness, outcast and unclean like Mary Magdalene, but I suffered from loss at a profound level.  As a teenager I was faced with the death of my brother, a senseless, avoidable death.  Like Mary Magdalene I knew I needed to pay homage to my grief, and sought relief for the pain and confusion.  I wanted to know what really happened to my brother, what happened to his dead body, what happened to his soul. I yearned for resurrection.  I wanted to know “where is my brother?”


And so, I got down on my knees in prayer, in a stone cold cathedral, alone, far from home, and I asked God.  “Where is my brother?”  After an unknown amount of time, a presence came into my heart—actually it was more like my whole being was enveloped by a warm blanket of love, and I knew. It was as if Jesus was with me, the Risen Lord came to me and assured me:  “I am with your brother and I am with you.  In me you are one.” 


I was filled with a deep peace.  A peace which passes all human understanding.  A peace which I knew was the presence of Christ who is Risen, upholding me, naming me, loving me.  I was freed of all fear.  


Like Mary Magdalene, so too, did I want to “hold on to Jesus”, to remain in the place of complete peace in that stone cold cathedral. But, it was as if a presence were at my elbow, urging me to get up, go and tell the others.


When we experience the Risen Lord in our midst we cannot hold on –we cannot stay in the moment of his actual presence for ever if we are still in our mortal bodies.  Instead, Jesus commissions us to go, tell the others.


Everyone yearns for Resurrection. Today may you receive the grace of knowing that Resurrection is real.  Everyone must know that Jesus Christ is Risen.  ALLELUIA!  THE LORD IS RISEN, INDEED!  ALLELUIA!!!!