This sermon was preached on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 at Ashland Presbyterian Church, Hunt Valley, Maryland.
We gather here this morning to tell the story of Jesus. The story of God’s resurrection.
The authors of the gospel of John understand the power of story, and the absolute necessity of it. They understand that we cannot know God without stories; that we cannot know ourselves without them either.
We are a people who love story.
We speak of getting lost in a story, but part of what draws us to a story is the promise of finding: finding a different world, finding another time, finding ourselves.
There is something in us that hungers for a story, an empty space that is shaped precisely to its contours. We reach for the threads that a story offers, we enter the rooms it opens to us, we inhabit the skin of another and somehow, in the hands of a good story, we are returned to ourselves.
And we are perhaps holding the threads of our own stories a bit differently, or entering a new space within ourselves, or finding ourselves able to inhabit our own skin more completely.
Elie Wiesel says that God created us because God loves stories. (Inspired and quotes from Jan Richardson, Where the Story Begins)
The beginning of the Gospel of John begins with one of the great opening lines of all time.
In the beginning.
It’s right up there with… Once upon a time, and in a galaxy far, far away.
We all know that in order to write a great story, you need to have a great story.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The opening of John tells us who we are and where we exist in the story. We are the people, we are God’s story in motion. And where does the power of a story lie? What is it about this story that so compels us?
We are God’s people- alive, through Christ.
Being the Son of God, “in him was life; and the life was the light of all the people” (1:4).
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (14:6).
His whole purpose for coming to earth “that we might have life, and have it more abundantly” (10:10).
And this is not a condemning life, but a gift. For God so loved the world that he gave is son so we may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
He tells Martha in comforting her after Lazarus dies, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
And of course the Easter story begins just as poetically as any other, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…”
We see a woman, exhausted from the week’s events. She’s tired and frail, unable to sleep she gathers her supplies quietly, and makes her way from the place where she was staying to the private garden, the property of the wealthy patron who allowed
Jesus’ body to be laid at the last minute.
She has come to anoint the body, come to pay her respects; she has come to mourn the loss of the life of her dearest friend.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, he wasn’t supposed to die. Death wasn’t part of
the deal, life was. He no longer exists in bodily form; all that’s left of him now is story.
But that story doesn’t end the way Mary thinks it does.
Death does not have the last word. As readers and studiers of story we are clued in to the fact that she is in a special place, a garden.
The garden in which Mary stands mimics the one from another story, the story of creation. When God created a lush garden called Eden and we first learned of Godability to bring forth life.
The garden is different now – not as pure – tainted with death and overgrown plants, touched by human hands. But that cannot stop God.
In 1 Corinthians Paul tells the readers that resurrection is like a seed that must die to bring forth life. Jesus tells us that whoever wants to keep their life will lose it. This is the moment of resurrection. The moment we realize that it is within the darkest, bleakest moments of life that we are at our most vulnerable.
And like every good story, we have learned that the sweetest joy and the purest love comes from vulnerability.
Mary is raw, the disciples are exposed. They are living in darkness and scarcity, facing a new reality that they never anticipated, and it came in the most cruel and violent ways.
But it is within of that moment they find life. Real life. The life that Jesus spoke of, a live of abundant grace, and life of love and mercy, a renewed spirit.
And they learn this lesson in a garden, the setting of our story. Because, we’re not the only thing God because God loves a good story.
The garden reminds us that life is renewing, that we must become vulnerable, exposed to death, before we can resurrect into the next thing.
The garden has a story in and of itself- it teaches us that life will find a way, no matter what.
We plant a tree and suffocate it with cement.
a seed scattered to the wind lands in mortar.
Death will not have the last word, but it will have it’s day, for Jesus, it was 3 of them in fact. But on the third he was raised to new life.
Out of the depth of vulnerability — resurrection.
So the story continues, and Mary mistakes Jesus as a gardener (poetic isn’t it?) Upon discovering who he is, he tells her not to cling to who he was. He’s different now, transformed by hardship, pain, and a journey.
It’s a story unlike any other, the greatest story of all time the ending yet to be written, a story of relationship between God and creation that continues even to this day.
May it live on through you and through me. And all God’s people said…Amen.