John 20:1-20, a sermon for the sunrise service
“Early on the first day of the week,
while it [is] still dark,
Mary of Magdala [comes] to the tomb.”
What a fool she is:
Grief floods her body with every step.
Her heart feels like it has broken in two.
The Roman empire has killed Jesus, her friend and teacher.
Jesus had a way of seeing the best in her
even when all she could see
were her screw-ups.
Jesus had this way of listening
with this kind, steady gaze,
even when she talked about hard things.
Jesus had this way of loving her
like she mattered.
It was so convincing, she almost believed it was true.
She had thought maybe this time,
her life would be different,
the world would be different.
Like a fool she had believed.
Still, that night,
she had tossed and turned in her bed,
and so she decided that she would just rise
and visit Jesus’ grave,
to sit there with him awhile.
She didn’t even wait until the sun rose.
Instead, in the twilight hours,
she had snuck outside,
and headed to the tomb where Jesus lay.
Mary teaches us something
about showing up while it is still dark.
In the twilight hours, I can remember preparing for Easter one year
when I was around 7 or 8.
As a resident of Rochester, NY, I was used to snowstorms
that came whatever the month.
That Easter, snow covered the ground and temperatures dipped below freezing.
No daffodils or crocuses heralded the coming of Easter
or even spring.
Like a buffoon, I bundled up in my snow pants.
I donned my coat and went with my mother
to the Easter sunrise service at a snow-covered park.
I went because I was hungry,
because even in the dreary months of winter,
I wanted to remember spring was coming,
joy was coming, beauty was coming.
I wanted to know that there was more to life
than arguing with my brother
and dreaming of being an adult.
I wanted something that filled me up and kept me warm,
even on days like this one,
and so I showed up
while it was still dark,
to hear this story of Mary
who lingers in the twilight.
I imagine Mary plodding forward,
her footfalls lit by moon or candlelight.
Perhaps Mary picturing her warm bed
and wondering why exactly she came.
It would have been so much easier to stay at home.
Yet here she is.
She shows up, remaining in the twilight hours,
in the unknown places,
in the spaces that seem like dead ends and lost opportunities.
She teaches us to linger,
like Jan Radar,
a fire chief in the town of Huntington, West Virginia
Her town has an opioid overdose rate
ten times the national average.
Radar is a nurse by training and, over and over again,
she gives people struggling with addiction
the opioid reversal medication Naloxone.
At one town hall meeting, a man asks Radar,
Why do you bother?
Radar responds that she would give them Naloxone
as many times as they needed it, even fifty times,
because “you never know what will be
the time that saves a life for good.”
Radar lingers with those struggling with addiction.
She shows up while it is still dark
so that she can bear witness
to new life in her community.
Who is the fool?
Perhaps it is Jesus.
Throughout Jesus’ life,
people always asked him:
Why bother? What’s the point?
One time, Jesus healed ten lepers and only one bothered
to come back to say thank you.
Still, Jesus persists in making us new.
Jesus tells people that we are called to forgive
not seven times,
but seven times seventy.
Jesus tells stories
about leaving ninety-nine sheep
to find the one lost one,
about selling everything to buy one precious thing,
about searching the whole house, from top to bottom,
to find that a treasured coin, who is us.
It is clear: Jesus is a fool for love.
Even in the last days of his life,
Jesus appears in Jerusalem
when it seems useless.
After all, who could stand up to the Rome?
Yet, even on the cross,
Jesus holds fast:
to a different kind wisdom.
Perhaps it is Jesus who is the greatest fool of all —
because he shows up in humanity’s darkest hour,
because he never gives up on us,
coming to us as many times as it takes,
no matter the odds,
so that we too might experience life that is really life.
Remembering Jesus’ foolishness,
Mary lingers near the tomb.
She discovers it is empty.
Initially she does not understand,
and so she runs to tell the others,
who go back to bed.
Yet she who remains hears a voice
calling her by name: Mary.
In that moment, Mary sees the Risen Christ,
who comes to us in the twilight hours of our lives.
Who is the fool?
Perhaps it is us.
Perhaps we are Easter fools for showing up in the [drizzly] twilight hours.
Yet, by showing up,
we witness the greatest miracle of all –
the dawning of a new day,
the dawning of new life.
We witness the truth that
we serve a God who call us by name
and invites us, even now, to begin again.
Thanks be to God!