04/01/2018 Sermon

Sermon by Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
Resurrection of the Lord/Easter
April 1, 2018

Psalm 118:19-24
John 20:1-18

How Faith Weeps

All the Good Fridays we experience in life leave us feeling quite a bit like we find Mary Magdalene today. Like her, the good Friday’s of our lives seem to leave us seemingly alone after the worst has happened. The power of death seems overwhelming on these days. Having extinguished the earthly life of one we so loved, or a dream in which we believed, or a promise on which we thought we could realy, death on these dark and despairing days threatens to seal away hope itself in a forgotten tomb, leaving it for very, very dead. Because we’ve been where Mary Magdalene is this morning, weeping at a tomb, her experience has something to say to us as the inheritors of the disciples’ faith. Especially on Easter. Let us pray.

Lord Eternal, you who are the love stronger than death, give us a vision this day of the eternal life we have in you even, especially, in the face of the desolate feelings we sometimes feel even on Christian high holy days of joy. Be with us now and through all of the Good Friday times we experience we pray lest Easter’s joyful vision fade, and our hearts break irreparably in two. Amen.

I want to focus my remarks on what Mary Magdalene’s faith in the face of Jesus’ death looked like. I want to do that for two reasons. First, because I know that faith in God’s promises and goodness in the light of the world’s callousness, cyncicism and danger is a present struggle for us all. Second, because, though a death that occurred more than two thousand years ago may seem at first glance to have little to speak into our fears for ourselves, for our children, or for the planet, it is, in fact, THE story of the havoc death wreaks. It is also the story of the limits of that havoc.
That because, not only it is the story of God’s own death, the death of an innocent at the hands of people who “know not what they do” in choosing the darkness rather than the light, it is also the story of how the love Jesus showed us as he became obedient to death for our sakes binds even here on earth to the eternal life, and thus hope, we have in Him.

Here’s how it went down. Mary Magdalene, after Jesus of Nazareth, the restorer of her life, had been crucified, died and been buried, returned to him. At least she returned to his graveside to weep. Mary Magdalene had entered, on the Sunday morning we encounter her, Dante’s hell. She had, as Dante imagined those entering Hell would do, “abandoned all hope.” She felt she had no choice but to do that for she was convinced she had entered into a life post Jesus.

When we experience our own dark Fridays, like Mary Magdalene had, we too enter into a new phase of life. We now have to live in this world without the one, or ones, for whom we lived, without the dream that provided us motivation or even meaning, or without the illusion that promises we make, at least, are only kept. To those who experience their own attempt to maintain the wind in the sails of a spirit filled life crash and burn, it is harder to learn to live again. Hope you see, at those times, is more difficult than despair. Just ask Mary Magdalene about that.

Mary Magdalene woke up on the Sunday morning of the first Easter to find death and despair claiming ultimate victory. She was broken hearted, shattered by the love she thought she had lost when she lost Jesus and drowning in her disappointment that God would have taken him from her! She, at that point, had a choice. In the face of this, the greatest loss of her life, she could cling to life, love, and God, accepting their accompanying pain, or attempt to cut herself loose from all three. Mary Magdalene chose communion, communion even with Jesus’ dead body, over letting go of the love she bore him, and the hope she had found in witnessing the kind of faithfulness to life and to God that he lived out.

Magdalene’s stubborn perseverance might seem a pale beacon compared to the more buoyant, if more shallow, faith we float before we lose someone or something we hold dear. Our faith that God’s love in Christ reigns sovereign over illness, decay, death, and our fear of them, help sustain us as we stand bravely to fight battles with disease, disappointment or even despair. While the battle still rages, we a bouyed by soldartity as we fight arm and arm with those who stand to do so alongside us. Those who fear the same losses we do, and still have the wherewithal to laugh with us at our own helplessness in the face of our crumbling dreams, or reassure us that though this may be an end, it will not be, for us, this time, the end.

And then we stand on the shoulders of those who remain present not only through the gallows humor, but through the creeping understanding that this time, whatever the circumstance, the cup of suffering will not be removed from us. That we will have to drink of its bitterness. But still, knowing the night is falling, those committed to solidarity, to “doing this together” as the reality of the human condition is thrown into sharp relief before our eyes, do not flee. And before the night falls, we can still hope against hope that our prayers might be heard, that God might spare ones among us who so wonderfully witness to God’s Kingdom the pain that comes with being human.

But then we are not spared. Or they are not spared. And so we find ourselves enduring the one thing we were hoping not to have to. And we stop praying for someone’s recovery from their disease, or someone’s delivery from addiction, or our society’s deliverance from cynicism and selfishness, though not for the reasons we had in mind. But, instead, because the other shoe has dropped. The marriage will not be repaired. The planet will continue to warm. The bill will be enacted. And there is nothing we can do to stop it. Except vote next time, even if we do so against all odds.

At those times, times when our fears about or our despair over what has already taken place are exponentially fibber than our faith in whatever late on the scene miracle may still stagger out of the ruins of our most fervent praying, this is the question that haunts, “has God failed us?”

Where are we to go when our faith in the very goodness of life, and thus God, seems to have died along with someone or something we cherished more than life itself? Where do we go when hope seems to become the impossible possibility, seems to have been stolen away from us like Mary believed the soul, and then even the body of her Lord and Savior had been?
There is only one place to go with that kind of hurt. We may reach out God crippled by faithlessness, weariness and disappointment, driven only by desperation to look for God through despair’s blinding tears, not expecting that we will find anything other but a sealed tomb containing all our reasons for hoping. That is OK.

We are called to serve life, to use what days we have to glorify God. This implies a certain struggle against death and death’s henchmen; sin, despair, hopelessness. If and when efforts there seemingly fail, and any of those other things appear to have “won” we are called as Christians to weep over the grief that is left. Death is worth crying over. It stems from the sacred mystery that is life, which is something we neither control, nor fully understand. It is a formidable enemy of our illusions that we are sovereign in this world, which means it is rather legitimately, terrifying. But, thank heaven we are not in control here, since it is only God, and not us, who brings life from death; only God’s love that, as God ordained from the foundation of the world, holds us in both.

So I invite you to commune for as long as you have to with your perhaps dead hope that God still, even out of the death of our innocence, and this Easter, might bring to you and to me new life. But do let Jesus, even the crucified, dead and buried Jesus, accompany you on your descent down to this particular rung of Hell. Let even the dead body of the hope you had in God’s power in Christ, keep you company while you grieve.

Why? Because in and through Christ, we are promised there will come a new day. A morning will come when, perplexed, you will ask two strangers in white where they have taken the broken, mutilated remains of your stolen hope. You will turn around, out of the painful stupor of your grief to find someone standing beside you who you take at first glance to be the gardener. You will ask that gardener, wearily, tearfully, where the sacred vessel of your defeated, but still noble, hope has been taken. You will ask again after truth and the way of love, ask anew after fullness of life, after the kind of blessing that was in your life before this terrible descent into numb acceptance, expecting only the cold comfort of sitting in mourning over them all.

On that fine day the “gardener” will answer by calling you by name. You will hear Him say gently, and with infinite love, “Mary.” Or Lucy, or Bill, or Stewart, or Jim or Elizabeth. And at the sound of His voice, overflowing with graceful goodness, vibrating with abundant life and the promise of a life eternal, a promise you had remembered, if only faintly, your heart will leap. It will leap with the realization that Jesus Christ came, and comes, not only in truth, but also in unconquerable power. It is Christ who is the bridge between time and eternity, life and death. And God in Christ’s grace is that power to which they all submit. Thus, on that day, the day you hear his voice calling again, patiently, from the other side of the dark tomb closed over you on this particular Good Friday, you will fall to your knees, this time driven there by joy, and you will whisper reverently, Oh, Rabbi, my teacher, my master, my hope …… Savior all of our frightened, aching hearts, Savior of the world.

Lord of life and death, do fill the holes all the Good Friday’s we have experienced have left in our hearts. Fill them through the power of your now risen spirit with overflowing thanksgiving for the great and wonderful gift you gave to us that first Easter. The first Easter when the women at Jesus’ tomb were confronted with the impossible possibility of his resurrection from the dead. And then use this season of Eastertide to implant your risen Spirit that much more deeply into our mortal hearts, that we may, like the Dalai Lama, dismiss death as a mere “change of clothing” and so live eternally, singing to you until the evening comes, right here in time. Amen.