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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunrise: Warm, Warmer, Hot, Hot, HOT! (John 20:1-18)


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. 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.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 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. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 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 Jesus.

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 means Teacher).

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 that’s showmanship!

 

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.

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