Easter Sunrise Sermon

John 10:1-18

Early on Easter 2020, while it was still dark …

There is something about this Easter,
that feels closer to the actual Easter,
when Mary of Magdala,
stepped out of her residence
to walk to the tomb,
to grieve her teacher, Jesus.

That day,
she did not know what would happen;
nothing was guaranteed to her.
She walked that inky pre-dawn hour
to visit Jesus’ tomb simply
because she cared, deeply.

Something about that uncertainty resonates:
we don’t know what will happen
with ourselves,
our loved ones,
or the future,
and yet we care, deeply.

The weight of the tomb-like places of our lives
can feel as massive as a stone.

In my own life,
I have been noticing the heaviness
of the pandemic,
of our struggling earth,
of what is being revealed at this time:
including racial and economic inequalities.

Like a garden after winter,
I see now there is so much
that needs to be hoed and dug out
to make space for new shoots.

It strikes me that,
sometimes,
in a garden,
it feels like there
are so many layers
of decay and debris
that cover the earth
it will be impossible
for bulbs to bloom.

These days
as I walk through the woods,
littered with leaves from prior years,
I wonder,
how will new shoots
ever make it through
all these layers?

I don’t know.

Just like Mary of Magdala
did not know how she would
find her way through the layers of sadness
that cluttered her heart.
And still she rose
while night was bleak.
still she changed clothes,
though t’was a feat,
stepping in twilight
to wind her way.
walking by tombs,
she didn’t turn away.

Dawn begins to break during Easter 2020.

This story enthralls me.
It’s like Mary holds vigil
for something better
even when the world
cannot yet see it.

When she gets to the tomb,
she discovers it has been disturbed,
the body of her teacher is not there.

In haste,
she rushes to tell the others.
Loudly, she knocks on their door,
startling them awake.
Peter and the beloved disciple
leap up and
fly back to the grave
with Mary.

Peter enters the cave-like tomb first,
discovering:
grave clothes scattered.

He and the beloved disciple
enter into the same confusion:
What has happened
to their dear one?

They do not know.
With reluctance,
they return to their homes.

However,
Mary remains.

She also does not know,
but still she lingers in the liminal,
in-between space
of the twilight hour.

I love her for this.

The cloudy Easter sunrise of 2016.

Her act makes me think
of many an Easter sunrise
this church has held
to watch a sunrise
that never comes
because of clouds or rain.

Yet still we gather on Easter morning,
still we trust that,
even when
rain chases us indoors:
a new day dawns.

It makes me think
of the anonymous words
scrawled on the wall
by an intrepid Jew
in a Nazi concentration camp:

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.

That’s true for Mary too.
Mary doesn’t give up
on the possibility
of the tombs of our lives
being transformed
into something more.

And while she abides,
an angel comes to her and asks
“Why you are crying?”

Jesus asks this question too,
creating space for Mary to name
her pain, truth.

Jesus pay attention to the layers
covering Mary’s soul,
seeing their potential for
composting,
for becoming something
rich and fertile,
out of which
ferns will unfurl
saplings will sprout
and lilies will venture.

It’s then she sees:
She is in a garden,
a garden
with a gardener,
who knows what to do
with hard soil
and layers of dead leaves.

A gardener who knows what it is
to remain in all seasons,
not just spring and summer,
but also in autumn,
a season of letting go,
and in winter,
a season of
dormancy and quiet.

A gardener who knows
what is to be patient,
as seeds send forth
imperceptible shoots.

Like the roots of Mary’s heart
as she stays
encountering
the One who
brings seedlings of grace.

Mary’s lingering stance inspires me;
it invites us to look for Christ
in places
piled with debris,
in places of bleakness,
in places of winter dormancy.

The break of dawn on Easter 2020.

As the rising sun warms my face,
I remember the days
we have held Easter vigil for the sunrise
clouds have obscured it,
and still, the sun has risen.

And so with faith,
even as we are separated by the cloud of distance,
I proclaim the truth,
with you, with Mary,
with all the saints that were, that are,
and that are to come:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

Amen.

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