First Presbyterian Church – Lafayette, Louisiana
April 24, 2011 – Easter (Year A)Jeremiah 31:1-6
Crazy Talk – that's what all of this Easter stuff is, you know. Crazy talk – that's what they had to have said about Jeremiah! His disciples drag him off to Egypt after he has seen his nation crumble, the King's sons put to death, and the King blinded, bound, and dragged off as a slave. Yet all Jeremiah wants to talk about is their history of salvation, making claims that God will do it again – "on that day," whenever that will be.
Then we have Paul, or someone writing in his name, telling us that we are hidden with Christ, that through our baptism we are already dead. Not only have we died but, presumably, we have also been raised with Christ. But how do we know? If we have been raised with Christ then we will set our minds on things that are above. Oh. Well, that clears it right up.
Then we have this audacious story in John's gospel with Mary Magdeline as the hero. She is the first on the scene. She goes to get the other disciples. She stays to mourn and becomes the first witness, then goes to preach the first sermon to a group of men who would have been taught by their fathers to pray, "O God, thank you for not making me a woman."
What do we do with all of this crazy talk? That was part of a discussion I had last Wednesday with some of the good folks from the church in Welsh, Louisiana. I joined them for a Lenten series to reflect on images of Jesus and what they mean to us. One of the more interesting comments had to do with recognizing the fact that there are a large number of people outside of the church that are not interested in our doctrine. There are a large number of people outside of the church that think that what we talk about is a little crazy. As the church loses its ground of influence on the neighborhood and the town hall we begin to wonder what has gone wrong and how can we get it back.
Some of us are like the disciples looking at the linens and walking away as believers, but what do we believe? Scholars disagree on what the disciples themselves – even the beloved disciple – believed at this point. The very next line says that even they did not yet understand the scriptures regarding the resurrection.
Perhaps they believed Jesus had been taken up. Perhaps they believed that Jesus had thrown off the veil, like Moses, because he was now able to stand in God's presence. Whatever they believed, it wasn't enough. After all, they still needed the sermon of Mary Magdeline to set them straight.
And what was her sermon? What was her story? It begins after the other disciples have come and gone. She sits alone, crushed and weeping. Suddenly there are two angels present, asking her why she is crying. I can't help but wonder what their voices sounded like. Was there empathy and concern? Was there curiosity: did the angels wonder how in heaven or on earth could someone be sad after what has happened? Maybe there was even a bit of a hidden chuckle: Jesus was right behind her and they knew it.
Somehow their presence in an otherwise empty tomb does not seem to startle her as much as the presence of the person behind her does when he asks the same question, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Mary's response is one of the best demonstrations of humanity in the bible, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
The man has been dead for three days, and it was not a particularly attractive death. Of course she didn't recognize him! But don't let that distract you. The real kicker is when she said, "I will take him away." Maybe she was planning to get the others to help her, but that is still a fairly ridiculous proposition. Aside from questions about who would have taken his body and why, her answer speaks to our very human tendency to control, to manage, and to solve.
Yet Jesus will not be defined - neither as a gardener or a teacher. Jesus will only be revealed. He reveals himself by calling her name, by offering the experience of being known, understood, and loved. Jesus reveals himself and tells her to make it known to others that he is going to be one with God so that we might become one with God as well. Now, that is the crazy talk that we have really come to celebrate today!
We celebrate because in the midst of natural disasters and personal failings, in the midst of hospital beds and economic crisis, in the midst of global conflict and internal politics, in the midst of suffering and indifference we have found angels guarding empty spaces and asking us why we are crying. We celebrate because, like Jeremiah, we know that God has been revealed through a history of salvation, and through the person, work and resurrection of Jesus, God continues to offer salvation even now.
We celebrate because, like the church in Colossae, we know that our true nature, our essence, is not found where most people look to find it. Through Christ, in Christ, because of Christ – we have become citizens of the Kingdom of God. Some say that you cannot see this kingdom, but I believe I get a glimpse of it every now and again.
I believe I have seen it when Myrna complains about having too much peanut butter and jelly (which she would never do) for the UCO. I believe I see it when you visit one another in the hospital and pray for one another on Wednesdays. I believe I see it when you bring in items for various ministries ranging from toys to supplies for food bags for the needy. In fact, you people have to be told when to quit!
I believe I see God's Kingdom when members come together to clean and maintain our building and grounds. I believe I see it when the choir offers special selections they have worked on for months. I believe I see it when we gather around this table and proclaim our salvation history, accept our salvation present, and move into our future salvation.
And that's right about where I get hung up. We can say, "He is risen!" and even "He is risen indeed!" But can we live it? For me to answer this question honestly, I think I would have to say, "Sometimes." Sometimes I am satisfied with the empty tomb and the idea that Jesus is 'up there looking down.' Sometimes I want to do what Mary offers to do. I want to manage the unmanageable grace of God. But then this crazy talkin' Jesus says to me, "Go and tell them that I am with God so that they can be too."
All of these stories we've shared today are about the way in which God has revealed Godself to God's people, and I can find no conclusion other than God's desire to be known through you and through me. I can think of no other way to reveal God to others than to love as I have been loved. Unfortunately, I cannot really love others as I have been loved, because I am not God. But I can trust that God has chosen to foolishly, recklessly, and lavishly love others through me.
I can trust that the limitations of this crazy world with all of its pain and suffering and even in the height of human pleasure and joy cannot define, limit, or contain God's saving action through Jesus Christ! Salvation starts here and now with every confessed sin, with every faithful attempt to demonstrate the Kingdom of God, with every 'Hosanna!' we sing, and with every act of mercy we offer and receive from strangers and loved ones alike.
Jesus is not where we expect him to be. He is not in the tomb. He is not wandering in the clouds. He is not bound by any location that we can conceive. Jesus has, instead, become the location wherein we, like Mary Magdelene, may be found, known, understood, and loved. Let us then - who have been raised with Christ - seek the things that are above so that when Christ is revealed in our actions and relationships, we too may be revealed with him. And to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen!