Musical Prelude and Service.

Easter Sunday – John 20:1-18
So for the past few weeks I joked about the struggle to get to Bethany United on time for the Sunrise service today – to join with others to celebrate the resurrection wit the coming of the dawn. But the fact is, I did show up. And so did quite a few others. Now a great many others didn’t, and that is just fine. I get it. It is not a requirement to witness the dawn on a Sunday morning and nor should it be.
But there is a strong reason behind celebrating the coming of the light.
The Gospel of John dedicates a great deal of words to the image of light and dark. Jesus encouraging his followers to walk in the light and naming himself the light of the world.
And in today’s scripture reading, Mary goes to the tomb of Jesus while it is still dark. At the tomb, she realizes it’s empty and it is still dark. Mary does not see hope in this situation. She runs to tell Peter and another disciple. It remains dark.
The two men run to the tomb, and they react in different ways to what they see and promptly leave. Mary is once again left on her own at the tomb.
Mary is still in despair. She is weeping outside the tomb. This is still not a hopeful scenario for Mary. They have taken away my friend and I don’t know where.
It is only when Jesus calls her by name that Mary finally finds herself in the light. She names him teacher and in doing so declares herself to be his student.
It is now that Mary finds hope. Now the desolation and the emptiness of the tomb is overwhelmed by the new growth and the life of the garden all around. The pain, the hopelessness is forced to make space for the possibility of something new, something lifegiving and the promise of a better tomorrow.
In that moment of despair, Mary does not flee. She sits and grieves. She names her sorrow. And then Jesus calls her by name and the blinders and filters fall away. She can see the new life around her.
She can recognize the possibilities for something new, something more. The tomb, the death, the knowledge, and the reality of the crucifixion remains. But it is not the whole story. There is more that is happening.
John provides us with three different experiences of the resurrection in the story today. Three reactions to the empty tomb. Mary’s ends with the direction to go and tell; to share the good news.
They enter the tomb and see the folded burial clothes. They then go home. We are not told what Peter thought or believed, but we are told the other disciple believed in that moment. He recognized what he was seeing.
All three of these reactions, and the other reactions we read of later in John are valid. All are reactions we have witnessed or experienced when confronted with a surprising sign of hope at times of despair.
The idea of resurrection is a challenge to how we have been taught to see the world. The idea that death, that defeat can be overcome. The promise that when your sense of hope has been crushed, that you feel all alone and can’t find a way forward, the world can be reordered, and God can offer you a new purpose and renewed strength and restore your joy.
Our world tells us that resurrection makes no sense. It is a story we should shrug off or consign to metaphor. And I get it. I have looked at it in those terms. A man who many witnessed dying on a
cross is now walking the world, alive. It simply doesn’t make sense. I get it. I understand. I know there is nothing I can offer to make it make sense.
And yet, I have had my moments encountering the risen Christ in my own life. I have had those mystical experiences that tell me there is more to this world than what my eyes and ears and brain experience.
I shared this story several years ago. During my student ministry I found myself experiencing doubt. Was I on the right path? Was I failing in my studies and my learning? Was I in over my head? Where could I turn for guidance and support? I knew my mentors and teachers would offer supportive words and encouragement, but it just seemed insufficient at that moment.
For some reason, a still small voice in me whispered that it was time to pay a visit to the hospital to check on a few members of my community.
Well, those visits happened, but I wasn’t feeling any better. On my way out of the hospital, I encountered a young indigenous man who asked if I was a minister. Well, yes. There’s a baby who was abandoned here yesterday, he explains. His aunt and uncle are with him, but they could all use some prayer. Come with me.
So I ended up in a hospital room with two young people watching over an infant offering prayer.
He then took me to another room where a family was sitting with an older gentleman nearing death. I was the only person in that room who did not speak Cree, but they all watched and listened as I again offered prayer.
As I left the hospital again, this young man said thanks; that was really healing for all of them.
I could feel it in those rooms. And I also said thanks; for suddenly my doubts, my questions, my concerns, and fears were answered. I knew that in meeting that young man sitting on a rock, smoking a cigarette outside that hospital I had encountered the risen Christ.
The story – the recounting of the resurrection is a Holy Mystery. We can read it as a metaphor. We can read it as a historic fact. I certainly won’t judge you for either reading. Maybe you can find your own path somewhere in that mysterious place between the dark of night and the coming of dawn. Not knowing what truly happened, but being fine with it and trusting that God can be found in the wondering.
This resurrection story happens in the dark. No one actually witnesses the resurrection. Mary sees and hears the resurrected Christ and shares this good news.
So often we find ourselves sitting in our misery not able to see or appreciate the signs of new life and the promises of a better tomorrow that are blossoming all around us. We cannot accept what is sitting right in front of us.
But these stories we hear today and in the coming weeks speak to us about the followers of Jesus encountering the risen Christ and how it changes their way of seeing the word around them. Those experiences give them strength and purpose. It provides them with hope and courage in a world that all too often disregards them, or conspires to drive them to their knees, or is simply ambivalent to their plight.
These stories also keep telling us that we are not alone in our journey through this world. Jesus walks alongside us and we are part of a community that we can turn to. A community that welcomes our stories and the sharing of our own experiences.
So let us share our encounters wit the risen Christ. Let us tell our stories, and with attention listen to the stories of our neighbours. May we be a community that invites others in and offers support, safety and compassion to our neighbours.
May each of you be open to the host of ways that Christ comes to us, inviting us into a new relationship with God and with the world around us. Offering us hope, offering us strength and purpose. Opening our eyes to the possibilities and the new life that is taking root all around us.
And may we each find our way to welcome the dawn and walk in the light that is Jesus, the Risen Christ.
Hallelujah, Amen.



Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789