On behalf of the congregation, I would like to thank you for sharing Easter with us. Thanks as well to all those for whom this morning is the culmination of a Lenten journey in which we have considered what it means to say, “all are welcome,” and have moved through the final days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Thanks also to volunteers and congregational leaders, musicians and administrative staff for your efforts which have made these first few months of 2016 substantial in worship, in service, in growth and learning, and in mutual care and support.
If this morning is for you a homecoming in some way, welcome home. These days St. Johns has recommitted itself to its 160 year old mission of caring with passion and in partnership for those in need in the heart of the city. And we are opening a new chapter in neighborhood ministry.
If you are a stranger with us, welcome. St. Johns is not the kind of place where you receive any pressure to join. But please feel free to break bread with us at the table of the Lord when we celebrate Holy Communion together. May you find in this time together the presence of God renewed and may you be refreshed for your life’s journey.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. This resurrection from the dead has for centuries been the foundation of the Christian faith. The stories of the resurrection are preserved in the gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus. For over two thousand years, each Easter, we have read one of these gospel stories. Today’s story is from the gospel of John.
In the story, Jesus has been crucified and his body entombed. Proper preparation of the body was not possible because of Sabbath regulations. So women return to the grave to fully prepare the body with spices and fresh cloth, discover that the body is gone, find only the grave clothes, and share this crisis with the disciples who come to see for themselves. No one is certain what has happened.
Mary lingers in the garden. As she despairs the stolen body, she thinks she is talking with a gardener and discovers that she is speaking with her old friend. Her teacher seems somehow to have transcended death. After this story, other post resurrection appearances are found in John within the community of the faithful. In these appearances, hope is rekindled. The faith of the church is born.
When we share this ancient story in contemporary Madison, it is sometimes difficult for us to actually believe in the resurrection of the dead. Belief is difficult for many reasons. We live in a scientific time when miracles of any sort seem impossible. Our approach to reality is based on finding the facts upon which we can depend rather than finding the truths that under gird the human experience. Our urban lives are filled with so many things that it is difficult to consider something beyond what we are currently experiencing. We are focused on the here and now rather than old stories from the Middle East or in some existence beyond death.
With all that filtering our awareness, it is difficult for us to sense and believe in the resurrection of Jesus or anyone else.
It is as if the city lights of our nighttime sky are too bright to really see the stars that shine in the dark. Contemporary thought is like living in the city where the night sky is too bright to really discern stars like the resurrection. Our way of being is so intense, so bright, that we cannot see what is shining in the night sky until we return to the country.
In The Literate Farmer and the Planet Venus, the poet Robert Frost shares a discussion between a city dweller and a farmer, as they stand in the country night, looking at Venus, the morning star, talking over together what it is. They understand it to be a heavenly body. But in their conversation, urban light becomes a metaphor for the intensities of life that keep us from seeing how the stars and darkness work together in their appointed rounds.
Believe it? Why I know it.
Its actions any cloudless night will show it.
You’ll see it be allowed up just so high,
Say about halfway up the western sky,
And then get slowly, slowly pulled back down.
You might not notice if you’ve lived in town.
As I suspect you have. A town debars
Much notice of what’s going on in stars,
The idea is no doubt to make one job
Of lighting the whole night with one big blob
Of electricity in bulk the way
The sun sets the example in the day.
Here come more stars to character the skies
And they in the estimation of the wise
Are more divine than any bulb or arc,
Because their purpose is to flash and spark,
But not to take away the precious dark.
We need the interruption of the night
To ease attention off when over tight,
To break our logic in too long a flight,
And ask us if our premises are right.
Our time and place debar much of what is going on in the heavens. To see the resurrection again, to appreciate the delicate ways in which light and dark, joy and sorrow, death and life, good and evil move through our lives, in the gradual transformation of our premises, to polish those eternal truths that provide the framework for what it means to be human — for all of that, we need to turn down the volume, the brightness, the intensity of our demanding nature and to move slowly back into an old garden where we find a grieving woman, a simple voice, and a borning hope.
To see the star of the resurrection in your own life, turn to the details of this morning’s story in a country garden.
If we are to see the star of the resurrection, we need to return to the tomb and give ourselves permission to be incredulous. The disciples do not know what to think. Nurture you own incredulity, astonishment, and amazement. Be surprised again. Understand that we do not understand. It is on this rising edge of amazement that we discover the arc of possible hope.
If we are to see the star of the resurrection, we need to return to the garden of Mary and listen to the voice of a friend. In the intimate voice of friendship hope is begun. When Mary hears Jesus say her name, she finds new life. Find your friends. They are the stars that do not take away the dark, but light your way through it.
If we are to see the star of the resurrection, we need to sense a larger plan. In the story, Jesus cannot be touched because he has not yet ascended. We do not know what that means, but it reminds us that Jesus’ resurrection is not only an intimate conversation but part of a larger plan assembled by a waiting God: a God waiting to tenderly hold Jesus after the ordeal, and a general movement of the spheres in their return to the creator of the universe.
If we are to see the star of the resurrection through the haze of contemporary life; may we be startled again, may we hear the tender voice of our friend, and may we sense the great yet infinite cosmic design of this waiting God of love.