Message for Easter Sunday / April 12, 2009 / ‘A Grand Opening’ by Rev. Carol Kniseley
Our theme this Easter Sunday…in case you missed it…is a “Grand Opening”. And for very good reason. Not only is it the long awaited “opening” of our newly constructed Family Life Center…complete with a new Fellowship Hall, Sunday School classrooms, a Preschool, a Choir room, AND a Youth room to boot. It is also THE day in the life of THE church in which we celebrate the “grand opening” of the tomb into which Jesus’ body had been placed. An event that should have sent tingles up and down everyone’s spine at the prospect of what it all meant. But in reality…that’s not the way today’s story began.
Lest we forget, this business of “resurrection” is an entirely unnatural event. When a human body goes into the ground or into a tomb, as in Jesus’ case, it is only natural to begin thinking…that is that. One doesn’t just wait around for their loved one to reappear so that life can pick up right where it left off, at least not this side of heaven. You say your good-byes…and you pay your respects before going on with your life as best you can. All the while knowing in your heart of hearts, that someday…in the twinkling of an eye…all of this will be changed.
That is all that Mary was doing on that morning…paying her respects to the one person whom she believed she could not live without. In truth, none of the disciples could even bring themselves to face the reality of the tomb…that is, except for Mary…who in her anxiousness to be near her Lord couldn’t even wait for the light of day. Coming in the dark…she no doubt senses that something is terribly wrong. She can almost smell the dampness of the “open” tomb…confirming her worst fears: someone…had rolled away the stone. That huge massive stone…that took four strong men to maneuver into place…was now lying to the side. All she could think to do was run. Run and tell the disciples that Jesus’ body was no where to be found.
Peter and John returned with her only to discover that what she had said was indeed true. And as they returned to their homes…it was Mary, we are told, who lingered behind…weeping. I suspect that every single one of us can relate to what Mary was feeling at that very moment. All of us…even our youngest children…understand what it means to loose something that we know can never be replaced. Now turn that something…into a someone…and the pain increases ten thousand fold. Like snow flakes…once they’re gone…they’re gone for good. Or so we’ve been led to believe.
Just the other day, I had the privilege of telling the Easter story to the children in our Preschool. We began with Palm Sunday and talking about how Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey…with people waving palm branches…and shouting out: “Hosanna!” (which means…”save us, Lord!”) We moved on to the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples…and even to the betrayal of Jesus in the Garden. When we came to the part of Jesus being crucified…and nailed to the cross…it was then that I showed the children a picture of the tomb. And when I told them that Jesus had died and his body was placed in that tomb…one of the children, a little girl all of three years old…began to cry.
When I asked her why she was crying, she said between sobs: Jesus is dead. I have to tell you, I was both touched…and surprised…that one so young could somehow relate to Jesus’ death. Perhaps it was because she was hearing the story for the first time…or perhaps she was simply open to what her young heart was suddenly feeling. Whatever it was…it was real…and it was personal. And her reaction spoke volumes, prompting me to respond: “But that’s not the end of the story. The best part is yet to come!”
Like Mary, it would be easy to overlook the obvious. Even the presence of angels could not break her resolve. They were there…sitting where Jesus’ body once lain. “Why…are you weeping?” they asked her. “They have taken away my Lord,” she answered quite honestly, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” And the truth is…she will never see her Lord again…at least not the way she knew him. She sees instead the risen Lord, the death-defying Messiah so changed in appearance that she does not recognize him but instead mistakes him for the gardener. His only value to her, in her grief stricken state, was that he might know the answer to her question: ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
Picture this. The gardener placing the dead body of Jesus across Mary’s shoulders…or Mary picking up Jesus’ body all by herself. I don’t think so. Instead, the “gardener” merely uttered one word: “Mary!” And from that moment forward, Mary’s world was completely changed. Her teacher (Rabbouni) had returned and she was talking to him…face to face. “Do not hold on to me,” were the next words out of his mouth…followed by a directive to “go…tell my brothers and sisters that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Jesus was no longer dead…but was in fact on his way to God, and he was taking the whole world with him. This may be why all the other gospel accounts of the resurrection tell us not to be afraid. New life…can be frightening. It is unnatural to expect a sealed tomb only to find one filled with angels. To hunt the past…only to be handed the future instead. To seek a dead body…and find a Risen Lord.
Which brings us back to where we began today’s story. Death is natural. Loss is natural. Grief is natural. But when stones the size of boulders are rolled away to reveal God’s highly unnatural truth…that’s when we know that change is in the air. By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we can remember that one kernel of truth…then there is nothing we can not do: move mountains, balk at fear, love our enemies, even change the world. Oh, yes we can!
The only thing we can not do is hold on to him. As Barbara Brown Taylor likes to say: ‘He has asked us…please…not to do that. Because he knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are…than let him take us where he is going. Because where he is going…is out into the world…far beyond this empty tomb. Better we should let him hold onto us, perhaps. Better we should let him take us into the very presence of God, who by the way…is not behind us, but ahead of us.
Our Easter prayer this day is that our hearts will be opened so that we can still hear the sound of Easter. Listen! Do you hear it? It’s the sound of the stone rolling away from the tomb. The Good News this day…is that the stones are still rolling.
All because (and we can’t say this enough)…Christ is Risen!
(To which the people of God reply) Christ is Risen, indeed! Amen