Sunday, April 12, 2020

How can I go on?

Sermon for Easter Dawn, preached on Sunday, April 12, 2020.

    The Gospel we heard this morning begs to be taken as a distraught mourner who just cannot let go.  She is there at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.  She is among the mourners as His body is taken down from the cross.  She watches where Jesus was laid in the grave.  She goes home with half a heart into the Sabbath, even a Passover Sabbath.  And then, before the sun rises on Sunday, she is there in the garden of the tomb.  She was frozen in fear.  Not only had Jesus been brutally killed but now the stone was rolled away and His grave desecrated.  His body was defiled.  This was too much.  She ran to get reinforcements.

    Simon Peter, who had denied Jesus and then hid while Jesus was crucified, finds his lost courage and heads to the tomb.  John was younger than Peter and more fit.  He ran faster and perhaps with more purpose than Peter.  But when they got to the grave, there was no body.  The burial cloths were there but Jesus was not.  John records that he believed – not that Jesus was raised from the dead but rather that Mary Magdalene’s report was correct.  At this point they could do nothing but sulk home in grief.

    Not Mary.  She could not leave.  Her weeping and wailing must have been quite a spectacle.  Staring into the place where Jesus body had lain, she saw two angels who asked her why she was weeping.  It was not that they were in doubt.  This was a cemetery and this was where weeping and wailing took place.  The question was for the benefit of Mary.  She summoned up strength to answer.  “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they laid Him.”  Suddenly the angels are gone and Jesus is there but she does not recognize Him.  Again the same question and the same answer.

    This was not a simple case of grief, of loss, of pain at the death of a loved one.  For John and especially for Mary Magdalene the question was urgent.  How do you go on without Jesus?  He did not die of cancer or a heart attack or in an accident but in the terrible agony of the cross.  His death was an event with kangaroo courts and Keystone Cops and predetermined verdicts.  His things were gambled for, He was mocked and disgraced.  And it seemed that not only was Jesus silent before it all but the Father in heaven had turned His back on Him and the Spirit was nowhere to be found.  How could they go on?  Their whole lives were invested in Jesus?  Where could they go from here?

    They both wished they could go on, go back to their old lives, lived as if Jesus had never been, and avoided all this pain and all these questions.  None of that could happen now.  Time passes only in one direction.  They had to deal with it all, try to make sense of the senseless, and find a path through it.  So Mary ended up in the garden on Easter.
And then a word.  “Mary.”  It was not an explanation or a justification or an answer but simply her name, spoken from the lips of and in the familiar voice of the Savior.  He called her by name.  She was still His and He was still hers.  That much was sure.

    Our Lord endured the pain of Good Friday because Easter was in His sights.  It was not that Easter would relieve Him of His pain but that Easter would seal the triumph of all that He came to accomplish.  Easter was the victory celebration for the Savior who had come to rescue the Mary Magdalenes of this world and the Johns and Simon Peters and you and me.  Who for the joy that was set before Him, said St. Paul.  Jesus had accomplished all things in the Law and the Prophets even at the cost of His own body in death upon the cross.  Hidden in this appearance of defeat and in death was hope for you and for me and for all those like us who are held captive in the grip of sin and its death. And all of this became clear to Mary Magdalene in one word, her own name, spoken by Jesus who was dead and now is alive forevermore.

    You and I wonder so many times in life, “How can I go on?”  The death of a spouse or a child or a terrible diagnosis or the loss of job and income or divorce and broken family or daily news of terror and killing or a pandemic.  How can I go on?  When you cannot recover the past and you face a dark and uncertain future, How can I go on?  When things go from bad to worse and you feel alone in your panic and misery, How can I go on?  When you long for the familiar touch of family and friends and live with the imposed distance of threat, How can I go on?

We know only too well our pain and like Mary that ends up being the only thing we see.  We do not see the goodness or know the mercy of God and the day He has made.  We choose to focus on all that is wrong and we notice nothing of all that is right.  We are embittered by all of yesterdays disappointments and we are fearful of hoping for much of anything in the future.  We lament how long we have lived in fear and yet the future holds little promise of going back to a day before any of us had heard corona virus.  We carry our grief and sorrow and pain around with us and we refuse to let it go.  We insist that the gray cloud is more ominous than the silver lining more hopeful.  We refuse to be consoled.

    And then Jesus speaks one word.  He calls out our names in the water of baptism and names us as His own brothers and sisters.  He clothes us with His own holiness and washes us clean of sin and guilt and shame.  He plants our life in His death and resurrection so that we might live beyond death and past the grave.  He heals us with His stripes and carries the wounds of all our sins.  And what is left?  Only Jesus.  Only joy.  Only hope.  Only life.  Only peace.  Here in this place.  Here in this Supper.
    It turned the world upside down for Mary.  The garden of the grave she could not leave now was the last place on earth she wanted to be.  She ran to announce to the disciples what she had seen and heard.  “I have seen the Lord!”  In a moment, everything was different.  She still grieved what she had witnessed and experience.  Her memory of Jesus suffering did not disappear.  But this painful moment was overshadowed by the promise of a future unheard before.  She was forgiven.  She had peace with God.  She was not alone.  She will not live captive to death.  She will rise again.

    And so it is for us.  We have grief.  We have pain.  We have disappointment.  We have sorrow.  We still sin.  We age and grow frail.  We are separated for a time from our loved ones.  We reorder our lives because of a threat we cannot see.  We will surrender this body to the earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But this is not our final destiny.  God is with us in everything we must suffer in this mortal life and God is with us in death, not as consoler so we might feel better but as the voice who speaks life and forgiveness and creates a new ending to our old lives.

    The Lord has moved time and eternity so that we might be His, so that we might live under Him in His kingdom now, and so that we might live with Him in His kingdom forevermore.  How can you go on?  Christ is risen.  That is how.  Life is changed. The pains have an end and death has an answer.  And it is with this message that we look into the mirror of our disappointments and sorrows.  It is with this message that we answer the power of fear.  It is with this message that we face an uncertain Monday but a confident eternal tomorrow.  It is with this message that we speak to one another today.  It is with this message that we address the world around us.  It is with this message that we stand at the grave and wipe away our tears.  It is with this message that we come to the rail and eat the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  I have seen the Lord.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.  Amen.

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