April 16, 2017
The Resurrection of the Lord
Rev. Ryan Slifka
Easter is an interesting day for people like me, people who hold leadership roles in faith communities. Easter is a day where all sorts of different people show up. At so many different places in their lives and their relationships to faith, to spirituality. It’s a once-or-twice-a-year opportunity. So I thought I’d make the most of it, and rather than preaching a single sermon for you today, I thought I’d kick it up a notch. I figured I’d preach three sermons for you today instead. You’re all here, so we might as well pack in everything we can. Might as well make it count!
So before some of you quietly slip out the back or slip your headphones in, listen to where I’m going with this. I’ve got three mini sermons today because there are three different people who show up at the tomb of Jesus in our bible passage for today. Three different people who have three different experiences when they look in to the empty tomb of Jesus. I realized that their experiences are so much like our own, even as we metaphorically gather at the empty tomb today. In where we’re at in our spiritual journeys, how we’re touched (or not touched) by the story of Easter. Even two-thousand or so years later. So three people, three experiences. Three sermons.
Okay, so sermon number one. Mary Magdalene. This is for you church folks out there. Regular attenders of varying levels of commitment. This ain’t your first visit to the tomb. This ain’t your first Easter. Mary Magdalene is actually the first person to recognize Jesus as God-in-the flesh in John. Like Mary, you’re already committed. You’re already all-in.
But even someone like Mary Magdalene, who’s already committed loses hope, she forgets things. She comes to the tomb, finds the stone rolled away. She’s upset, thinking someone’s stolen the body. She runs to get her two friends—Simon Peter, and this other person “the Beloved Disciple.” They all run back. Her friends check things out, and then go home. She finally brings herself to look inside. But where Jesus’ body was there are these two angels. And she sees someone who looks like the gardener standing there. “Why are you crying?” This stranger asks. “Look,” she says. “Somebody’s taken Jesus’ body. If you’ve put it somewhere just tell me.” Or just get out of my way. But the stranger knows her name. “Mary,” he says. She looks at him again, and suddenly she realizes it’s not the gardener. “Rabbi! Teacher!” she says. It’s Jesus. She recognizes him. He’s alive. Long story short. She recognizes Jesus. And she runs to tell everyone. “I have seen the Lord.”
Mary was committed. But even she’d lost hope. She lost track, she literally even lost sight of Jesus. She couldn’t see him even though he was standing right in front of her. Until she heard a voice call her name. She remembered.
Those of us who are the most secure in our faith can be shaken. Like Mary, we can be tested by the darkness, we can be shaken by the shocking cruelty of the world. We can fall in to despair. But today, that familiar voice. That voice that calls us, and addresses us by name—“Mary.” “Ryan.” “John.” “Eve.” “Susan.” That same voice that makes you see the world clearly. That same voice that rekindles that fire in your soul. That same voice that gives you the kind of hope that can never fully be shaken. This familiar voice addresses you again today.
For you experienced church people out there, this sermon is for you. Because you need to be reminded. That fire needs to be re-kindled. Again and again and again. Easter is for you.
Okay. Sermon number two. This mysterious person called “the Beloved Disciple.” We’re not quite sure who this is. Could be John, the author of the book. Could be someone else. But this is for all of you people who are on the spiritual edge of things. You’re not entirely sure about all of this stuff. But there’s there. You may consider yourself “spiritual, but not religious.” Because there’s something compelling. Like the beloved disciple, Easter means something to you. Even if the pieces don’t all fit together.
Like I said, Mary finds the stone rolled away from the tomb. She runs to get these two guys, Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, to help her retrieve Jesus’ body. He beats Peter there, but is the second to look in side. The text says there was no body there. The spot where Jesus’ body was placed was empty, except for his burial wrappings. A pile of rags, neatly piled, where his feet would have been. And the cloth that covered his face where his head would have been. But here’s the interesting detail. It says that the Beloved Disciple saw these two piles lying there. And he “believed.” It’s not this full blown hallelujah, amen. But that he “didn’t yet understand the scriptures.” After this, the story says, he crawls out. He goes home. But something changed for him. Something clicked in the tomb. Even though he didn’t quite understand. Even though didn’t quite know what it was.
He doesn’t know what he sees. But there’s something compelling about it. I remember reading a piece by the late great Atheist and writer Christopher Hitchens. He was once married a woman, a Greek Orthodox Christian. And he said that on Easter morning when they sang “Christ is risen” over and over. He felt it was true. But he didn’t think it was. He thought it was garbage, in fact. But he was like the beloved disciple, like many of you here today are. You’ve peered in to the empty tomb something resonates. This sermon’s for you. Because there’s something compelling. Even if you don’t know what it is. Even if you’re not quite sure. Even if you don’t quite understand it. Don’t have the details worked out. At least not yet. But there’s something here, there’s something more to life than meets the eye. This sermon’s for you. Because today is another step on a longer spiritual journey. Things are getting started. So Easter’s for you, too.
Okay. One, two, now three. Final one. Simon Peter. This sermon’s for those of you who are here today maybe for the sake of your spouse, a parent, or a grandparent. Maybe you just like to sing. Those who are agnostic. Or are skeptical. Those of you who, when it comes down to it, you don’t buy it.
Simon Peter races to the tomb. Hops in. He sees the pile of rags. He sees the cloth. But here’s the thing. Nothing happens. He hops in. He sees this. Then he hops back out. And he goes home. No difference, no change. Just another day.
Like Simon Peter, for those of you who are skeptical, today is just another day. That’s it. I mean, you didn’t get to sleep in as long as you could this morning. But life goes on.
But you know what, that’s okay. Because this isn’t the end of the story for Peter. He peers in to the empty tomb—nothing there. So he heads home. Back to his job, out on the fishing boat. Year goes by, and one day he’s out fishing and sees this guy building a fire on the shore. And it’s Jesus. Peter hasn’t caught anything all day. But Jesus tells him to try his net on the other side of the boat. So he does, and biggest haul he’s ever seen. At first the empty tomb for him was meaningless. But it doesn’t matter. Because one day Jesus tracks him down. He not only tracks him down. He fills his empty net full.
It’s okay if you come here today and don’t really get what people are so excited about. You’ve looked in to the empty tomb, and it’s just a pile of rags. There’s a story about the great physicist Niels Bohr. He had a horseshoe over the door of his office. A friend saw it one day and couldn’t believe it. Bohr, this rational scientist. “You don’t believe in that superstitious garbage, do you?” his friend asked. Bohr smiled. “I’ve heard,” he said, “that it works whether you believe it or not.” It’s okay if you’re not on board yet. Because for us, Easter means that God is on the loose in the world. God is at work bringing blessing out of brokenness. Bringing healing to the broken-hearted. Bringing life out of death. Whether you believe it or not. God works in God’s own time.
You may be a skeptic. Today you might take another peak, and see just a couple piles of rags and a bunch of well-meaning people gathering to celebrate a pleasant myth. But… today is even for you. Like Peter, one day you might find your net is completely empty. And that same ordinary day you might encounter the risen Christ. Today ain’t the end of the story. One day God may track you down. And you might experience the abundance, the fullness that we do today. Today, Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is for you, too. Even you.
Three sermons. Three people. Three different people peered in to an empty tomb, where Jesus had been laid. The three different people saw three different things. One heard the voices of angels, which led to an encounter with the Risen Christ. She heard her name called again by a familiar voice. And another, he crawled in, and something immediately clicked. Something changed. He knew there was something to it, but wasn’t quite sure what. And the other one saw nothing but a dusty old crypt. He went on, life as usual. Regardless of what they saw at the tomb that day. Whether they saw Christ in the flesh, or something that bypassed their brain, but rang deeply true in their heart. Or whether they saw nothing at all. Regardless of who they were, how they reacted. Easter made its mark on them. A permanent mark on them. Easter was for everyone.
The first Easter was for everyone gathered at the tomb. No matter who they were. And friends, this Easter is for everyone gathered here today, too. No matter if you come today to hear the old, old story and to be reminded, to have that fire rekindled anew. No matter if you’re just on the edge of faith, or a seeker in search of that something greater than yourselves to give your life over to. No matter if you are just here for the hot crossed buns or to make Nana happy. No matter who you are. Easter is for you because God’s love is stronger than the powers of Sin and Death. The chains that bind you and the world have been broken. Easter is for you because now whole new lives are possible. Easter is for you because now a whole new world is possible. Today you’re in the right place. Because Easter is for you… because Easter is for everyone.
Easter is for everyone. Go and tell everyone that today you’ve seen the Lord. Because, my dear friends, the tomb is empty. Today is the day. Because Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!
Amen, hallelujah, amen!