This sermon was preached for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on April 12, 2020. In light of the pandemic, this sermon was offered from my backyard at sunrise. It can be viewed on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel.
The texts were:
Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
John 20: 1-18
One of my favorite musical groups is a trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s-it’s a play on Waylon Jennings of course, and their music is folk. On their album entitled 40 Days, there is a song called “Beautiful Dawn.” The words are poignant and speak to the mysteries of our lives. The opening verse is:
Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn.
Take me to the place where we come from.
Take me to the end so I can see the start.
There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.
Beginnings and endings. Just mere hours ago we once again were immersed in the story of Jesus’ death and burial, what the witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion assumed was the end. After all, this what we are all told. Death is final. Certain. And forever. The disciples were working off this paradigm, despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. Their hearts were broken, their friend and teacher had been killed by the Roman Empire. They were afraid too, what had just occurred was dangerous. They were all implicated in the previous days events and logic told them that their deaths could be next. So, they hid behind locked doors, separating themselves from the rest of the community for their own safety and future. They hoped that this would blow over in a few days or couple weeks at most.
Mary Magdalene though, left the safety of the room in the cover of darkness and alone for the essential task of caring for Jesus’ body. When she arrived and saw the stone removed, she was shocked and perplexed. Mary ran back to tell the others. Peter and the beloved disciple returned with her to the tomb. Why they were running, I don’t know. I would have thought that running would attract attention, but maybe they were hoping to go to the tomb and back before sunrise, or maybe they were giddy with being out of the house for the first time in a few days. The disciples entered the tomb to find the linen wrappings discarded and the head cloth, rolled up and set aside. The beloved disciple believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it is clear from John’s commentary that he was still in the dark, so to speak. Then they both returned to their homes. They saw the empty tomb and just went home. No shouts of alleluia, or Christ is risen, no trumpets or fanfare. Maybe it felt like an anticlimactic ending to the crucifixion? Or maybe more like an epilogue? You know where at the end of a movie based on true events you get a snapshot of what the characters are doing now? Something to tie up loose ends nicely.
But Mary stays in the garden and also looks into the tomb. Instead of linens, she saw angels, only she didn’t seem to recognize them as angels, as she seems unafraid. They ask her “why are you weeping?” and unabashedly she simply states what must be the truth, someone has taken Jesus.
Just then Jesus appears. But again, in her raw grief, her vision is clouded as to who is in front of her. Jesus asks here the question that runs throughout John’s gospel: “who are you looking for?” Mary, misunderstanding that the one she is looking for is right in front of her, asks where the body of Jesus might be. Jesus calls her name and she clearly sees. It’s Jesus! He’s alive as he’s said! Instead of sitting with her and chatting, or hugging her, Jesus states not to hold on to him but go and tell the others that he is returning to the Father, to God, and not only his Father and God but theirs as well. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a second chance at life, only to die again, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms that we belong to God, we belong to a different kind of life that can’t be taken away.
This seems wrapped up nicely-Jesus comes from God and returns to God. The End. But what if I told you that what we are celebrating today isn’t the end, but the beginning. Easter is where our story with God begins. The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus that seems like the end to us is really the beginning of the only way to mend our broken hearts.
On this Easter Sunday we have more in common with the first Easter, that first resurrection day. Like the disciples, our hearts are broken. Our hearts are broken by what looks like endings around us: gathering in person for worship for a while, handshakes, feeling secure at the grocery store, taking for granted grocery workers, delivery people, truckers, gas attendants sanitation workers, healthcare workers. Our hearts are broken by the death, the sickness and the fear all over the globe. Like the disciples, we may not recognize this as a new beginning today. The beginning of what God is doing in the world through Jesus to mend our brokenness, our broken society, our broken relationships and our broken hearts. Jesus resurrection and ascension points to the truth that God is all about new beginnings, the truth that life and love will prevail, even when it looks like the end.
Like the first resurrection morning, ours today is filled with unknowing, isolation, weeping and fear. We’re not gathered to shout Alleluia or Christ is risen. No songs of praise by choirs and children. No Easter brunches, no egg hunts, no lilies. And like that first Easter Jesus comes to us. Jesus meets us right where we are and asks who we are looking for? Are we looking for organ music, lilies, certainty, comfort and familiarity? Or are we looking for Jesus? Jesus, who lives because God’s love and life force overpowers death and destruction. Jesus who meets us in weeping and calls us by name. Jesus who assures us that he’s going to OUR Father and OUR God. Jesus who draws us all into God’s life and makes us one in God’s abundant life, even if we aren’t all in the same room. Jesus who tells us don’t hold on to what we know, to what’s safe and comfortable, because our new beginning is to go out and proclaim to the world: “We have seen the Lord!”
We have seen the Lord dear ones of OSLC, we have seen the Lord in how we have adapted to being community quickly in this new way. We have seen the Lord in cards, phone calls, texts and technology. We have seen the Lord in how we stay home so that others may live. And people around us will see the Lord as we serve our neighbors in need such as with our new OSLC Community Support Initiative constructed by your council. This is a new beginning of partnerships in the wake of the pandemic to be a part of God’s healing work in our community. Using funds that we no longer need, we will offer Utah United Way COVID 19 Relief Fund, the Fourth Street Clinic Humanitarian Fund and Utah Food Bank Mobile Pantry each a minimum of $3600 over the next three months as our community recovers. We will pledge to continue to support our existing partnerships such as Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center and others at our 2019 levels regardless of our 2020 offerings. This is only the first phase the beginning of what we will do as God’s people for our neighbors. We invite you to join in this initiative through prayer, presence at these agencies when it is safe, and/or giving to this initiative at any level. We trust that our whole lives, our whole community at OSLC is held in God’s promises to hold our endings and to bring us to new beginnings, to new life.
We see beginning. We see Jesus who meets us and calls our name. We see Jesus who mends our broken hearts with unending love, mercy and grace. We see Jesus who shows us new life and launches us on a new beginning, to proclaim God’s promise, God’s word of life is final. The empty tomb is the beginning of the fullness of life for us and all creation. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!