At-Home Easter Sermon
Following the scripture reading but before the prayer and sermon, we encourage you to enjoy a performance of Good Christian Friends, Rejoice (#239 in our hymnal) by our church organist, Katherine Nold. Click here to view it.
Mary Magdalene arrives at Jesus’ tomb while it is still dark. I imagine her squinting with a torch held aloft, barely perceiving the horrifying scene: Jesus’ tomb has been opened! She can scarcely see the graveyard, but she does not see the truth at all. Mary tells Peter and the disciple John that Christ’s body has been taken. John races over first and looks in to see scattered grave linens, but he does not see the truth. Peter arrives next and walks in to see the tomb up close, but he too does not see the truth. Finally, John enters the tomb himself to see the full grim sight, and we are told he believes the truth… but did not yet understand. John has a hunch, a hope, a belief as to what happened… but does not yet know why or how it is so. John now believes the truth but has not yet seen or understood it. And as Mary Magdalene weeps near the tomb, she is met by angels who hint at the relief that’s coming. But even then she does not see the truth. Mary, Peter, and John scour Jerusalem for the truth of who stole Christ’s body and to where. But none fully grasp the truth standing right in front of them.
But like a good detective novel, the mystery of Christ’s missing corpse is only slowly unraveled as our trio investigate the crime. Mary discovers the initial clue: the heavy stone blocking the tomb’s entrance has been moved. John finds the second clue: the linen wrappings around Jesus’ body remain in the tomb, a strange thing for graverobbers to leave behind. Peter finds the third: the cloth on Christ’s face was rolled up carefully and set aside, care no thief would bother to show. The two men go home—Peter unsure what to think and John believing but not understanding—while Mary Magdalene simply weeps outside the empty tomb of her friend and teacher. On that first Easter morning, our three heroes felt—not joy over the resurrection—but tragic despair over one final desecration. Not only was Christ executed: his body was stolen too! And worse, they didn’t know whether to keep searching and questioning—perhaps a gardener saw the culprit—or to at last give up and at least come to terms with the sad reality that they’d never find Christ’s body. Mary, Peter, and John felt grief common to all who mourn. They felt cheated by all the promises the would-be messiah’s death seemingly left unfulfilled. They felt taunted by the uncertainty of his missing body. They all saw the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, but they could not understand the truth. They did not know the joy right in front of them.
We all know what it’s like to feel in the dark, just as those three did. This is the first Easter in my life I have not gone to church, cannot go to church. Our entire species is confronted by a new disease that spreads quickly and unseen. We hear stories and rumors about vaccines in the works that are still months, if not years, away. We are in the dark. It would be easy to hold onto hope if a cure were already here or if the path out of this pandemic was cleanly laid out in charts and timetables. But diseases and vaccines aren’t predictable like that, and we don’t really know how long this crisis will last. We are in the dark. And in a twisted way, it would likewise be easier if we knew a cure was impossible. If we knew for certain that all we could do was just make the best of an unavoidable disaster, like an ocean swimmer diving under a big wave, we could give up worrying and simply make peace with tragedy. But that is also not the case. Instead, we sit in the dark of uncertainty: we believe a vaccine will come but cannot know exactly when. We believe shelter-in-place orders will cease, but we don’t know when. We trust that jobs will be there for us afterwards, but we don’t know what work will look like beyond this crisis. And so we sit in the dark of uncertainty as we face this disease: neither knowing exactly when our deliverance will come but trusting this pandemic will one day end. We sit in the ambiguity, somewhere in the between: searching for clues to point us to any kind of certainty.
In truth, we Americans hate uncertainty and ambiguity. We like the lines clearly defined: cops or robbers, Coke or Pepsi, left or right. Our culture struggles with in-betweenness: we like to have clear choices and know all the answers. But so much of life is not that way. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. We like to believe the people we love are good people and the people we hate are bad. But in truth everyone is a little of both, an earthy mix of heaven and hell. We want the world to be predictable and orderly but also want an exception made, just this once, just for me… whether we’re talking about traffic fines, God’s commandments, lotto numbers, weather patterns, or anything else under heaven. We spend our entire lives—like Mary, Peter, and John in today’s scripture—searching for some kind of clarity, even if it’s merely clarity over where Christ’s corpse is. But how often do we find a truth that truly lasts? How often do we find concrete and clear answers in this confusing and shadowy world?
Mary, Peter, and John spend most of today’s scripture looking for the body of Jesus. In the end, they never find his corpse… because instead a living Jesus finds them. Verses 15 and 16 read, “Jesus said to Mary, ‘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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” Mary was in the dark, finding clues here and there but unable to see the full truth. But though Mary looked and looked, it was Jesus who found her. And that evening, after Mary told the others what happened, still the disciples lived in fear and doubt, hiding behind locked doors. And as the disciples cowered in fear and darkness, not knowing whether Mary’s words were really real, at that moment… Jesus found them. Peter and John raced each other to find their Lord, but it was Jesus who found them first, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And that Easter pattern is really what Christian faith is all about. You can climb the tallest mountain and not see the Lord’s face. You can gain countless philosophy degrees and still not know God. You can work hard to be pure, righteous, and selfless and still not earn your way into heaven. Mary searched frantically to find Jesus but found no answers with certainty. But the good news of Christianity is that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and that “Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). That is the lesson of Easter. Christianity is not about how good or bad you are at finding the dead corpse of Jesus. It’s about our living God finding us, bringing us life, granting us forgiveness, giving us joy everlasting, and teaching us how to love others. Sometimes in faith we feel like we’re lost in darkness, just as Mary Magdalene at first felt lost when she couldn’t find Christ’s body. It’s no wonder so many Christian saints speak of “the dark night of the soul” as an common step on the Christian journey towards union with God. We all feel a little spiritually lost or unsure at times, but in those dark nights, we realize that God is the one who finds us instead. Easter’s message is that faith and salvation are not about how good a finder you are… but rather about the fact that nothing can separate you from God’s love, that God incarnate was willing to suffer and die for our sakes, and the resurrected Jesus now reigns in power that we might be confident in these promises.
I do not know how long this COVID-19 crisis will last. I certainly have no idea what my life—let alone society at large—will look like on the other side. I do not know if I will be grieving loved ones at the end of this. I’m in the dark, same as you. But when I feel so lost, I remember that Mary Magdalene must have felt the same way on that first Easter so long ago. Yet she was never lost: Jesus found her even so. And the world was never the same. For us in our wanderings today, what we can do is trust that God will redeem us in the end—if not in this life then in the life to come—and then do our best here and now to show love and compassion to others through Christian witness, service, forgiveness, and yes public health precautions too. This Easter we remember that, just as Mary Magdalene waited for Christ’s resurrection, we wait for Christ’s coming again in glory and power. In the meantime, our calling is to hear and follow Christ’s words to his disciples: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
So may the peace of Christ be with you, reassuring you of God’s love now and forevermore. And may your lives be an imitation of Christ, displaying the same love, righteousness, truth and peace that he displayed across his life, death, and resurrection. On Easter we celebrate that we are saved, yes, and saved for a purpose. So in celebration of that, go in the peace of Christ… to share the peace of Christ with others. Praise be to God, and happy Easter. Amen.