April 5, 2015 (Easter) - John 20.1-18

“I’ll Tell You What You Want, What You Really, Really Want”

John 20:1-18

April 5, 2015 (Easter)


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 the tomb.2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


Well, the weather is all weird.  We are two weeks into Spring and it STILL doesn’t feel like spring yet.  I laughed this morning when I thought of all the Pastors around the country that were not able to wriggle out of their sunrise services today.  “Christ has r-r-r-r-r-r-r-risen-n-n-n.”  LOL.


But regardless of the weather, now is the time we celebrate Easter.  One of the things about when we celebrate Easter – which is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox – is that this is a when darkness is overpowered by light, after the season begins to change from winter to mud, um, I mean Spring.  It’s just that sometimes, it is harder to shake off the frost of winter, and the thaw doesn’t want to show up.


It’s a good time to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  Some people have accused Easter of just being a baptized celebration of the first warm days of spring.  It is far more than that, but the whole Spring connection does give us hope.  People are just dying for some warm weather, it seems, and no wonder because it has been a LONG winter.


Not just here in beautiful North Dakota. It’s all over.  Everybody was cold all over the country.  People in Texas were getting snow and totally freaking out.  “What do we do?  What do we do?”  I told them to just put on a sweater, get some hot tea or hot cocoa, and just ride it out.


Not long ago,  I called my Dad in South Carolina.  I asked him what the weather was like in South Carolina.  He said it was bitterly cold - at 42 degrees.  (Wimps)  I have a friend online that often travels to Tahiti or Trinidad, or someplace tropical that begins with a “T”.  I asked him what the weather was like there.  He said 80 degrees and sunshine.  I told him to go die.


I admit that it took me a while to get acclimated to the North Dakota winters.  I remember not long after we first moved here, I stepped outside one morning to drive the boys to school and it was -14 degrees (not the wind chill) and I thought “I’m in Dante’s Inferno in the ninth level of hell, where everything is frozen solid.”  Souls frozen solid and unable to move.


We are all longing for an end to the cold.  It dawned on me that many people come into the church like a North Dakotan coming from the cold.  We need to find a warm place.  It isn’t just the cold of winter that gets us.  It’s the darkness, the absence of light and seemingly, life.  Everything is frozen and even the grass under the snow and ice is brown.  We want warmth.


The winter reminds us of our slow descent towards death and we long for some hope.  We want to know that we aren’t just going to freeze and die.  We want signs of life.


I understand, I guess, why the Druids and pagans rejoiced at the coming of spring.  The flowers bloom, the grass gets green and grows.  Dogs roll around in the grass and dirt, happy to have new things to smell and go to the bathroom on.  It’s so nice.  And many of you will take that opportunity to plunge into your gardens and get your knees and fingernails full of black dirt.  We want to see signs of life.


But this Winter/Spring metaphor has its limits.  Spring, with all its rejuvenative power cannot bring us back to life.  If it is your soul that seems dead, and not just your flowers, then spring will not help you one iota.  In fact all of us humans, as we long for spring and warmth and new life, should realize that what we really, really want is not springtime, but resurrection.  You see as much as we want spring to bring new life, it doesn’t – not for us.  Not for us as humans because we are mortal.  No matter how much I want it, my mother is not going to get up out of her grave because it’s spring.


But because of what Jesus did on the first Easter day, one day my mother will.


The truth of Easter is like a truth bomb waiting to go off and destroy the winter of our souls.  It is warmth and life and no darkness or cold can prevail against it.  Spring is like a vague hint at what awaits us in Easter.


Mary Magdalene’s great friend Jesus had died. The one who reached out to her and loved her, and had embraced her, had died. Mary went out with the rest of them in grief to pay her last respects to the memory of her friend.


I imagine that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that morning it must have felt – spiritually, at least -  like going out into a frozen world, with wind chills far below zero.  But she had an obligation and no one else was going to go finish preparing Jesus’ body for his burial.  All the disciples were hiding.


When people go through grief, they often report what a huge achievement it is just to put "one foot in front of the other." To keep on keeping on becomes a great achievement. Perhaps that's the way Mary went out to the tomb that first Easter.


When people go through a great trauma, like a great grief, such as the loss of a child, spouse or parent, we don't expect them so much to triumph, as simply to survive. Simply being a survivor is triumph enough. Amen?


It’s as if the soul has become frozen.  And warmth seems like just a memory.  We think we want an end to our long, cold winter of our soul, but what we really want is not just run of the mill warmth, or typical thawing, etc. What we really want – really, really want - is the new life in Christ.  What we want – need – is nothing that mere nature provides on her own timetable, but the supernatural heat that blew the stone of the tomb completely off its hinges.  Folks, we live in a spiritually frozen world, and what we need is the heat and light of the love of God in Jesus.  I am not talking of some gentle warming of our hearts; the heat of Jesus’ love makes a supernova seem like a pilot light in a furnace.  That’s what we are connected to.  And yet, so often we seem content to just bundle up and ride out the spiritual winter.


Well-meaning friends sometimes tell us when we are in grief, "You must get up and get going. You need to get moving! Get up! Get dressed." It’s easy to say, but hard to do if you know that it’s all cold outside.  Mary did that on the first Easter; she had the courage to get up and get out.  Then she and the other disciples see the empty tomb, and literally, the Son came out.  The guys raced back to Jerusalem to preach, "He is risen!" But Mary lingered. She stayed. Perhaps she needed to thaw.  Because she stayed Jesus met her and she saw the Risen Christ for herself and she believed.


Grief has a way of freezing us.  We seize up.  Depression creeps up and all we want to do is stay away from everyone else.  To hibernate, in a phrase.  I went through that after my mother died 4 years ago.  If for a moment we think that Jesus doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a frozen place, or left out in the cold, we need to think again.  The coldest place – spiritually – was on the cross.  Carrying every sin, Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, alone and naked on the cross.  No man has ever been colder.  And Jesus did it for us while we were still sinners.  When the Bible says that Jesus died for us “while we were yet sinners”, the Greek text there is in the present perfect tense – that means while we were actually in the process of committing the worst thing we have ever done, Jesus was dying for us on the cross.  In the middle of our darkest hour, Jesus was right there with us, dying to save us.


A pastor I know was at a troubled church that had lost hundreds of members in the prior decade. Like a lot of inner-city churches, the church had lost touch with its neighborhood and had been in decline. The church was characterized by one of its members – who left – as being full of God’s frozen (not chosen) people.  He said that the church was a cold, joyless place.


By the grace of God, eventually things got better and things started to change. They grew. One day, the pastor had the occasion to thank one of the loyal, older members for her support and for her leadership. He thanked her for simply staying with the congregation during its rough times, and, because she stayed, she helped lead the congregation forward.


"I stayed here because I couldn't get out of my mind that God had a purpose for this church," she said. I stayed because I was convinced that God would one day bless us and use us.” Then she said to the pastor, “You came to us as our pastor and, despite first impressions (!) you turned out to be that blessing that we needed. I am glad I stayed, because if I had left, I would have missed out on a resurrection!"


Everything moves slower in the winter.  Every step I take on the ice is slow, careful and gingerly taken.  But when all of the ice melts and the life comes back, we see children running and we all move with more confidence and speed.  The Life God offers us in Easter – in the Risen Christ – is a life that is full of joy and celebration!  We move quicker and without fear!  When we are frozen, we have no choice but to remain where we are.  But when Jesus melts away our ice and sin, it is abundant life we celebrate!


It is important for us to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is not just some historical event, “the stone was rolled away.”  It is a current event, right now, the resurrection IS a present reality – the stone is still rolled away and Jesus is loose! 


I know that sometimes in our lives, each of us can feel cold, dead, and lifeless, like something left out on the prairie to freeze all winter.  Some of us, perhaps you, are frozen by something: sin, addictions, alcoholism, depression, sick relationships, poor choices, etc.  We can be frozen solid – frozen to death, unable to break free – by the circumstances in our lives. Sometimes entire churches can feel that way.  But that feeling of cold, frozen joyless existence is totally contrary to the reality of Easter – Eternal Joy springing forth to melt everything – including our sin.  It is Easter – Jesus’ resurrection – that truly sets us free.


What is Easter?  Easter is the demonstration of the phenomenally great lengths God will go to save you, to bring you in out of the cold and allow you to be washed over by the eternal warmth of his love.


The overreaching arc of the Bible is aimed at you, directed at your heart, to show you that God bends all creation in order to love you.  From the beginning of time until right now, it has been and always will be God’s obsession to love you, to show you how much God loves you and to go to any length to save you.  This is what Easter is about – God has not left any of us out in the cold.





God of the Resurrection, help us to live as Easter people

As we leave today, let us truly celebrate the blessed promise of Easter

That everything is different now:

Every night shall be broken by Dawn,

Every tear shall spring from Joy;

Every step shall become a dance,

And every word shall carry a song.[1]


[1] Chalice Worship, p.436.

  February 2018  
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