April 12, 2020
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
On Wednesday, I stood by as a Maryland food bank truck backed up our curving driveway. The door rolled up, and I was glad to see the large amount of food it held. After all, amidst this Pandemic, and the crashing of our economy, many people in our area are going hungry. Folks who have never accessed emergency food are overwhelming food banks, and it was good to see that there was so much food to be distributed to so many emerging food banks like ours. And then it dawned on our little band of seven volunteer; all of this food was, in fact, for us. We were hoping for a thousand pounds of food. This was 7,400 pounds, almost all of it produce, that would need to be refrigerated. What had once seemed like a great idea, a way of partnering with the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, suddenly became overwhelming. How on earth were we going to do this?
I have learned that in Ministry, and personally in my desire to be a follower of Jesus, that when it all feels like entirely too much, that’s when you need to reach out to your friends. In community organizing, we are taught that in a crisis, you caucus. Instead of just acting, you talk with other people who share your goals, what they want to make happen in the world. When you need wisdom to take the next right step, you rely, not on your own cleverness, but on your collective insight. Inevitably there’s someone who is going to speak the truth of the moment you find yourself in, and lead you forward.
Mary Magdalene shows up to do the work that needs to be done, to finish preparing Jesus’ body in his tomb, and then everything goes sideways. She’s overwhelmed, and she knows she isn’t thinking clearly. So she runs to Simon Peter and John, the Beloved Disciple, and shares that Jesus’ body has been stolen. They run into the tomb, and then it hits them; these lovingly wrapped linens, this wasn’t the scene of a crime. Jesus is freed, from death, from the powers of this world who lynched him. The power of the Resurrection is loose in the world. Filled with new hope, they leave, they go home, transformed. Mary, in her grief and confusion, she just misses them when she arrives back to the tomb. And she runs into a man she mistakes for the gardener. In her grief, in her shock, she can’t recognize her teacher at first. But our Lord, he’s gentle with us with the shock of the overflowing life we step into. After their tearful reunion, he sends her to be the first to preach the Good News of the Gospel to the other disciples.
Like Mary, the disciples need time for this news to transform them. Like Mary, they’re going to need Jesus to show up, because at first, they’re afraid. They’ve watched their entire world fall apart. And so Jesus shows up in the midst of their fear, their confusion. They need his presence, before they can go out, and live into the Resurrected life that Jesus has brought to them.
This year, I resonate with the Disciples in a deeper way than I have in the past. I’ve read and heard this story so many times over the years, and I have been annoyed at how the disciples initially react to Mary; Jesus has been raised, they hear it from their fellow Disciple Mary Magdalene, and they just hang around?! What kind of patriarchal nonsense is this? Do they not believe her? But this year, I’ve heard this scripture in a new way. They’re afraid, and they’ve been through so much grief. While they have hope in Jesus, while some of them may even have faith in Mary’s story, they still need to be led by the Risen Lord.
Beloved, we’re staying home this Easter, and that’s a good thing. The world is scary right now, and the best way we can love God, ourselves, one another and our neighbors is by being safely in our homes. This is the most prudent course of action, gathering virtually for worship. Yes, we’ve all heard about the Resurrection, but we also know that we need to protect our precious human lives, and the lives of our neighbors and friends. Our scripture story this morning though reminds us though, that there will come a moment when it is time to go and be the Church in a new way, in light of God’s love made manifest in Jesus’ resurrection. And we’re likely to need a fair amount of help, and for Jesus to be palpably present to lead us. He will bring us peace, and a plan. In the meantime, our scripture reading this morning reminds us that it is a faithful response when we hear the Good News of the Resurrection to stay safe, to stay together, even virtually.
As the 7,400 pounds of food arrived, I stood wide-eyed, behind my fogged up glasses that were sitting above my mask that hid my dropped jaw. What the heaven were we going to do? I knew I didn’t have the hope in that moment to figure this out. So I called Emily. She’s been one of the many Mary’s in my life this week. I asked her to be our external brain. Reach out to our friends, and figure out what we’re going to do. Rev. Laura, the Lutheran Campus Minister for Towson University, Morgan State, and UMBC, jumped on her phone, commandeering every refrigerator she could find from every church that she knew. Leigh was absolutely in her element, and in the midst of it all, it dawned on me. I’m one of men hiding in the upper room in this story. The women got to work, and I realized my role was to make sure everyone was talking, to help put their Gospel vision into action. The next day the Flanigan’s built a multi-level trailer to transport 300 bags of food for 150 households at the drop of a hat, transforming old wooden pallets and plywood into a means of grace. Anna Foster Connors showed up over and over again, and put her minivan to good use to help us transport everything. Anna Bowers-Soyke showed up and I have never seen anyone throw their entire body into packing groceries like she did. Andrea Madsen brought me a mask and got to work, her laugh giving us all hope and energy to keep going. I loaded up a few of our metal tables and folding chairs, and headed to Station North to where volunteers were waiting to set up our distribution to folks living on the street, and in an apartment building mostly housing independently living elders. I saw Peewee, one of Rev. Atticus’ people in Station North who is an expert at using the original social network, poor folks who care for one another. She was on top of it, waving me to the folks I needed to get the tables to. After I got out of the car, I thanked her for your help. She cocked her head and laughed “Are you kidding me? These are my people, my family. We got to help each other out.”
Beloved, the power of the resurrection is on the loose among us. Jesus shows up in people we don’t always recognize at first, but show up he does. Maybe you’re like Simon Peter and John, and it dawns on you and you know what to do, where to go, to be part of the ongoing and unstoppable revolution of God’s love in our world. Maybe the Holy Spirit is burning within you this day, and you’re here to get strength to keep going. But maybe you’re like Mary Magdalene and the Disciples, and it’s going to take some time for it to all click for you, what your calling is in the midst of this mess we find ourselves in, and the beauty that is breaking into our world. Wherever you are this Easter Sunday, know this; there is peace, there is patience, and we’re in this together. And God doesn’t just leave us to figure it out. God is real, and in our midst, and at work. You don’t have to save the world; Jesus has already done that. But you are invited to experience how much God loves you. You can rest in the safety that not even death can separate you from Jesus’ love. You’re invited to encounter the Risen Christ in scripture, in quiet prayer, on the hiking trail, through poetry and music, through zoom calls and text messages, art and your garden. And when the time is right, when Our Loving Mothering God knows you’re ready, the God of Emily and Leigh, Andrea and Lynn, Anna, Atticus, Anna, Pee Wee and so many saints is going to give you peace, and send you out, to heal our broken and fearful world, through the power of the Risen Christ. May we prepare this day, hiding in our homes, invite the Holy One to begin to roll the stones away, and resurrect us all anew. Amen