Experiencing Resurrection

Sermon for April 24, 2011 ||  Easter Sunday||  John 20: 1-18||
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

We say that every Easter almost as if we’re on auto-pilot, but in case you’ve ever wondered what the heck we actually mean it is this: It means that despite all the death, darkness, and disbelief that humanity could possible heap upon Him, the One we worship is alive and well –right here and right now in this very place–and that whether we believe in Him or not He believes in us, and cares about us with a love that is so powerful it can not die, and so persistent that it will not let us go.  And that, my friends, is the meaning of the Resurrection in a hundred words or less.

Now I know it may not be the most theologically sophisticated explanation of Christ’s Resurrection. It does, admittedly, by-pass all the old questions about whether the Resurrection is meant to be interpreted literally or metaphorically, whether it’s myth or fact, whether it refers to a body that is physical or spiritual, and whether the tomb was, or was not, indeed, empty.

The answer to all of those questions, by the way, is “yes.”  And I say that not to be flip, but because the very mystery and magnificence of the Resurrection is such that it stands way beyond the realm of empirical proof. Empirical proof is not the point here; experiential proof is.  So what I hope my over-simplified explanation of the Resurrection makes clear is the one essential truth that we are all invited to experience: the truth that Christ is with us and Christ is for us!

I just can’t emphasize that enough:  Christ is with us, and Christ is for us!

You know, a couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a very wise parishioner who said something that really caught my attention.  He spoke about how great it is that at St Stephen’s we lift up our commitment to mission and outreach and to helping those in need. But he said he wondered if we do enough to lift up how our own needs are met here–about how much solace and comfort this sacred space provides, and what a source of new, resurrection life this community is for us.

Now, in the context of a little St. Stephen’s history, this is somewhat ironic.  When the Rev. Lee Richards preached his first sermon here in 1960, he was considered pretty radical for challenging the congregation to consider whether it was even possible for us to be “a community in mission” or whether we would remain forever what he called–somewhat critically– “a citadel of solace and refuge.”  So clearly, we’ve come a long way!

But my lunch with the wise parishioner got me thinking, and I realized that I preach a lot about our call to be vessels of Christ’s life-giving love and resurrection hope in the lives of others– but not nearly so much about our call to be recipients of that life-giving love and hope in our own lives.

Then I noticed it as if for the first time:  Right over my shoulder, across the archway above the altar there, are inscribed the wonderfully comforting words of Jesus that read, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Come to me, says Jesus, all of you who are tired and over-burdened, and I will give you peace.  Come to me, all of you who are stressed-out and over-worked, and I will give you comfort.  Come to me, all of you with too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and let me be what the Rev. Lee Richards called “a citadel of solace and refuge!”

So on this glorious Easter morning, rather than urging you to give Christ’s love to others, I’d like to invite you to feast on it for yourselves– so you’ll have it to give to others. Because the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection is that when we are wearied by worries and weighed down by the weight of the world, Christ is with us and Christ is for us:  There is somewhere we can turn not only for peace and comfort, but for strength, for courage, and most important of all– for life-giving love and resurrection hope.

Perhaps you noticed in our scripture this morning that when Mary Magdalene comes looking for Jesus, she doesn’t come with praise and thanksgiving on her lips.  She doesn’t come with mission or outreach on her mind. Mary comes weighed down with worries, her heart heavy with sorrow and burdened by fear, feeling abandoned by her Lord, powerless and alone.

But she is drawn to Jesus by something that defies all logic and common sense.  She is compelled by a hope that somehow being there, near him, will be better than being alone in her misery. So an exhausted and emotionally spent Mary trudges through the darkness to the only place she knows Him to be, and lo and behold, after convincing the others—and herself—that he really is gone for good, Mary encounters the Risen Lord!  Mary stays with her grief, stays with her sorrow, stays with all those uncomfortable emotions the others have fled from—and what do you know, Jesus meets her there!

And isn’t it delightfully reassuring for us that she doesn’t even recognize him at first?  I love that…it makes me feel so much better about how often I fail to recognize Christ’s presence in my own life!

But then comes the real gift, the comfort and solace of knowing and of being known, of naming and of being named. “Mary!”  Jesus says.  And that’s all it takes.  The Divine Word utters but one human word, and in the intimacy of that moment Mary encounters the one essential truth that we are all invited to experience:  that Jesus is with us and Jesus is for us.

Mary stays, longing for Jesus in the emptiness of life without him.  She stays even when others have given up. She stays in the only place she knows Jesus to be, and so becomes the first person in history to encounter the Risen Christ, in the citadel of solace and refuge that is his presence.

Now Mary can be a vessel of life-giving love and resurrection hope in the lives of others.  Now she can tell others the good news that He is risen, and she can share with them her experience.  But what Mary can’t do, as much as she might like to, is cling to Jesus there in the garden.  Mary can’t hold on to Jesus and keep him all for herself.  Mary has encountered the living Christ, and now she is compelled to share the good news….the good news that Christ is with us, and Christ is for us!

Christ is with us, and Christ is for us, in the citadel of solace and refuge that is this church, this holy space–and among his people, who are his body. Whether our sanctuary is filled with music and worshippers like it is this morning—or quiet and still like it is most weekdays—it is a sanctuary— a place to meet the Risen Christ, to hear Him call your name…to let Him comfort you and give you strength when you need it.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, he says. Come to me, all of you who are tired and over-burdened. Come to me, all of you with too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Come to me, all of you for whom I died and rose again.  Come to me, for heaven’s sake, come to me–and I will fill your hungry hearts with life-giving love and satisfy your souls with resurrection hope.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Amen.


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