Tony Campolo famously preaches a sermon called “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!” and I’ve been hearing his voice in my head as it occurs to the preacher in me, SUNDAY’S COMING and SOON.
The Narrative Lectionary is almost to the end of our journey through John’s gospel. Our passage for Sunday is John 20:1-18. Working Preacher commentary is here. Text this Week resources are here. (In the RCL and preaching Mark? Visit here.)
One of my favorite paintings of all time is at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. I was wandering through the museum a number of years ago and came across the painting by Eugene Burnand, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb on the Morning of the Resurrection, 1898. Because of copyright issues, I can’t share it here, but you can find it online here. Before I saw the title of the painting, I knew exactly who the men were and where they were going. Dawn is breaking. There is haste. There is hope. There is fear. There is more hope. “Could Mary’s report be true? Please let it be true.” In Peter’s face, he of recently denying Jesus 3 times, there is a resignation–whatever he needs to face, he will face–if it could only be possible to wake up from the nightmare of the past few days.
How can we help people rush to the empty tomb with a sense of excitement, fear, hope?
The hymn “In the Darkness of the Morning” is a lovely and haunting hymn that would be a great way to open worship in an unexpected way on Easter, when we’re often used to brass and loud hallelujahs. It leads us into Mary’s experience, waiting outside the tomb in tears.
Mary talks to Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him until he calls her by name, which echoes John 10, where Jesus speaks of how he, as the Good Shepherd, calls his sheep by name and leads them out into green pastures. Lazarus has also heard the voice of the Shepherd, calling Lazarus out of his tomb.
We do not believe in an impersonal God, uninvolved in our lives. We believe in the God who calls us by name and claims us as God’s own.
By the end of the passage, Mary reports back to the disciples “I have seen the Lord!”, which is the purpose of John’s gospel–by showing us Jesus, John is showing us the Lord. When we see Jesus, we see God. Seeing is both sight and vision. John 9 tells the story of the man born blind, his sight healed by Jesus. When the man talks to Jesus at the end of the story, Jesus says ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
Mary sees Jesus and sees Jesus. And we are invited to see him, to understand him, in new ways too.
We are called, like Mary, to testify to what we have seen. We are here, 2,000 years later because this woman told people that she had seen the Lord.
It matters that you tell people when you have seen God, because all these years later, we’re still telling her story, even though in this text, at least, Mary’s best qualifications for the job of evangelist seems to be that she was there, and she recognized his voice when he called her name. And so, like Mary, the church is called to show up, and to bear witness to where we have seen God. Just as Mary couldn’t hang on to the resurrected Jesus in the garden, we can’t leave it there either. The mystery of the Resurrection is still in process and there is a world out there that needs to hear a message of hope instead of the world’s message of fear and anxiety. We can’t just stop on Easter morning. We have Good News to share!
We are called to tell people that despite the things of this world that can convince us Death is in charge, we have seen and we believe something different. We have seen an empty tomb. We have seen grave clothes abandoned as unnecessary accessories. We have seen the Lord and heard him call our names.
We are people who look at the violence, injustice, and oppression in the world and still claim Death is not going to have the last word. We are people who claim there is a mystery at work.
This year, Easter falls on “April Fools Day”, celebrated in some countries where RevGals and Pals are preaching. Will you be including reference to it in your sermon? It’s a fine line to walk–because the empty tomb is not a hoax, and the holiday is all about hoaxes. Perhaps some of you have ways to include reference to it without reducing the empty tomb to a cosmic prank on humanity. Feel free to share the ways you are (or are not) including it.
Any good ideas for the Time with the Children?
Add your sermon leanings here. Blessings on your Holy Week preparations. Sunday’s coming, and it’s really Good News.
Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
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