Easter Sunday, April 5th 2015
Based John 20:1-18
I began the service by passing around a photocopied `mug shot’ of a gaunt-faced woman with the word: LOST printed underneath it.
Before I begin the Easter message today – I need to ask your help. I need your help in finding someone. Has anyone seen this woman? This is a woman in the valley of the shadow of death. Has anyone seen this gaunt-faced, wild-eyed, death-shadowed woman? (I invite you to pass the picture around in case anyone recognizes her…)
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from it.”
In this story we have Mary, and we have Peter and another unnamed disciple, who come at Mary’s bidding to see the desecrated sight. The `other’ disciple takes a peek, but doesn’t go inside the tomb. He sees linen wrappings. Peter barges in and sees the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. How strange. Then the two of them apparently go home and leave Mary there. Mary looks in and what does she see? Two angels! She talks with them. She turns and sees a third person – whom she thinks to be gardener, but later recognizes as Jesus. How is it they all saw different things? Were they making it up or was something else going on here? Do you believe something because you see it, or do you see something because you believe it? Where is God in all of this? I wonder…
A few years ago I was discussing theology with my chiropractor. He told about going camping with his wife and two little daughters. It was breakfast time and he was about to sit down in his usual spot when his daughter said, `Don’t sit there.’
Why?’ he asked. `Because God is sitting there, came the response. He said, `Would you ask him to get out of my chair?’ ‘No!, said his little daughter. So the dad moved to another location.
According to Nancy Reeves, co-author of ‘The Adventures of the God Detectives’ it’s not uncommon for children, in particular, to see things and people that grown-ups don’t usually see. In the Western world, we call them imaginary friends. But Nancy told of a study where western psychologists asked their counterparts in the East if the children they dealt with had imaginary friends. They were very puzzled to keep hearing that, no, there weren’t any reports of imaginary friends. Finally, someone said, “They don’t have imaginary friends, but there are a lot of invisible friends.”
So, maybe where one person sees only linen clothes, another sees, at a deeper level, angels- messengers from God. But Mary sees more that angels – she sees another person, one whom she supposes to be the gardener. She sees and yet doesn’t see. She did not expect to see Jesus, and so she didn’t. But then she hears her name spoken with love, “Mary”. Then she knows this is the one who was brought her out of whatever hell she was living in, and called her to life.
There is a beautiful saying attributed simply to `a child.’ “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Perhaps I will always wonder why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first, but I do understand a bit about seeing in a different way.
Show the picture of the LOST woman again.
Do you know her, this lost woman? This picture was taken at the Kamloops Police station on November 24th 2003 – 4 months and 6 days before my friend Marilyn got off drugs. This woman has come back from the brink of death. She keeps this picture with her always to remind herself, if ever she is tempted to fix her problems with drugs, of what it is to be in hell. She shares this picture with other addicts who say, `You don’t know how bad it is. And she says, `Oh yes I do, and if I can get clean, you can do it too.’ Marilyn and her husband Dan started the Merritt Helping Hands Society, a little group of former addicts working with the support of Interior Health who came to the United Church in Merritt, when I was ministering there, and asked to use our space to bring clean needles and other supplies to people still caught in their addiction. I am happy to say that after some angst by some members, the church said `Yes.’ Marilyn gave me permission to share this picture with you.
She looks like a completely different person now. Her eyes sparkle with life, she has a delightful giggle, and she’s put on weight – but as she says, `I’d rather be chunky than be a junky.’ Her beloved husband Dan wasn’t so lucky. He contracted Hepatitis B from his drug use days. He died four years ago in January, from liver failure. Yes, Marilyn grieves his death, but she has learned to ride Dan’s Harley – now her Harley.
On March 30th Marilyn wrote: I am 11 years clean and sober today. Life is such a blessing. So grateful to live the life I was meant to live.
But the thing is, when I see this picture of Marilyn – I don’t see a junkie, I see someone who has gone to hell and back, and has experienced liberation, through companionship, prayer, and the grace of God. I see a beloved child of God.
In our United Church tradition we don’t often say the Apostles’ Creed, but there is a line in that ancient statement of faith that says of Jesus: “…he was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again;…”
In the wonderful book `Good Goats – Healing our Image of God’ it says, “…Jesus’ descent into hell is his refusal to accept our choice of destruction. Holy Saturday proclaims that Jesus’ mission is to demonstrate solidarity with us by even, if necessary, descending into our hell and being with us there until his healing presence renews us enough to rise with him on Easter.”
In the Western world when we see pictures of the resurrected Christ, he stands alone, in triumphant splendor. Jesus, alone, is what we see. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the image of Jesus at the resurrection is not of a solitary person. He always has his hands extended – not in stance of triumphant but because he is lifting up a man and woman/the archetypal Adam & Eve, to show that he lifts all of humanity to new life with him.
Maybe at the moment of death, Jesus looked as lost and broken as Marilyn does in this picture. If she could look so different a few years after she went clean, couldn’t Jesus look so different at his death-defying `up-rising?’
The resurrection accounts in the gospels may defy explanation, but they don’t defy experience.
Mary saw Jesus, but she also saw two other beings – the gospel calls them angels, but maybe even then, she recognized the liberation of all humanity in the risen Christ.
In our world, our hearts break from the senseless brutality that is still perpetuated on a human level – sometimes in the name of religion- which of course is no religion at all. We are all so in need of liberation. May we on this Easter Sunday, hear our name spoken with love, and feel the holy pull to a freer, forgiven, more compassionate life as we rise with Christ. Amen.