April 17, 2022; Easter A: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 ; John 20:1-18


Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s, Portland
April 17, 2022; Easter A: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 ; John 20:1-18

On the first Easter Day, it looked like the Romans had won. The Romans were known to be brutal, using crucifixion as a public and humiliating punishment for enemies of the state. Jesus’ crucifixion was not the first. 73 years before the time of Christ, Spartacus and 6000 members of his rebellion had been crucified on a two hundred kilometer section of the Appian Way. Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Sabbath of a Jewish Holy Day, with his body thrown in someone else’s tomb outside the city walls. Three days later, when Jesus’ followers arrived to clean him up, the Romans seem to have added insult to injury, taking away the body before it could be properly cleaned and the embalming process (remember the oil with Lazarus) could be completed. Seeing the empty tomb and afraid that the Romans would target them next, Jesus’ disciples quickly returned to their own homes. The scriptures tell us that the disciples were still there a week later, hiding behind locked doors out of fear that the authorities would find them and kill them as well.

While all this was happening, Mary Magdalene was in the garden outside of the tomb, weeping and overwhelmed with loss and grief. Jesus – who she didn’t recognize and thought was the gardener — came to her and asked, “Why are you weeping?” Can you imagine her words just flowing out? “You ask why I am I weeping? Didn’t you hear shouts of the crowds? Didn’t you hear about the trial before Pilate, the denial of Peter, or the betrayal of Judas? Haven’t you seen photos of the train station that got hit by a missile, the maternity hospital that got bombed, the rubble of Mariupol or the bodies of 900 civilians found this week outside of Kyiv? Did you somehow miss the six million people who died of Covid, the increasing threat of climate change, the legislation against LGBTQ people, Trans people, Indigenous people, and women, the shootings in a South Carolina mall and New York subway, the political divisions and the ongoing struggles over race and class and everything else? You ask why I am weeping? Do you not get that the Jesus seems to have disappeared, right when we need him the most? Do you not understand that I just lost the man I loved more than anyone else?

Imagine the silence after she gets it all out. Imagine the silence after she lays all the pain and anger, the grief and guilt and everything else she had been carrying right there at Jesus’ feet. Now imagine Jesus looking at her, saying her name, and all of those things suddenly, completely, utterly disappearing – not going away, but gone. Did you notice that when Mary responded she called Jesus “Rabbouni” instead of “Rabbi?” “Rabbi” means “teacher.” “Rabbouni” means “my teacher.” The use of “Rabbouni” hints at the deep level of intimacy and love that Jesus and Mary shared. When Jesus said her name, she recognized him, knew he was there, and knew everything would be OK. When Jesus said her name, Mary realized not just that he was alive, but that she could live again as well.

Notice that Jesus didn’t say anything to Mary about the forgiveness of sins. People who think that Good Friday and Easter are about forgiving sins forget that Jesus forgave people’s sins all the time while he was alive. He didn’t need to die on a cross to do that. Consider Mary Magdalene for a moment. Tradition says that she had what you might call an interesting past. If any of that was true, it’s likely she had a history of trauma as well. I am sure that like all of us, Mary had things she regretted, things she had done and left undone. None of that came up in her conversation with Jesus because Jesus had been taken care of those things a long time ago. Mary didn’t need to be forgiven or told she was accepted or loved because she had been forgiven and accepted and loved the first time she and Jesus met. The same, by the way, is true for you. The song, “He’s making a list and checking it twice, going to find out whose naughty and nice,” isn’t talking about Jesus… and isn’t talking about Easter. The idea of someone needing to die in order to appease an angry god might have made sense in the ancient world. It doesn’t make sense in our modern one and it’s not what we are celebrating today. You have already been forgiven, you are already loved. Easter is here to make those things real. Easter is here so you can live again.

A friend of mine once said, “Jesus didn’t die for our sins. He died because of them.” Jesus didn’t die in order to pay the price of our personal parking tickets. Jesus died because he turned over the tables in the temple. Jesus died because he lived in a way and proclaimed a kingdom that threatened the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Jesus died because he dared to love and put that love first of all. Jesus died because humanity was separated from God and disconnected from the source of life, of love, and energy in the universe itself. Jesus was raised to put those connections back in place. Jesus’ death and resurrection bridge the gap between the way things are and the way God created them to be. Jesus’ death and resurrection are a way to get us back in relationship with God and one another. When it comes to Easter, reconciliation and resurrection are one and the same. In almost every language except English, the name of Easter is a derivation of the Latin word Pascha. Pascha means “Passover.” Easter is the Christian Passover: the passing over from death to life for Jesus… and for us.

Jesus didn’t talk to Mary about the forgiveness of sins. Jesus did talk to Mary about the Ascension. Since we restored them a few years ago, the windows on the front of the cathedral really shine. On the left is the crucifixion; on the right is the resurrection. The center and the focal point of it all is the Ascension, with Jesus reigning in a field of stars. The Rose Window is so bright, so dominant, that, you can hardly see the brass cross on the altar. That, my friends is not by accident. Like the builders of this cathedral, Jesus knew that the ascension, his going back to God, his role as the Lord of the Universe, would wrap it all up. Easter, in other words, is bigger than we think. It’s bigger than ourselves, our community, or our church. Easter is about getting the cosmos itself back in sync. On a practical level, this is important because once Jesus ascends to God, the responsibility for being Jesus – for sharing the hope and promise of the resurrection and for living as people of the resurrection is up to us. With Jesus in heaven, you and I have the responsibility for giving people the hope and promise of Easter on Earth. After the resurrection, the Bible has a vocabulary change that puts this in perspective. After the resurrection, Jesus’ followers are no longer called disciples. After the resurrection, they are called “apostles.” Disciples are those who follow, those who learn. Apostles are those who are sent. On the first Easter Mary Magdalene became what has been called the “apostula apostalorum,” the apostle who brought good news to the apostles and to the world itself. Today we are being asked to become apostula apostalorum ourselves. In the garden outside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene learned that Jesus had been with her all along – even when she thought he was gone. She learned that through Jesus God is with us no matter what and that through Jesus we have a fresh start, a new beginning, and can be all that God has created and called us to be. It is clear that the resurrection wasn’t as much for Jesus as it was for her… and for you and for me. This all happened, the moment when Jesus called her name. Jesus is calling your name right now. On that first Easter morning, it looked like the Romans had won. With everything going on in our world, it can feel the same way today. Easter says that is another bit of fake news designed to throw us off track. Easter proclaims that God has raised Jesus from the dead and that because he lives, we too can live. Easter tells us that new life is possible and can begin today. On this Easter Day, our task is to realize that for ourselves. Then, as apostles to the apostles, our task to tell others, to show others, that same is true for them.

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