Scandalous Gospel

Easter Sermon 2013 John 20:1-18

Our story begins in darkness.

Some of us began this morning in the drizzly darkness, in the place where we have buried our dead. All of us at some point this week, this month, this year have been in the dark, in the shadows, in the desperate need for redemption.

Mary Magdalene begins the journey to her teacher’s grave in the dark. She’s been waiting for three days so she could come to her Lord’s tomb so that she can anoint his dead body.

She goes to the tomb, expecting to grieve. And what she finds, instead of her Teacher’s body, is an empty tomb. “They have taken him away, and we don’t know where he is.” She cannot care for him in death the only way she had left.

She is so lost that she runs to the disciples, and tells them that Jesus’ body has been stolen away. She arrives, breathless, and only two of them follow her back to see what it going on.

Immediately she knows that he has been stolen and they are going to desecrate his body, claim that the disciples had hidden him, and deny her Lord’s body the dignity of rest.

She returns to darkness. She returns to grief. Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, and maybe she feels them begin to encroach on her once again. (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9)

We do this just the same way. When we are stuck in the darkness, when we are stuck in grief, we know that the worst has happened. It feels like our savior has been stolen away from us.

When our lives fall to pieces, when we lose a loved one, when we lose a job, or have to leave behind friends, or friends leave us behind: we are in the darkness. When we realize that we are in trouble, that trouble has caught up with us, when hopes have died, when death is the most real thing in our lives: we are walking among the graves.

And so we begin our journey this morning with Mary. We walk to the tomb, and we look in.

And…

We find…

Emptiness.

And at first, with Mary and Peter and the other disciple, we are stymied. We look into the tomb with them and we see a couple of piles of linens. We see the remnants of what our Savior was buried in, and we don’t understand the scriptures.

We can believe part of it, we can see that the tomb is empty, we can see that Jesus is not in the tomb any more. It is empty.

And we can be like the two disciples that follow Mary to the tomb, and look in, and see the emptiness, and then return home. They believed that the tomb was empty, they have verified that, but they just return home.

As Christians, we have been given the opportunity for this wonderful experience of an empty grave, and too many of us take this wonderful truth, and carry it back home with us. We take it home and keep it there, safe, locked up.

But the Gospel is not safe.

And Mary stays there at the tomb, weeping. Her teacher has been stolen away.

She looks into the tomb, and finds… Two angels, clothed in white. And they talk to her. “Why are you weeping?”

She answers, absently, perhaps she thinks she is going crazy with grief. She turns, not waiting for an answer from them, she merely turns away from the empty tomb, and finds… a man.

And he asks her the same thing, but adds to it: “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?

And she answers him, thinking he is the gardener. The Gardener. On the first day of the week, at the garden tomb. As we read this Gospel message, we see the truth of her assumption. Who else, than the Lord of all the earth and all of creation could this be?

She doesn’t recognize him, but she doesn’t know how right she is.

He calls her by name. Only then, when Jesus calls her by name, does she realize who it is.

She sees her teacher, standing there, and she instantly realizes the amazing good truth of his presence. Christ is risen. Jesus is risen.

What an amazing gift. This Gospel and Good News.

The Gospel is not safe. No. The Gospel is scandalous.

As y’all probably know, we have a new Pope. Now, we’re not part of the big “C” Catholic Church, but we are a part of the church universal, and the little “c” catholic church. And it is valuable to pay attention to what the leader of the Catholic Church says and does.

On this past Thursday, for the Maundy Thursday service, instead of having the service in the Vatican, he went to a youth prison, and washed the feet of twelve youth. Two of them were women. A pope has not washed the feet of a woman in the modern era. Usually it is twelve priests, handpicked for their leadership. The foot-washing represents when Jesus stooped to wash the feet of the twelve disciples.

But Pope Francis the First decided to change the pattern, and go out, and do something scandalous. He washed the feet of a Muslim woman. Not by force, but as a gift.

A scandalous gift.

See, today we are celebrating, in the midst of the eggs and bunnies and butterflies and flowers, a scandalous truth. We celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We celebrate the love of a man who died for each and every one of us, for the whole world, and cared enough about one of his friends, one of the women disciples, to call her by name the morning that he has risen from the dead.

Mary was one of Jesus’ Disciples, she traveled with him through his ministry and journey. She stood in witness to his crucifixion, death, and burial, and she was there at the grave on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, looking for her Lord and teacher.

And she found the Teacher, the Lord, in a way that she had never imagined.

And Mary: Mary has the blessing of running to the rest of the disciples, declaring the good news. The Gospel of the resurrection of our Lord Christ.

“I have seen the Lord!” she says. He spoke to me, he stood there and called my by name, and he has declared that he will ascend to his Father and our God.

It is very difficult to believe the good news. But it is a good news that is open for us to receive.

The Gospel is open for us, in a way that we have never imagined. All we have to do is keep our eyes open, search for it, and sometimes, show up in the darkness. Even when we return to the tombs in our lives, in the midst of the darkness, God can surprise us with the glorious, scandalous good news of resurrection.

And the Gospel is open to all of us: Man and woman. Adult and child. Gay and Straight. Slave and free. Married and single. Lost and found. Whether we have all the answers or are still looking for a new solution. It is open for all.

Never think that you don’t have what it takes to share the Gospel. We have received the gift of grace, and we have been given the commandment to love one another as God has loved us.

So love, share the Good news of resurrection, and celebrate this living, breathing wonderful scandalous glorious news.

Amen.

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