A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while
it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had
been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the
other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord
from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter
and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. 4 They were
running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the
first to arrive at the tomb. 5 Bending down to take a look, he
saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Following
him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 He
also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other
clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8 Then the other
disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and
believed. 9 They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus
must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to the
place where they were staying.
11 Mary stood
outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the
tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the
body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The
angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t
know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this,
she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was
15 Jesus said
to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you
have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said
to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which
17 Jesus said
to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my
brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene
left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them
what he said to her.
You all know the game of
“Hot and Cold” we used to play as kids.Some object is hidden, and those playing start far away from it, and the
person who hid the object says, “Cold, cold,” and then as they closer and
closer they say, “Warmer, Warmer, Warmer, Hot, Hot, Red Hot, Burning Up!” until
finally, the hidden object is found.
I imagine that first
Easter Sunday as sort of a game of “Hot and Cold.”Jesus’ body is like the hidden object
everyone is trying to find.For his
followers, the Marys, Simon Peter, John, and whoever else was headed to the
tomb, it should have been a fairly easy and straightforward game.As a general, reliable rule, bodies stay in
place once buried, and so Jesus should be easy to find.When they left the house, ice cold.As they got closer to the cemetery, a little
warmer.Down the garden path, warmer,
warmer. Right up to the entrance of the tomb – HOT, HOT.
But, the tomb is empty. As
Mary approaches the tomb in the early morning mist and sees the stone rolled
away, she supposes he has been taken away in the middle of the night, and
despair sets in.When it comes to
finding Jesus, Mary’s heart is screaming, “Red Hot, Burning Up!” but her senses
are telling her, “Cold, Cold, Cold.”Her
heart feels Jesus nearby, but the tomb is empty.Angels confirm this news, and Mary backs out
of the tomb right into a man who was just outside.Through the tears, she barely gets out, “Sir,
if you have taken him away, please, just tell me where he is . . . please,
please, please . . .”
The gardener doesn’t
answer.He just says one word.He calls her by name, “Mary . . .”And when, out of the darkness, we hear our
name called, we recognize the One who stands before us – the crucified One is the
risen One, and what, a moment ago seemed “Cold, cold, cold” now radiates with
the warmth of the presence of Christ.
We have also shown up
today looking for Jesus. Through the liturgy, the music, the sermon, and the
sacrament I pray that we too might discover this day the risen Lord, who is
forever finding ways to bump into us. God has a way of finding us far quicker than
we’re able to realize we’ve found God.
Honesty bids us admit that
we don’t always know what God is up to or where God is. Sometimes, like the
disciples, we look in the tomb and go back home because we don’t know what else
to do.Sometimes, like Mary, we cover
the ground with our tears or lash out at angels or strangers or even at Christ
himself.Sometimes, our questions go unanswered
or our fears get the better of us, but the good news of Easter is that fears,
and doubts, and grief, and anger, and confusion are not the end of the story.
Mary invites us to linger
as long as we need to. Mary doesn’t go home, she looks in the tomb over and over
again, God’s grace working to make her warmer and warmer and warmer until she’s
“hot.” Encountering the risen Christ herself. The resurrection doesn’t lessen the pain or
the reality of death, it simply shows us, that with God, the worst thing is
never the last thing, and that tears and grief, through God’s love and grace,
can be transformed into joy and hope.
That joy wells up from the
depth of Mary’s being and she lunges to embrace this resurrected Jesus, but
Jesus, to our dismay and certainly Mary’s says, “Do not hold onto me.”I have to admit I’d have written this part
differently.If it were up to me, pan in
for a long, tearful hug between Jesus and Mary – close-up on their smiling,
tear-stained faces.Cue the sappy
reunion music, get the tissues ready because there will be water works.Wide angle shot on the sun rising over the
horizon, music builds, credits roll – start writing your acceptance speech for
the Oscars ‘cause we’re taking this one all the way down the red carpet, because
The problem with how I
would write the scene, however, is that the reunion with Jesus isn’t the end,
it’s actually just the beginning of God’s new redemption story.Mary just didn’t know that yet.
Holding onto Jesus in that
moment would have allowed her to hold onto all that Jesus had been, yet would
rob her of experiencing all that Jesus was yet to be.
Jesus says, “Do not hold
onto me.Don’t bottle me up or try to
keep me all to yourself.Go tell your
brothers and sisters what you have seen.Do not hold on – let me go to the ends of the earth.”
It’s not simply for her
own good.One of the greatest complaints
against the church in our time is that we can try to hold onto Jesus for
ourselves, while the world literally goes to hell around us – so
heavenly-bound, we’re no earthly good, as it were.But, resurrection means transformation. If,
like Mary, we are fortunate enough to encounter the risen Lord, let us not hold
onto new life just for ourselves, but make Christ known to others, as Christ
has so graciously made himself known to us.
Friends, today is Easter,
a day for us to meet the risen Christ.I
need not ask, “What are you looking for?”It’s the sunrise service, for goodness’ sake – reason tells me that you
are seriously looking for Jesus.Good
thing, too, because just in showing up, you’re not cold. Christ is risen, and
he is here with us, in this room, this very morning.Hopefully in the liturgy and music you’ve
sensed, “warmer, warmer.”Maybe even
something from this sermon has moved all of us a bit closer to finding the One
we are all looking for.
But, I promise you this: If
you’re looking for Jesus, if you’re looking to hear “hot” as you get closer and
closer to his presence, know that Jesus has always promised that he would be
known in the broken bread and a shared cup.His love is as tangible as the bread on the table, his grace reflected
in the face of every person gathered here today.
This table is HOT! In true
Jesus fashion it is he who has found us long before we realize we have found
him. We have come looking for him, but the truth is he was here long before we
ever arrived in this room. We may just be getting to the table, but it was set
long ago.God’s love and grace is here,
it’s been here the whole time.
Today is Easter Sunday,
and where shall we find the risen Lord?We meet the resurrected Jesus where he promised to always be: in the
breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.
And just like Mary, he
asks that we not to hold onto these elements for our own sake but to go forth
proclaiming the life-giving grace and love poured out at this table.Today is Easter Sunday; Christ is risen, and
Christ is here.The crucified One is the
risen One, who finds us in the darkness, calls our name, and gives us a hope
and joy that is too great for us to hang onto.