Easter Sermon

John 20:1-18

Mary of Magdala’s love is deep. Just like her grief.

That is why I am so surprised
that when Mary finally sees Jesus;
she does not recognize Jesus.

Literally the text says,
“She turned around
and saw Jesus standing there,
but she did not know that it was Jesus.”

Why do you think that is?

Mary’s lack of recognition fascinates me.

It’s like she could not count on
her normal means of perception.
Her eyes, deprived of sight
in that hazy hour,
could not make out shapes.

Her experience on that dim morning
makes me think of ways
our own senses
have been deprived
these past weeks.

Like my sense of sight.
I missing seeing people in person.
I found myself thinking
the other day
how great it is
to be able to make eye contact
with someone
and receive a smile back.

Or my sense of touch.
I find myself dreaming of the day,
I can give handshakes and hugs again,

Or my sense of sound.
The other week,
it dawned on me how much
I miss hearing the organ.
It may be true that I listened
to the doxology we use
a dozen times on repeat.

I was trying to figure out why
I wanted so much to listen
to that particular song,
when it dawned on me
that is the song sung
when I stand in front
and face the congregation
and see each of your
beautiful faces
and my voices threads with yours
into a great tapestry.

Praise be to God …

I wonder if that is how Mary felt
as she found herself at the garden,
memories tumbling out,
as she remembered
the inflection of Jesus’ voice,
deep and measured,
or the way Jesus furrowed his brows
when paying attention,
or how Jesus had cared about her
when everyone else gave up.

But now,
in the dimness of the hour,
those memories seemed a distant memory
as she begged the gardener:
“If you have carried him away,
tell me where you have laid him.”

The world lay dark.
And yet,
I wonder
if there is something
about that dark hours
that invites us to perceive in new ways,
in deeper ways,
in more soulful ways.

I considered that truth this week
as I read the story of Erik Weihenmayer,
a blind adventurer.

In his book Touch the Top of the World:
A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther
than the Eye Can See,
Erik shares his own experience
gradually losing his sight as a child
until he became completely blind.

Still,
he reveals
how he got to know the world
in an even more intimate way.

For instance,
he learned how to
make a series of sharp clicks
with his tongue,
and listen to the echo
of the reverberation.
Through that echo,
he learned to tell
if he was in front of
an open space, or a tree,
or an even a shrub.
Shapes and textures
began solidifying in his mind,
based on sound alone.

Erik also tells another story
of a trek he did up Denali,
the tallest mountain in North America,
with his hiking partner, Sam.
Along the way,
Erik explains that Sam would always stop
in the midst of a long day of climbing
to describe the view.
Sam would detail
how a gaping crevasse
merged from sky-blue to deep blue to black,
how the massive fluted columns
of ice near Denali base camp
split the sky like serrated knife blades,
how the glorious sun rose up
over the summit of Mount Rainier,
orange and gold and fiery.

Erik writes that Sam’s words were
like paintbrush strokes in my mind,
that made him feel like he was never missing,
but getting the extra bonus of see the world
with Sam’s awe, hope and wonder,
given with friendship and love.

A mind broken open,
recognizing
true substance.

Like Mary’s mind,
the moment the gardener spoke,
with friendship and love.

Mary.

Mary.

Just like that,
something opened up within her,
as she recognized,
not with her eyes,
not with her ears,
but with her heart.

Suddenly,
she knew
she was encountering …
the Risen Christ.

Rabboni, she exclaimed.

In that moment,
her soul perceives
on the deepest level.

In own global moment
of bewilderment,
I have been thinking
about how this pandemic
reminds me of what matters:
not small details,
not giving everything right,
not clothing and styles
(because let’s be honest a lot of us
are loving PJs these days)
but people,
who hold the Christ-light.

There’s a line in the “Servant Song”,
which we attempted to sing Thursday,
which goes,
“I will hold the Christ-light
for you in the night time of your fear.”

We are giving up everything these days,
to hold the Christ-light for others
in the night-time of the pandemic,
by abstaining from human contact,
by staying at home,
by giving up jobs,
because we see what is precious:
life.

Life in humans, life in blooming magnolias,
life in the small bunnies hopping in my yard.

And so like Mary,
we go out (or stay in),
while it is still dark,
holding our Christ-light,
and our masks,
and our sanitizer,
so others might live.

And when the sadness
and loneliness seem unbearable,
I think of Mary Magdalene,
who gives me hope,
who remains holding vigil.

Just like young adult Mandy Harvey,
who has also lingered
in twilight and places of tombs.

Harvey lost her hearing
when she was nineteen,
majoring in voice music education
at Colorado State University.

She had dreams of
being a music teacher.
She had been singing
since she was four;
it was her life’s passionate.

However,
without her hearing,
she was forced
to quit both school and music.

It drove her into a deep depression.
For the whole next year,
she described herself as
“the walking dead”.

Then one day,
her father,
who used to spend long hours
with her singing,
invited her to try to sing a song,
a new one,
while he played guitar.

To prepare,
Mandy pulled the sheet music to
“Come Home” by One Republic
and visual autotuner
that would light up
green if it was the right note.

After many tries,
and several hours,
she managed to get the light
to stay green the whole way through.

Then came singing with her father,
who had dearly missed
this connecting time
with the daughter he loves.
He pulled out her old guitar,
and she sang
She didn’t know how well
she could sing along with an instrument
that she could not hear.
She didn’t know if what she sang
had any feel to it.
She rather suspected it was
stiff and mechanical.

By the time they finished,
she could not tell
if what they did
was halfway decent
or completely awful.

Her father’s reaction surprised her.
He didn’t offer a high-five,
or a word of encouragement.
Instead, he sat there frozen,
with tears in his eyes.

Then he turned to Mandy and said,
“Mandy, that was beautiful.”

The heart of the matter.

She went on to sing,
play guitar and ukele,
and write her own music.

One of her first original songs is called,
“Try.”

When asked why she wrote it,
she responded tenderly,
“After losing my hearing, I gave up.
I want to do more with my life than just give up.”

I am going to play a snippet for you.

(Link here, listen until 0:50)

And so Mandy,
decided to try,
to share a song,
to start while it was still dark.

Like Mary.

Just when my vision feels stale,
these holy stories make me wonder
“Where is the Christ-light
in our twilight hour?”

Suddenly,
the gates of my mind fling wide,
as truth dawns:

I have seen the Christ-light!
Christ is in each phone call,
each stolen moment of
communion with another,
in the hyacinths dripping with color,
in friends singing to us,
in our Zoom calls,
as we worship together,
and make creative
palm branches
and flowers
and remain to say,
we may have left the building
but God has not left our hearts.

Where have they taken
Jesus this holy season?

Perceive with your heart,
as Christ whispers your name
with affection.

Revealing that,
while there is so much we don’t know,
the truth lives on:

Christ is here. We are loved. That is enough.

Amen.

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