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First Reading = Colossians 3:1-4
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
As is my habit, we are starting a new sermon series on Easter. So for the next couple of months we will be looking at God’s Questions. God’s questions? What does that mean? Why would God ask a question?
Well God never asks a question for his own benefit. Jesus never asks a question because he needs some extra information. God asks us questions to try to get at something within our souls. For example, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hide from God after they eat the forbidden fruit. And God asks, “where are you?” That question wasn’t because he couldn’t see them. Are you following?
Our Easter text this year features a question from Jesus – two of them, actually. But before we get to Jesus’ questions, I think we first need to develop some empathy for Mary Magdalene. Her dear friend, her great mentor, her savior, the one who turned around her life? He’s in a tomb. He’s been there for three days. Whether it was out of fear or simply a desire to be alone, she came to the tomb while it was still dark – probably something like 3am. Not a typical or safe time for a young woman to be wandering about.
And when she arrived at the tomb, in the dark, she found the covering stone removed! Someone had disturbed Jesus’ tomb! She must have felt…
Well, let me tell you what comes to my mind when I try to imagine what she felt during that moment of discovery. I was either in 5th or 6th grade, and my family went away for a vacation. We told our neighbors so they could keep an eye on the place. But when we came back into the house, drawers were open. Clothes were strewn about. The TV was missing – even my beloved video games! If you’ve never walked into your house after it has been robbed, it’s this piercing, moment of utter shock!
By contrast, as a young adult I had a somewhat old, a little dinged up, and very messy car. I went down from my apartment to the parking lot, got in my car, tried to close the door, and noticed that the window frame wasn’t lining up with the main car body anymore. Given how messy my car already was, it took me a minute to realize that someone had jimmied the window, bent the frame, and broken into my car to take my $2.57 worth of change. Mainly I was just wishing they hadn’t damaged my car door to break in!
When Mary Magdalene discovered Jesus’ tomb disturbed, she wasn’t feeling the apathetic shrug I felt when my messy car was broken into. She was feeling the piercing, utter shock you feel when you walk into your house and realize it’s been robbed. Her head was spinning. Her world was shaken. She didn’t know what to do.
Main Reading = John 20:1-18
20Early 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.
Facing Which Direction?
I am not really a golfer. I don’t mind golf, but I don’t really get to play much. Don’t ask me how many rounds I got in this year. Ask me how many rounds I got in this decade. And really, the only reason anyone wants to bring me golfing is if they need a self-confidence boost.
One of the very infrequent times I actually got to play a round of golf, it was my turn to tee off first. Now, this is important, I don’t think I’ve played the same course more than once as an adult. It’s always my first time on whatever course I’m playing, OK? That’s my explanation. That’s my excuse for what happened next.
So there I was, ready to tee off. I had the right club. I had the right distance. I swung the club just right. The ball even went right where I was aiming. I think that’s listed as one of the prophecies of the end times in Revelation. It was a beautiful shot. For a brief moment, I understood why people play the frustrating, humbling game of golf.
But that moment was all too brief. Because one of my playing partners pointed out, “Cody…that’s not the green for this hole.” Curses upon whoever invented the dogleg left! I was literally facing in the wrong direction! I don’t know why I never get invited back to play golf with the same group twice.
Now we already heard how Mary Magdalene was in shock. We already heard how her head was spinning kind of like discovering your house has been robbed. And that helps us understand which way she’s facing.
She’s facing the tomb. She’s facing the object of her original and very new grief. She’s facing the source of her tears. She’s facing her loss. She’s facing hopelessness. She’s facing death. [PAUSE]
But standing right behind her…speaking to her…is her savior. Standing right behind her…speaking to her…is new life.
Such is her grief, so focused is she on her loss and confusion, that even when she faces Jesus she thinks he’s the problem – she thinks he’s the gardener who has, for some unknown reason, stolen Jesus’ body away.
Can you relate to Mary’s grief? Have you ever felt like your world was spinning? Have you ever felt so consumed by your tears that you couldn’t see anything else?
As I think about Mary, as I think about the times I’ve been that out of sorts, I hear Jesus’ question for her a particular way. When he asks, “why are you weeping?” I hear that a specific way. Because Jesus wasn’t anti-weeping. Just a few weeks ago we heard how Jesus wept as he approached the tomb of his friend Lazarus. So I hear this a specific way. I hear Jesus asking, “why are you consumed, overwhelmed by your tears?”
When we are completely facing our tears, we are facing the wrong direction. Because standing right behind us…speaking to us…is our savior. Standing right behind us…speaking to us…is new life.
A Harvard professor tells the story of his 5-year-old son who had spent three months working on a ceramic art project to give to his dad. The last day of school arrived, and all the kids finally got to present their art projects to their parents. His little boy could hardly contain himself as he grabbed the largely amorphous ceramic “butterfly” apparently. Such was his excitement that he tripped, fell, and shattered the present.
His son was consumed with tears. As a father of two enthusiastic sons, my heart aches for his little boy.
But that’s not the end of the story. The professor’s wife swept up the pieces and brought them home. And she and the little boy went to work. Armed with a mother’s determination, a little boy’s love, and lots of hot glue, they fashioned a new butterfly more beautiful than the last.
Grief is real. Loss is real. Life hurts. It can shatter you in a million pieces on the floor. That’s where Mary was. But out of the pieces of that very real grief and loss and pain…great beauty can eventually emerge.
When Mary turns toward him, when Mary hears Jesus speak her name, Mary’s shattered pieces become something beautiful. Mary is the first witness of the resurrected Christ. Mary is the first person to celebrate Easter in full. Mary is the first person tasked by Jesus to tell about his resurrection. Later Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But Mary was the witness to the disciples themselves!
When our lives are in a thousand pieces on the floor, that’s real pain. That’s real grief. But that’s also the time to ask ourselves, “Where is Jesus standing? And how much hot glue does he have?”
I don’t know about you, but I worship a God who has a LOT of hot glue. Enough to walk out of a tomb and overcome the grave. He’s got enough hot glue for the pieces of your life, too. He has enough for you, too.
Nothing But Love
Now what if the mom of that little boy had given the shattered pieces of his art project to a friend of the family who was an artist? What if those pieces became a truly beautiful, real piece of art by a professional? Would it have been as valuable? Maybe to other people, but not to the dad.
It was crafted in love. Even though it originally looked very little like a “butterfly,” it was crafted in love. And when it was recreated, it was forged once more in love. That “butterfly” wasn’t really made out of ceramic. It was made out of love. That love is all it had to bring to the table. But that love was all it needed to bring to the table.
When Mary came to the tomb at 3am, she had no plan. She just showed up in her grief out of her great love for Jesus. Peter and John both ran to the tomb – although John wants Peter to remember forever who won that footrace. But they didn’t have a plan either. They ran to the tomb out of their great love for Jesus. They brought nothing but love for Jesus. But that’s all they needed to bring.
And I believe that’s important for us to remember on every Easter, but on this Easter especially. Because we aren’t together on this Easter. I know where most of you sit, so I can imagine you in your right place. Don’t worry – even when you’re not here I’m reserving your pew for you.
Almost every church in America – almost every church in the world – has its doors closed today on our biggest day of the year. Does that diminish the Gospel? Of course not.
Get rid of every church building in the entire world, and does it take an ounce away from Jesus? Not an ounce.
But if we stopped loving each other? If we stopped loving our families sacrificially? If we stopped loving our neighbors? If we stopped loving our cities and countries and our whole world? If we stopped loving our enemies as Jesus commanded? If we stopped loving like Jesus loved? That would be the death-knell for our faith. These buildings are nice. But Jesus doesn’t need them. Jesus needs us to love like he loved. Like he LOVES us still. That’s what we need to bring. Nothing else. Nothing more. Just bring your Christ-like love.
It is not the size of our ministry that matters to Jesus. It is not our great works that matter to Jesus. It is the quantity and character of our love.
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia. His parents told him that without a blood transfusion she would die, and his blood – more than any other blood in the world – was the most likely to be compatible with hers and save her. They asked him if he would be willing to give her a pint of his blood to give her a chance at living. He said he would need to think about it overnight.
The next day he said he was willing, so they went to the hospital and lay down on matching gurneys. He was remarkably silent as his blood drained out and went into his sister. The doctor came to see how he was doing, and the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”
He was mistaken, but he thought this operation would kill him. He thought he was giving his life to save his sister. And he was willing to do it. The actual work, the actual achievement, the actual sacrifice was only one pint of blood. But the amount of love stretched as wide as life itself.
On Easter morning, that kind of extravagant, inexplicable love was poured out on our world. Not in little drips and drops. God’s love poured out onto the world in lavish quantities. Sloshing over the edge of any cup that would dare contain it. Enough to bathe the whole world in the love of Christ.
And that love lives in you and me. That love is what Jesus wants us to bring. Nothing else is needed. Nothing more is required. That kind of love is required. Even if the actual work is only a pint. Even if the actual project is only a misshapen butterfly. With love like that, with love like Jesus’, it becomes the power of life itself.
So my challenge this week is both very simple and radical all at the same time. Be the love of Christ this day. Be the love of Christ this week. Be the love of Christ for this month. Be the love of Christ for the rest of your life!
Because loving like Jesus loved is all Jesus asks of us. Everything else is window dressing. And this particular Easter no one can even walk by to see your window dressing. It’s even less important than normal! But the quantity and character of our love is even more important right now.
So how can you be the love of Christ right now? How can you be the love of Christ – even in this very different time? How an you be the love of Christ to your parents? How can you be the love of Christ to your children? How can you be the love of Christ to your friends? How can you be the love of Christ to your neighbors? How can you be the love of Christ to that person who has blessed your life? How can you be the love of Christ to that person whose life is in shambles?
Everything is different right now. But maybe that’s an opportunity to love in a different way. Everything was very different on that first Easter morning. But their response to that very different morning changed the entire world. How will we respond to our very different Easter morning?
I hope we will respond with so much Christ-like love that it sloshes over any container that might try to contain it. I hope we will respond with so much Christ-like love that even those whose lives are shattered to pieces can notice the savior standing behind them with oodles of hot glue. I hope we will respond with so much Christ-like love that even the grave cannot stop it. It didn’t stop Jesus. Happy Easter.