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I Have Seen the Lord

You can watch a storytelling version of the scripture Here

You can watch the sermon Here

John 20:1-18

A biblical scholar I read this week said he is always surprised that so many people go to church on Easter. He said it’s really not Christianity 101. Easter is more of an advanced course—something you only understand by building up to it. He writes, “It can seem quite odd that people would flock to worship on Easter, of all days, a day on which we proclaim the very things that may be hardest to believe.”[1]

We like the idea that God is present in one particular baby in Bethlehem—we already believe God is present in all babies, so it’s not hard to believe God was present in a unique way in this one. We like the idea that Jesus turned water into wine—hey, that’s a good party, or at least a good party trick—or that he fed 5000 people from one lunch. We don’t know how Jesus did these things, but we can speculate and besides they’re great stories. But rising from the dead? Yeah, that’s not as easy to defend, or to swallow. Of course, while some of us do believe in a bodily resurrection, others of us believe in a spiritual resurrection—that Jesus’ spirit rose into the life of the community.

But either way, resurrection is a wonderful, beautiful concept that is a little bit hard to apply in real life. As I wrote my Easter sermon, I couldn’t help thinking about those among us who will not see another Easter on earth. Is the promise of life after death in some other realm truly comforting to those who are fearful now? Is it enough? I couldn’t help thinking about those among us who are grieving losses, old and new. Does the promise of being reunited some day soften the blow of being separated now? How do I preach Easter when some of us are joyful and some of us are still in the pain of Friday? How do I preach Easter when our world is in such turmoil, when bombs are dropping and nations are posturing and parents are being separated from their children and who knows what lies ahead. As I wrote my sermon I found myself writing things and then asking “Do I really believe that?” [Delete, delete, delete.]

So I kept going back to the story. I’ve been trying something new the last few weeks, to not simply read the scripture, but to make it come alive in the telling of it. Biblical storytellers do not call it memorizing, even though we are attempting to deliver the scripture word-for-word. Instead they call it telling the story “by heart.” I already knew this story, of course. I have celebrated more than four dozen Easters in the church, and I’ve preached a dozen of them. But in learning the scripture “by heart,” I have come to know it better, to know it deeper. I wish you had the same opportunity, or at least some reason to do the same, because you hear it differently when you study it like that. You notice the verbs—the running, the taking. You hear repetitions more clearly—I don’t know, I don’t know. Plus, you have to figure out how to deliver the lines. It got harder for me near the end of our passage. When Mary finally recognized Jesus, she called him Teacher. But what tone of voice to use? What feeling was she experiencing? Was it shock? Confusion? Or even fear? Was it wonder? Sheer, unadulterated joy? Or, in that moment, before her mind could make sense of what she saw, was it merely a flicker of unexplained hope?

This week I came across an old slam poem called “Hope.” My apologies to the poet, Joanna Hoffman, but I edited out the profanity so I can share it with you today. She says:

Hope is the stupid little yellow bird who used to batter his skull against my living room window over and over and over again with unrelenting excitement, as if that next desperate surge forward would melt his wings through glass, softly shoving aside molecules for twig-like bones to pass through, and all of this for that lovebird screaming behind bars. He wanted that bird, and he must’ve thought, “Her wings may be clipped, but she is fly!” and he wanted to make her tweet his name. So every day for six months his head-thumping harmonized with the clinking of breakfast spoons and my sister would look up from her cheerios and say “That bird is stupid.”

And fifteen years later I look up from my beer and say, No. That bird is hope and sometimes hope seems stupid to everyone but the one hoping. And everyone hopes for something. The truth is I pretend to be a cynic but I am really a dreamer who is terrified of wanting something she may never get. . . . I just want to show you the energy that crackles beneath my veins like exposed power lines . . . and that’s how I feel every time you call me, like even our silences end in dot dot dot and who knows what could happen. I have no flight plan, just a speck in the distance of something that just might be close to beautiful.

So why not unfold these wings, crush empty air between them like empty excuses, like this crush on you is crushing me and I am a crush monster. I get crushes on ideas and ideals and non-profit organizations. I can think of nothing sweeter than spending my days making this world better and my dad says “That’s really great Joanna, but there are bills to pay.” And I can’t even say how many grownups have tossed me similar consolation prizes, like the woman who came up after a poetry reading and said “Honey, your idealism’s real cute, but you’ll grow up one day and you should know things will only get worse from here.” And I should have said “Lady, you had better pray I never grow up because if there weren’t people out there who believed in possibility, [things] would never get done.”

I believe in evolution like a river slowly winding its way up a mountain like a broken-winged bird, spiraling to heaven. Things can only go up from here and miracles happen every day. So I hope for the day I can sit at a Jerusalem bar with my Arab friends and the only dispute will be over who buys the beer. And I hope for the wedding I’ve wanted ever since I knew how to want.

And maybe hope is stupid . . . as long as hope is a kamikaze whisper from your lips never meant to go anywhere but crashing down and maybe that’s why it does. But I believe in a hope that flies like a little yellow bird soaring into your living room through a window that has been open all along.[2]

To this poem I say “Amen.” I say “Amen” to the kind of hope that keeps bumping against the glass until it finally finds a window. I say “Amen” to hope that climbs and soars even on broken wings. I say “Amen” because I believe in the hope of resurrection.

And again I go back to the story, for Mary Magdalene’s last word wasn’t “Teacher.” Her last words are an announcement, a pronouncement, just five words that started everything: I have seen the Lord. But how to deliver the line? Where is the emphasis? Is it on I? I have seen the Lord? You only saw linen wrappings, but I saw the Lord! Or should the emphasis be on seeing? I have SEEN the Lord? With my own eyes, I saw him! Or is the emphasis on the person? I have seen the LORD?

And suddenly I get chills because I, too, have seen the Lord. Not in a human body—or at least not in a 1st century body. But I have seen the risen Christ . . . in a homeless man on the streets of New York, in the look of adoration on a new mother’s face, on the face of a woman as she kissed her husband before he was taken into surgery. I have seen the Lord.

I have seen the Lord in my own life, when I had just about given up, when I had given in to the lie, when I had given all I thought I had to give. I have seen the Lord.

And that is why I preach resurrection. That is why I preach Easter because resurrection is possible. Resurrection happens when the voiceless find the power to speak. Resurrection happens when people escape relationships that harm them. Resurrection happens when we learn that violence begets violence and that bigger bombs do not make us safer. Resurrection happens when we let compassion override our fear. Resurrection happens when we tell stories of new life after the death of addiction, and when we tell stories of good deaths after a life of love. Resurrection happens when we wake from the illusion of our separateness. Resurrection happens when we write love with the ink of mercy on the parchment of justice. Resurrection happens when we hold on to one another, and when we realize we are being held.

We are here to love each other. We are here to love the world. Amen.

[1] Copenhaver, Martin. Feasting on the Word, Year A Volume 2, p. 372.

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qis1WwQ9miw

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