Thursday, April 12, 2012

The One Whom Jesus Loves

Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

(c) Christina Berry

John 20:1-18

1 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. 2 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." 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 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.' " 18 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.

If you haven’t been in worship in a while, and you’re not keeping up with us on Facebook or on our blog, you may feel like you came in right in the middle of the story. And in a way, that’s true. It might also feel, if you don’t make it to church much, that we only really have two stories: Jesus gets born, and Jesus is raised from the dead. And in a way, that’s true, too.

It’s the truth, but not the whole truth.

For example, we are thrilled this morning to baptize our sweet baby Lillian, and this past Thursday we sadly said goodbye to one of our dear saints. That’s a beginning, and an end, but knowing those two facts tells us nothing about the 91 years that Marian spent on this earth, and we know very little about Lillian’s future, except that we are promising to love her, encourage her, and nurture her faith.

Knowing the story of Jesus’ beginning and knowing the Easter story of resurrection hardly gives us the full picture of Jesus. Throughout Lent this year, we have been taking a closer look at the death of Jesus, particularly the way he died, on a cross. If you look around after worship, you’ll see some of our handiwork – the banners, the wooden crosses, the bookmarks. We talked about various crosses in worship and at our wonderful Wednesday supper and study programs.

We talked about the cross as our axis mundi, the center of our universe and the emblem of our life meaning.

We looked at the Tau cross, and thought about how Jesus was lifted up on the cross in order that we might be lifted up and healed from the poison of self and sin.

We discovered the relationship of grace and law in the cross: how God’s law gives us light, direction, and protection; and the cross offers us mercy, grace and life .

We learned how the cross represents the fullness of the incarnation: that Jesus was fully human and fully God, born as we all were, and subject to death, as all of us are.

He died, because he was fully human, and humans die.

He died, because death was out there, waiting, all along.

He died, and they put him in a tomb, but he rose again.

All this maybe makes sense to us, now, sitting here in church on a bright spring morning in the twenty-first century. But on that first Easter, they didn’t know the rest of the story. They didn’t see the cross as a symbol of hope. In Jesus’ time, and in the decades following his death, when the Gospel accounts were written, the cross symbolized humiliation, oppression, injustice and brutality. It was a symbol of death, and of how Jesus died. They were, in fact, in despair.

They went to the tomb, early on the first day of the week, first Mary Magdalene, who ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. That unnamed disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He followed Peter into the empty tomb, and he saw and believed. Mary was still weeping outside the tomb when two angels appeared and asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" It isn’t clear that Mary Magdalene had yet understood what had happened. She apparently suspected grave robbers. So when a man spoke to her and asked,

"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" she simply asked where they had put the body. But when Jesus spoke, she recognized his voice, and knew that it was him. It was Mary Magdalene who announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

There you have it. The Easter story.

All these years later, what has this to do with us? We hear this story, and we color some eggs, and eat some chocolate. Maybe we get a new dress for the occasion. The flowers are pretty; the music is nice; we get to brunch on time if the service doesn’t take too long. It really doesn’t matter that much, this resurrection business. We hardly ever have angels appear in front of us, asking why we are weeping. Still, there’s this question, hanging in the air: Whom are you looking for? I submit to you that we are all here, every one of us, because in some form or fashion, we are looking for Jesus.

Are you looking for the risen savior? Are you more like Peter, more skeptical, unsure of the story until there is more evidence? Or more like Mary Magdalene, wanting to cling to him, then shout, “I have seen the Lord!”? Over the years, I’d guess, you may have been either, or both. But today, as you sit here amid the fragrance of spring flowers, with the sunlight shining through the stained glass windows, and the music pouring out, you are in this story, and you have a role to play, for you are the disciple whom Jesus loves.

That’s the promise of Easter. We are God’s beloved, the disciples whom Jesus loves. Every day that we live, whether we are silent in awe of his sacrifice, or singing in thanksgiving for his grace, whether we are rejoicing in God’s goodness, or struggling with illness and loss, we journey in the footsteps of Jesus, and stand in the shadow of his cross. Every new morning, we have the chance to look into that empty tomb and remember who we are, and whose we are. From the moment of our baptism, until the day when our baptism is complete in death, we are the disciples whom Jesus loves.

We’ve all just come in on the middle of the story, and there is much behind us, and much ahead of us. But all around us is the extravagant love of God, which will stop at nothing to bring us to that moment of wonder and commitment, when we shout, “I have seen the Lord!” The cross represents that love, that promise of resurrection, the assurance that love wins.

In a short while, when I baptize Lillian, I will make the sign of the cross on her forehead, and tell her that she is a child of the covenant, sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever. I expect that as Lillian grows and matures, she will also have moments of doubt and experiences of certainty, as all of us do. And we will continue our journeys alongside her, assuring her that she, too, is the disciple whom Jesus loves. For we will repeat to her the promise that we have all heard in our own baptisms, the promise of the Risen Savior:

You are a beloved and precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

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