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Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
Fort Collins, CO
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! Christ is risen! Risen indeed! Such a blessing to be with you all this morning. I love the hymn we just sang. As those of us in the preaching business say, “It will preach! That hymn will preach!” So if nothing I say today resonates….go back to that hymn.
On this Easter Sunday, our resurrection story is from John. I love each gospel’s resurrection story. Each one has some significant revealing detail to share with us as we encounter the mystery of the resurrection. However, of all the resurrection stories, I find John’s version the most personal and intimate, the most embodied in its telling. If we listen closely, with the ears of our hearts and imaginations, we may feel the grass of the garden wet on our feet in the dark early morning, the cold shadow of the tomb as we look inside, the warmth of the sun on our shoulders as it rises. We can hear the pounding of footsteps running, the heavy breathing of runners, the weeping of a shocked woman. What smells and even tastes might this story hold if we listen with our bodies, our senses and not just our heads? Garden smells, the taste of tears? What new thing might you see in your mind and heart’s eye as you hear this story that may be very familiar to you? Or perhaps, you are hearing it for the first time? Deep Breath. In and Out. I invite you this morning to be aware of how your body experiences the story of Mary and the disciples discovering the resurrection of Jesus.
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“I have seen the Lord.” What an unbelievable blessing to say this affirmation of resurrection! I long to be Mary in that moment. I long to say that affirmation with my life, “I have seen him, Jesus, the Teacher, the Lord.” Not just to hear the story and know that in the context of our Christian faith it offers hope. I long to live Mary’s resurrection affirmation with my whole being. “I have seen the Lord.” What about you?
It is not easy to experience, let alone think about resurrection, as 21st century, rational, scientific, progressive Christian people. We hear the story and so quickly move to hmmmm…..how did that really happen? Did it really happen? Did the writer of gospel talk to Mary and get a first-hand account? Or to Peter or the other disciple whom Jesus loved? So quickly we move from our bodies where our imaginations live and from our hearts where our emotions live to our rational thinking heads. We have been taught in our yearning for truth to discount our bodies, our imaginations, our hearts in favor of our minds, in favor of figuring out what really happened. What if we learn to include it all? Recently I heard psychologist and author, Brené Brown, say, “We are not thinking beings who also have emotions. We are emotion beings who also think.” This helps me encounter scripture and particularly, today, the story of the disciples and Mary’s discovery of resurrection.
I need to encounter this story with my whole being this year. Believe me, I read again the exegetical, theological, and homiletical commentary from scholars that I deeply respect. Surprisingly it was there that I found the prompt to go back and remember that in reading I experience the story with my whole being, body, mind, heart and soul. Here is what I found listening in this way.
The gospel stories that we call accounts of the resurrection are really accounts of the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection has already happened. We just discover it with Mary, with the women of the other gospels, with the disciples. How the resurrection happened? What that was like? Was it bodily or spirit? We don’t know. No one was there but Jesus and God. What I do know, with Mary from this text, is that Jesus died. In the previous chapter of the gospel, John tells us that Mary Magdelene stood at the crucifixion with Mary, Jesus’ mother and Mary the wife of Clopas, Jesus’ aunt. Mary saw the whole agonizing process. She heard Jesus’ last words, “It is finished, completed.” She saw the soldier pierce his side to make sure he had died. She was very likely there when he was taken down from the cross and when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body, prepared it for burial and placed it in the garden tomb. Mary knew with her whole body that Jesus was dead. I’m guessing that most of you know that bodily feeling that comes with the extreme shock of grief of any kind, the rock in the pit of your stomach, your heart that seems to literally ache, the shaking feeling in your muscles.
Our bodies imagine the shock, the sharp inhalation of breath, when Mary sees the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. The worst has happened, but now what? Another body blow of tragedy? Someone has taken the body of our beloved. What else can happen? Our bodies can feel the fear of the disciples as they hear the news and run to the tomb. Our bodies can feel the giant, “WHAT?” when the tomb is found empty and not just empty, but the grave clothes, the winding sheets are empty, the head covering is separate from the clothes, and set aside, folded neatly. Perhaps, we are shaking a bit from the early morning chill as well as the shock. Then we “believe?” How does that feel? A realization, chills down our arms, a calm, a bemused state of wonder as we head home? What next?
Mary is too overcome with grief to even think, “What next?” She simply weeps. She sobs even as she encounters the empty tomb and two angels, even as she sees Jesus himself but does not recognize him. She weeps because she knows Jesus is dead. She saw that. She experienced that in the marrow of her bones. Now she cannot even weep over his body and say goodbye. His body is gone. How can he be gone? We can feel this in the depths of our solar plexus. This utter, utter grief. This pain. Then, she hears her name…”Mary.” And hearing her name, she recognizes Jesus. “Teacher!?!” He is not gone? He is not gone! He is here. How is he here? He is here.
Imagine for a moment, Jesus calling your name in the moments of your deep grief …. Really. Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine Jesus calling your name.
This is Mary’s resurrection when she stands in the presence of the resurrected Jesus – not merely resuscitated but resurrected into a new creation by the power of God’s love to conquer death. I like to imagine that she flings her arms around him….the tightest hug imaginable. I can feel that hug in my body. Can you? And I imagine that Jesus laughs….maybe they both laugh….till they cry. Then Jesus says, "Don't hold on to me. I have work to do with God. Go tell my brothers and sisters that I have work to do with my Father, my God and your God.”
How hard it must be to let go of the one you love when you feel that you just got them back!? I feel that tingling in every cell of my body. Yet, Mary trusts that this is not the end, but the beginning of something new that has never been experienced before. She trusts. She goes and becomes the first resurrection preacher, proclaimer. “I have seen the Lord.”
My friends, we, too, through Mary’s story, are invited to proclaim. “I have seen the Lord.” I know that we often do not feel up to the task. The burdens of our times, of our personal lives, weigh us down. How can resurrection even exist? We are immersed in so much bad news it is hard to hear good news. Anxiety and fear are real in our crazy times. AND I say to you as one who has stood at the foot of the cross with tremendous grief believing that the whole of life, the whole world was lost, almost annihilated by the obscenity of death, I say to you, “Listen for your name. The resurrected Christ is calling you.” It is God’s purpose of love, not ours purposes, as well-intentioned as ours might be, that ultimately prevails. And God’s is Love. Love is the Victor. “Death is not the end. The end is life. God’s life and our lives through God, in God.”
Trust the story today as you have experienced it. Keep bringing your whole selves, your whole being, to the presence of God. Trust your body and your heart as well as your mind, to know God’s presence here in worship. Trust that God will meet you as Jesus met Mary in the garden out there in the world.
Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! Christ is risen! Risen indeed! We have seen the Lord.
May it be so. Amen.
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
 from Frederick Buechner’s 1966 sermon collection, The Magnificent Defeat; shared in an email