Easter Sermon on John 20

By Rev. April Blaine, Delivered April 24, 2011 We’ve been moving a bit slowly through this Easter Sunday celebration, probably a little slower than you might be used to on a typical Easter Sunday… and we’ve done that on purpose because in those first moments on Easter morning, we don’t hear reports of immediate joy - during the first reports of the empty tomb, there was joy, there was confusion, there was shock, and there even was a bit of fear and trembling. When Peter and the other disciple discover the news of what has happened. They go back to their house. We don’t hear the Halleluiah Chorus – we don’t hear loud proclamations of great joy and praise. The only words Mary is able to speak when Jesus says her name is Rabboni!

The greatest moment in the story of God and man is unfolding before their very eyes.

And the disciples and Mary are TOTALLY unprepared.

Nothing in all the collective experiences they have had since the day they were born has prepared the disciples and Mary for this moment.

Their world has just been turned upside down. The joy will come… but for now – they are trying to understand and make sense of what has just happened in their midst.

As young children, we once believed that anything is possible. Children are masters at make believe and creating realities that are different than the one we live in – purely with their imaginations. Children know how to dream big. Just ask a young child – what they would like to be when they grow up – an astronaut, an NBA player, a famous singer… I remember one of the young people I worked with at my former church when she was in the 6th grade – I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said with a completely straight face – I’m either going to be a youth pastor or I’m going to rule the fashion empire. As children, our sense of what was possible for the world that we lived in and also for our own lives was not limited to the things that we could see, it was not limited by probability or by the rules of society, and it was certainly not limited by the laws of physics. The future is a blank canvas and anything is possible.

And somewhere along the way, our sense of what is possible begins to diminish. As we mature, we see this blank canvas and we begin to put some order and boundaries and limits to it. We start to build a framework of what is and what is not possible. We start to separate reality from imagination and we start to live in “the real world.” And we begin to shape our lives based on this framework. We begin to shape our dreams not based on our imagination, but on what we believe to actually be possible.

It’s different for all of us, whether it’s believing that we are unworthy or ugly, that the world is a violent and hostile place, that we don’t need God, whether it’s a belief that we will never quite measure up or that something about our fundamental nature has made God angry and ashamed – whatever the things our experiences help us construct - as we build our framework, we build into it things that are not entirely true – and these things intermingle with the things that are and for better or worse they have a profound impact on how we see the world.

And the longer we live and the more deeply ingrained these frameworks become, the harder it is to believe that things can be different and that a different reality is possible.

And Mary Magdalene and the disciples did the same thing – their frameworks for understanding what was possible were heavily influenced by the Jewish culture in Ancient Palestine, where rules dictated relationships and identities. Jews did not associate with Samaritans. Women did not associate with men who were not their husbands. Lepers lived separate from society. You did not do any work on the Sabbath. And God – God was holy, so very holy that you could not speak God’s name and you could not be in the presence of God without fear that you would be consumed

Hope was also embedded in this framework– the possibility of the Messiah, who God would send to make all things right.

Jewish people put a great amount of hope in this promise – but they were expecting a bold conquerer, a strong leader who would come down and lay down the law, who would challenge the Roman Empire and free the people of oppression.

And so, we can understand why when the disciples meet Jesus and begin to follow him – we can understand why they are simply so SLOW to understand who it is that they were dealing with. Jesus spoke with great authority but he didn’t fit the framework that they had constructed over their lives. He didn’t follow the rules.

They didn’t expect a Messiah who washed feet, ate with Samaritans, treated women with dignity, healed lepers on the Sabbath, fed the poor, broke Jewish customs by healing on the Sabbath, and refused to lift a sword in violence against the Roman Empire.

And they certainly didn’t expect the Messiah to be cruelly and violently murdered on a cross.

The disciples had spent 3 years with him, and this time had been a time of tremendous growth for all of them. There is no doubt that this time began to open up their framework and it began to broaden their perspectives about what was possible. And so for Mary in particular, whose role in society would have been quite limited – the possibilities for her future and surely opened up significantly.

But even so, even despite the long days and weeks with Jesus - even though he had told them that he would be have to die - when they began to see the writing on the wall and when they began to realize that Jesus was to be killed. They left, they abandoned him.

A Messiah that would be violently murdered by the Roman Empire. There was simply no place in the framework where that made any sense.

And so – while they had hoped that Jesus was the one – they denied him, they left, they went home.

After the resurrection, when Jesus meets 2 men on the Road to Emmaus and recounting the story of Jesus, they say… “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

We had hoped, but alas – it can’t be true.

And they are grieved and they are in despair. And as Grayson helped us to see. They have lost hope.

And so on that Easter morning, NO ONE went to the tomb expecting Jesus to be risen.

NO ONE even considered this as an even remote possibility.

Mary Magdalene and the disciples go to pay their respects and in their midst – the fundamental order of the world and what God is doing and what is possible is turned upside down and made new.

But that’s the very way that God works.

We have constructed a framework for what is possible. We have placed limits on what is possible in the world, what is possible in our own lives, and we have put limits on what is possible with God.

But God has not done that.

God is not in the business of limiting our potential, God is not in the business of keeping us in our place. God is in the business of creating and re-creating. God is in the business of making all things new.

And that means that when it comes to God’s work in the world – ANYTHING is possible.

So when Jesus appears before Mary on that morning, she thinks he is the gardener. Of course she does – nothing in her framework prepares her for the possibility that God is standing in front of her speaking to her.

So when Jesus speaks her name – in that moment, her entire world is turned inside out.

If Jesus is alive, if Jesus is standing in front of her then everything changes.

If Jesus is alive, that means that everything he said to her before about the world, and about her as a person, all of that is true.

If Jesus is alive, then the God of the universe is able to do infinitely more than we can ever fathom or imagine.

If Jesus is alive, then everything is new.

Nothing in her framework for understanding the world had room for the possibility of the risen Christ before her.

Nothing prepared her for life to burst forth out of the depths of such suffering, despair, and darkness.

But if he was in fact standing there, truly before her - then this framework by which she has been operating has to be totally reconstructed.

And so in this moment, in the midst of shock and disbelief – Mary and the disciples are beginning to construct a very different future – a future filled with possibilities that they never dreamed could be true before.

All the things that Jesus taught about –

All this talk about the Kingdom coming into the here and the now

All this talk of a love big enough for all of humanity

All this talk of healing, transformation, of a God who came not to judge but to redeem

All this talk of forgiveness of sins, of blessings for the poor, of hope and rest for the weary

All this talk of reconciled relationships with one another and with God

Of a Spirit that would live in us and teach us everything that God said.

And all this talk of a future that looks very different than our present.

All these things – MUST BE TRUE.

If Jesus is alive, then the story of humanity is not limited by the frameworks we are created and the boxes that we have put ourselves and our worlds into – the story of humanity and the story of each one of us is filled with possibility.

For if God’s love and power can conquer even the worst forms of evil, if Gods love and power can conquer the weight of sin, and if God’s love and power can conquer the very taste of death, then God can transform anything and anyone.

God can transform each of us, each of our families, each of our communities.

With this God, with this Jesus – all things are possible.

And Hope - it’s not an abstract idea – it is REAL.

And this love – it must be greater than our worst fears, our false identities, and our limited frameworks.

Where have you lost hope in God’s ability to transform you and to transform your world? Where has the framework you have constructed kept you from seeing what is truly possible with God’s love and power?

Because while we may allow ourselves to be limited by this framework,

This God, this Jesus, this risen Christ will NEVER be limited by it.

This love is bigger – for all things are possible with Christ!