Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

John 20
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

As my children get older, I worry I may forget all the clever verbal tricks I used to get them to behave.

One of the classics is the three-part progression of compliance: not quite a trap, more the route to the logical conclusion that the big person will win.

Have I made myself clear?
What did I say?
Do you agree?

It really is flawless, like a binding contract you can’t escape. “There will be no more chocolate today, have I made myself clear?” Yes. “What did I say?” No more chocolate. “Do you agree?” It’s the last part that seals the deal, but it’s never a satisfying outcome. Better that the sugar-high might lead them to say something like, “you know, I really had enough sugary-goodness for one day. Can you take them? Oh, and help yourself, those are just empty calories anyway.”

Back in reality-land, even the best ironclad approach usually leads to “we talked about this already” and “yes, but you agreed.” And the negotiation begins again. Then they finish high school and then they leave home.


Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18)

This would be the moment to ask ‘have I made myself clear?’ Everything was predicted, and predicted more than once, as the little subtitles in the your Bible make it clear: “Jesus predicts his death” for the second time, then the third time, and so on.

You almost get the sense that this is one of those Charlie Brown parental moments. (parental sound) Were the diciples really listening? It’s a bit like going to the customer service counter (“I’m listening, I’m listening, I’m not really listening.”)

And he never seems to get to ‘what did I say,’ part, because maybe he knew that they simply could not take it in. Everything he said about the arrest, and the violence, and the cross made it impossible to take in, let alone accept. And that’s just the horrible stuff they couldn’t hear: with the rising on the third day stuff didn’t have a chance.

Meeting Mary in the tomb, then, was not a moment of instant recognition and and a chance for her to say ‘so this was what you were on about—you’re here but you’re not here.’ Instead there were tears, he was mistaken for the gardener, and only in the intimate calling of her name did Mary recognize her risen Lord. Even then, we know that more disbelief will follow, and more effort will be required to help them understand.

This question of how we receive bad news has been studied, and questions have been developed that people in the bad news business may use to ensure the message is received. And much like the parental approach, there is a progression:

Is this the right time and place? What do they know already? Can they understand this information? Can I ease them in? How will I show them I care? What can I give them for next steps?

Jesus, of course, didn’t have the benefit of medical studies on the topic of bad news, and really had no means to communicate the good news without sharing the bad news first. Like my invitation this week to visit the whole of the story, there was no way for Jesus to announce the glory of the resurrection without first describing the cross.

So they couldn’t hear, and they couldn’t comprehend. And I guess I might make the argument that we’re not much further ahead. We retreat to metaphor, symbol and story precisely because resurrection is incomprehensible, something to believe rather than understand, and this makes our modern minds rather uncomfortable.

We like the literal, the factual, and the certain, and we’re never so big on the symbolic, the metaphorical and the lively story that somehow reveals the truth. Those things are okay for Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence, but we live in the real world of ‘trust but verify,’ the world of fact-checkers and non-fiction.

So how do we develop a ‘mind for mystery,’ a mind that prefers the verdant realm of imperfect knowledge over the clinical world of precise knowledge? Is it even a worldview we are willing to embrace, this shroud that covers the literal and the factual?

More than once I have quoted the aboriginal elder who said, ‘I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know it’s true.’ And so we can begin by setting our minds to the things we know but we don’t know why we know. Why does a particular friend mean so much to us? Why does a conclusion seem the right one? How do you come to believe it was a good day?

All these things are intangibles, things known yet unknown. So too is the presence of the Risen Christ, guiding our way, blessing our fellowship, helping us remain near him. Listen again to the exchange that first morning of our faith:

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out “Teacher!”

Was it his voice she knew? Perhaps it was. But they had been speaking already, and the recognition comes only when he names her, reclaims her as one of his own. This is an intimate moment, with an intimate God, a God in Jesus that names us and calls us his own.

And she’s convinced. She becomes the first evangelist, the first to proclaim the good news of our risen Lord, the single-source of our faith. And soon the others will learn of it too, but they will need convincing: wounded hands and feet, a meal shared, and words of comfort. But Mary just knows.

So I guess I’m back to the specialists, sharing the news in a way that it might best be received:

Is this the right time and place? She came to the garden alone, open to news, any news.
What do she know already? Promises were made, and even if all the other information crowded out the resurrection, on some level she knew.
Can she understand this information? It would all begin to make sense. The temple destroyed in three days, only to be rebuilt: the stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone
Can I ease them in? Yes, and he will do this in conversation, and not a sudden declaration.
How will I show them I care? Twice he asks her ‘why are you crying,’ not to trouble her, but to acknowledge her pain.
What can I give them for next steps? The next steps are obvious, this is a faith shared in the telling. But it’s not just the telling that Mary will do in the hours and days that follow, it is the telling that we hear, in the way the story is shared.

Mary comes to realize that this is her risen Lord, but John tells it in such a way that we are the insiders. He builds us up in an effort to increase our confidence, to lead us through the story and into a life of faith. It is not the details of the story that hold us fast, it is our participation in the story: we are so important to the unfolding of resurrection that John mades us part of the story. Even before Mary knows, we know, making us the first believers too.

May we simply come to know resurrection, not as a belief, but as a part of the unfolding story of our faith. May the risen Christ call us by name once more, and may we recognize him at every moment, now and ever, amen.


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