SERMON OF APRIL 12, 2009
M. Bruce McKay
Pilgrim-ST. Luke’s United Church of Christ
Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
There’s a story about two sisters who saw the world very differently.
One sister, Sally, saw the world as a fearful, and dangerous place. While she might not have agreed completely with the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes when he said, “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” she definitely saw the world as hostile and threatening. From her perspective, if something could possibly go wrong it probably would.
Her sister, Jane, on the other hand, saw the world as a place full of beauty and grace – a place that revealed the bounty of God’s blessings and offered multiple signs of God’s abundant, nourishing and life-giving love.
The parents of these two sisters were concerned that neither of them was dealing with the world as it really is – a place of both danger and blessing, threat and beauty, violence and grace. They decided to act on their concern one Christmas. They asked both sisters to come up with a list of Christmas gifts they’d like to receive. They both readily complied.
On Christmas morning Sally found every item on her list under the tree. But after seeing her new bike wrapped with a big red ribbon she said, “I just know somebody is going to steal my new bike before I learn to ride it!”
“When she opened the package with the new dress she’d asked for she said, “I can’t wear this. I know it will just get stained and ruined.”
She responded in the same way to all her other gifts, deeply disappointing her parents.
Their efforts had failed with Sally. But they were confident they’d work with Jane.
They hadn’t gotten Jane one thing that was on her list. In fact, all they’d gotten her was a canvas bag full of horse manure.
When Jane untied the piece of rope holding the handles of the bag together and looked inside her eyes brightened and she exclaimed, “I just know there’s a pony somewhere!”
How we see the world and our place in it profoundly effects how we experience and live our lives. (See The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg, p.34-37 for discussion of faith as visio)
Sally understood that the world can in fact be a threatening and hostile place. She understood that none of us or those we love gets out of here alive and that all of us are threatened by things like accidents, disease, divorce, unemployment and poverty.
Seeing the world in this way leads to building our lives in ways that protect us and our resources from hostile, threatening forces. It leads us to seeking personal security in our possessions, our bank accounts and our 401K’s. It leads us to seeking national security in economic strength, military might and political power. And it leads to seeing God as a judge who we’d better keep happy by believing the right things and behaving the right way.
Jane, on the other hand, sees the real world as filled with wonder and beauty, offering abundant signs of God’s grace and goodness, creating the opportunity to trust the compassion and love of God come what may.
How we see the world and our place in it determines whether or not we will be witnesses to the living love of God revealed on that first Easter morning.
How we see the world and our place in it determines whether or not we too, like Mary Magdalene and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, have Easter
Easter Vision is equally available to those who are legally blind, those whose vision is 20-20 or better, and all those in between.
Let’s see how this vision appears in John’s telling of the Easter story.
When Mary Magdalene saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb it both saddened her and frightened her – leading her to believe that the body of Jesus had been stolen.
She then ran to tell Peter and John. They ran to the tomb to see for themselves what had happened.
John outran Peter and got there first. He stooped to look into the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there – but didn’t go in.
When Peter got there he went into the tomb and saw that it was empty. He too saw the grave cloths lying there, with one of them rolled up by itself.
John then joined Peter in the tomb and saw what Peter saw, but he also saw something else. For the text tells us that “he saw and believed.”
He didn’t just see an empty tomb and dirty laundry. He saw something else.
He somehow saw that the body of Jesus hadn’t been stolen. Instead he saw that death didn’t have the last word. He saw and believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Faith, the Bible tells us, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). And yet, faith has always been about seeing – about seeing with Easter Vision.
John saw something in the empty tomb on that first Easter morning that Peter couldn’t see –- just as Jane saw something in that canvas bag on Christmas morning that others couldn’t see.
All Peter saw was an empty tomb and grave cloths, where John saw life overcoming death.
All Sally and her parents saw was a bag full of horse manure, where Jane saw the pony that produced it.
Easter Vision is a way of seeing the world – seeing hope in the midst of despair, wholeness in the midst of brokenness, life in the midst of death – and then shaping our lives around what we see.
When we see the world with Easter Vision we’re able to offer our lives to something that is beyond ourselves trusting the ever-present and eternal love of God in which we “all live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Seeing the world with Easter Vision we too can say, with the disciples whom Jesus loved, “I have seen the Lord!”
Let’s see how this worked for Mary Magdalene.
Mary was someone from whom Jesus had cast out 7 demons. (Luke 8:2) There’s no indication in the Bible whether these demons were physical or spiritual. There’s no indication whether she suffered from mental, physical, or emotional illness.
Demons in New Testament times were simply defined as “that which does harm.” Demons produced any number of different conditions and illnesses but they always brought religious rejection and social isolation. A person with a demon was considered to be “unclean” and therefore unwelcome in their community of faith and in their community at large.
We know that Mary experienced the healing wholeness of God’s love in the love of Jesus which restored her individual life and her life in community with others.
There is no indication in the Bible that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, or that she and Jesus were an item, or that she and Jesus had a child, or that their blood line has continued from that first Easter morning until today. The DaVinci Code is The DaVinci Code. The Bible is the Bible.
What we do know, from the Bible, is that Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus in Galilee and supported him financially (Luke 8:1-3). We know that at the end of his ministry she went with him and his followers into Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion (Mark 40-41).
We know that Matthew, Mark and Luke have Mary go to the tomb on that first Easter morning with other women. John, on the other hand, has her go alone.
For Mary seeing the empty tomb wasn’t enough for her to have Easter Vision.
For Mary seeing the empty tomb wasn’t enough for her to “see and believe” like “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Seeing angels sitting where the body of Jesus had lain – one at the head and one at the feet – wasn’t enough.
Seeing Jesus himself, at least at first, wasn’t enough. For she thought he was the gardener.
It wasn’t until Jesus called her by name that Mary Magdalene “saw and believed” that his life and his love were stronger even than death.
Hearing Jesus say, “Mary,” she could then go and tell the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
“In a simple word, a single sound, darkness became light, despair gave way to hope, and life overcame death.” (Lectionary Homiletics, April-May, p.18)
Mary’s Easter Vision transformed her from being a mourner of a dead Jesus into being a witness of her Living Lord.
John and Mary’s Easter Vision was possible because they were profoundly aware of being the beloved of the one they called Lord.
Jesus’ love for them gave them the grace to see things that others couldn’t see.
Being loved always changes our eyesight in amazing ways. Just ask anyone who’s recently fallen in love. You see birds and trees you didn’t know existed. Flowers have colors you’d never seen before. A sunset paints the sky in a way that you’d never seen it painted - before experiencing being loved by another and before loving another in return. (Patrick Wilson, SermonMall.com for April 12, 2009)
Seeing the empty tomb and grave cloths, the disciple whom Jesus loved would never see anything the same way again.
Seeing the risen Christ, the One whose love for her was powerful enough to cast out 7 demons and hearing him call her by name, Mary Magdalene couldn’t help but tell the disciples and the world, “I have seen the Lord!”
After that first Easter morning, John and Mary would never see the world or their place in it the same way again.
Knowing they were loved by God, with a love that had defeated death, would profoundly shape how they lived the rest of their lives.
How could it not for them? How can it not for us?
Easter Vision is all about how we see the world and our place in it!
In her poem, The Swan, Mary Oliver sees a creature in God’s creation with Easter Vision. She writes:
Across the wide waters
floating – a slim
with white flowers –
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles
as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness
almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
the clouds of its wings,
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.
Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:
I miss my husband’s company –
he is so often
Of course! the path to heaven
doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
touch the shore?
“The path to heaven doesn’t lie down in flat miles. It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive this world, and the gestures with which you honor it.”
Mary Oliver perceives this world with Easter Vision and she honors what she sees with her poetry and with how she lives her life.
Our Creator God is always bringing incredible gifs –incredible gifts of love – to the dry shores of our lives.
Like the Mary in today’s story, May Oliver can say, “I have seen the Lord!”
May we too, join these two Marys, and the disciples whom Jesus loved, in saying “I have seen the Lord!”
And may we too honor what we’ve seen with how we live our lives and our life together!
May we too be blessed with Easter Vision, knowing that God can make a witness out of anyone – anywhere – anytime!
Thanks be to God!