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The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, 1834-1836 by Alexander Ivanov, now on display at the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia
He lives on in all of us

John 20:1-18

April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday Year B

The Sunday of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday, a day full of hope and promise is not only the greatest day of the Christian Church year; it is also the only one that is set by the moon. Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on, or after the spring equinox.

As complicated as that sounds, it makes ancient sense, since it means Easter coincides with the greening of the earth. Christ is risen and the whole world comes to life. Sap rises in dormant trees, daffodils and crocus’ open, and baby chicks and ducks arrive in cardboard boxes with their little heads sticking out of holes in the boxes just like they did when they arrived on the farm where I grew up in the 1950’s. The Easter connection is a happy one, guaranteed to renew our faith in the creative power of God.

Resurrection, on the other hand, is a more difficult promise. We don’t speak of death and resurrection all that much.
We have our funeral rituals and people are buried but we don’t wait around for that person to reappear so we can pick up where we left off - not this side of the grave anyway. But we can think about what it means to be resurrected to new life through others.

That is all that Mary was doing that morning - she was paying her respects, she was attempting to make sense of life and death, and attempting to understand what might be next. She was going to the tomb to convince herself it was all true. It was still dark, but even from a distance she knew something was wrong. She could smell damp earth; she could sense the presence of the cold rock being open. Someone had moved the stone. Someone had taken him away -

So she ran and brought two of the others back with her, but once they had satisfied themselves that what she said was true, they left her there weeping. If they had tried to lead her away, she refused them. She was like an abandoned puppy that had lost its master, she just stayed rooted to that last place he had been seen, and she had not the least idea what to do next.

Even angels could not soften her resolve. They were there when she worked up her nerve to look inside the tomb; they were sitting where he had lain.

“Why are you weeping?” they asked her.

“They have taken away my friend,” she answered them, “and I do not know where they have laid him.”

It never occurred to her that they might be the culprits, but perhaps she wasn’t thinking very clearly. After all it’s been a traumatic few days. She is operating on automatic pilot, so that when she left the tomb she bumped into the gardener without even seeing him. She was hoping he would know the answer to her question.

She says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” I wonder what she thought she would do, would she have the gardener lay his body over her shoulder and she would carry him away - would she bend over and pick him up herself?

It was not a reasonable request but the gardener didn’t mind. He turned to her and said, “Mary,” and she stared at him and replied, “Rabbouni! My teacher.”

“Do not hold on to me” he cautioned her, “because I have not yet ascended to God.”

Perhaps it was a peculiar thing for him to say since there is no evidence she was holding on to him in any way. Unless it was because of what she called him - my Teacher - the old name she used for him when they were together. Maybe he could hear it in her voice, how she wanted him back the way he was so they could go back together to the way they were, back to the old life where everything was familiar and not frightening like it was now.

“Rabbouni!” she called him, but that was his Friday name, and here it was Sunday - an entirely new day in an entirely new life. He was not on his way back to her and the others. He was on his way to God, and he was taking her world with him. This may be why all the other gospel accounts of the resurrection tell us not to be afraid - because new life can be frightening. It can feel unnatural. Like a new skin. To expect a sealed tomb and find one filled with angels would be quite a shock I suppose. To hunt for the past and discover the future, to seek a dead body and find the risen One - none of this falls into the realm of possibility for most of us.

We speak of what is natural - death is natural, loss is natural, and grief can have a natural process. But those stones have been rolled away this morning, to reveal the highly unnatural truth. By the light of this day, the story has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be removed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies and change the world. We are surrounded by the dynamics of living and dying. Because death is the more mysterious part of living, and there are, for the most part, no answers attached, it is of course death that fascinates us the most.

In the movie “
The Million Dollar Baby” the man who owns the gym where you learn to be a boxer eventually gives in to a young woman who insists that he be her trainer. He trains her to be a world champion - he gives her life - he gives her life that she never dreamt possible, and in the end he takes it away. But in taking her life you couldn’t help but imagine he was giving her life again. Not something that we know or understand, but something that is surrounded in mystery and hope.

My brother died about ten years ago and his daughter, my niece, became pregnant shortly after his death. I remember the email from her, and she had attached an ultra sound picture and she said they measured the baby’s head and checked and double checked all the chambers of the heart and she said we listened to the heartbeat and the heartbeat was 140 beats/minute. They compared the right leg to the left leg and they said we think it is a girl. Pretty exciting stuff - and if we believe in resurrection maybe this is what it’s all about. A part of my brother being born again. The promise of new life. How could I not believe?

Every Lenten season I watch the movie
, Romero. In the movie Oscar Romero was transformed. In the beginning he was a priest that wouldn’t take a stand, he was careful, he wouldn’t make decisions the Vatican made him archbishop because they felt he would never be a threat nor would he ever take a political stand in the conflict between the powerful and the poor of El Salvador. Then slowly over time, as he watched his people and his colleagues die he changed. He became a revolutionary, maybe a communist; he was accused of being one. His followers were accused of being communists because that was the only label that seemed to fit the anger and the oppression and the feelings of the people struggling for change.

The movie asks us to think about death and how we continue to live on through the lives of those who have died. Romero said, “I do not believe in death but in the resurrection. If they kill me I shall rise again in the Salvadorian people.” (We may die but the struggle will never die.) It is this belief that allowed Oscar Romero to be part of the work he was involved in. He knew he would die for his politics, his beliefs, his church, but he acted anyway because it became his faith.

We are surrounded by death and by life. We live in the midst of living and dying. It will be interesting to see how this theological dilemma gets sorted out in the lives of the next generation.

I was settled on the Kelvington/Lintlaw Pastoral Charge. It was my first Easter in the congregation. On Maundy Thursday I came to Saskatoon to pick up my daughter Lisa, and her two girls Kelsie and Katie. At that time Katie was about four years old. Katie and I sat in the back seat and chatted on the way back to Kelvington. She said, tell me about Easter. According to the gospel of Matthew I told Katie the whole story. I told it exactly as it unfolds in the gospel. At the end of the story she looked at me sort of strangely, but she never said anything. On Easter Sunday morning, at story time in the service the children came to the front, and when I said, “Who can tell me something about Easter?” Katie waved her little hand in the air and said, “I can, I can, I can.” I said, “Okay Katie tell me about Easter.”

Of course I thought she would have a brilliant sort of answer, after all I had just told her the entire story. She said, “The Easter bunny, he died, but he came again; didn’t he; didn’t he? He came this morning. He did come.” Her little face was all scrunched up as she struggled to pull it all together.

The death and the resurrection of the Easter bunny: He will come again won’t he? She has the story right, there is just some character confusion.

And he does come again, over and over again, every day he comes, a presence in our lives as we experience the risen Christ in each other.

My brother lives on in Lily.

Mary Magdalene, like Katie understood at some level that he would rise again in us. He would be present in our lives, like Oscar Romero lives on in the people of El Salvador. We are a people that live between birth (Christmas) and death (Easter) The myth of birth and death sustains us.

This week I invite you to consider how resurrection happens in your life. Where do you see the risen Christ? Where do you see the presence of the life and energy of those gone before you?
Sharon Ferguson-Hood
Editor’s note: The references to movies in this sermon are linked to the full length versions of these movies.