Sermon – April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Of all the interesting things going on in today’s Gospel—all the cardio exercise, the strangely precise descriptions of how the linen wrappings were folded and placed, how three out of the four women mentioned in this story were named Mary, how the disciples seemed to shrug and go home when they discovered the empty tomb—what really jumped out to me was how Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener.
I always got the sense that Jesus was beloved to Mary Magdalene, and that Jesus also loved her deeply. She was essentially a disciple in all but title. She followed Jesus as her teacher and supported him. They were close.
So it’s a little confusing to me that Mary didn’t recognize Jesus.
Until I remember what Jesus has gone through. Torture. Ridicule. Crucifixion. And the vast and terrifying mystery that is death. And then to come back! I can’t imagine what that journey was like. How it changed him.
Maybe he was glowing. I don’t know, and the gospel doesn’t say, but of course Mary didn’t recognize him right away. The crucible of his death and resurrection revealed someone who had shed the burden of suffering and stepped into the fullness of all he was, all he was meant to be.
It’s not just Jesus’ story, of course. This story speaks to us so powerfully because it’s your story in some way, and it’s my story. I don’t know if Jesus actually descended into hell, but I do know that each of us has experienced hell in this life in some way.
Maybe the hell of rejection—because of how you look or how you love or how you believe.
Maybe the hell of a mental illness that no one else can seem to understand.
Maybe a hell of your own making—the things you did when you had too much to drink or when you were angry or when you were desperate.
We have each known a hell of our own. We have each experienced the loss and emptiness of that Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. Some of us may still be there now, gritting our teeth through what seems like the prescribed joy of this day.
But I also know that each of us has known resurrection. It probably didn’t happen over the span of a day or so, like Jesus. You might have started to feel that resurrection in your bones when you got that one year sobriety chip, rolled it around in your hand, felt its weight in your pocket. Or when you realized, “I think that new medicine is actually helping.”
In my case, I started feeling that resurrection when I took communion for the first time in years and realized that God absolutely loves me, not despite the fact that I’m gay, but because God celebrates all the love I have to give.
And, you know, I was unrecognizable to my parents for awhile when I came out. I’m sure that when you went through your resurrection, however big or small or fast or slow, it took some adjusting for some of the people in your life. It took some time for them to recognize you without your burden of suffering.
Sometimes, though, we’re on the other side of that coin. We’re Mary, unable to see the risen Christ before us. Unable to accept that a person in our life who has faded and, in our minds, died could come back to life, changed and newly alive. Resurrection defies our expectations, and it’s not always comfortable. Sometimes it’s easier to hold onto the hurt, the grief, that someone has caused while they were in their own hell than to shift our perspective, to believe that they can be changed.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” That’s all. Such a simple thing, saying her name. But it’s so intimate. In a word, he unveils and lifts up a history of shared tears, of evenings laughing over wine, of love. And when Mary hears her name, she remembers: this is my friend, my teacher.
What will we do when the resurrected calls our name?
Will we have the courage to recognize and embrace them? To remember what brought them into our lives in the first place? To allow them to be our teachers?
Resurrection is not just Jesus’ story. It is the story of this place, this St. Luke’s community.
After the Maundy Thursday service a few nights ago, I lingered in the church after everyone left. After all the worshipers slipped quietly into the night. After our fabulous preacher, Deacon Laurel, and Jim snuck away. After the trusty women—and man!— of the altar guild had sorted out the stripping of the altar and cleaned the silver. I stayed behind and stood in this sanctuary. Maybe even right here. The lights were off, and it was dark. Quiet. The energy of this space, the spirit of this place, felt so close, so present.
I felt the tears this place has collected over the years. I felt the joy that God has brought to this place over and over again—in song, in laughter, in the commitments made to God and to one another.
I felt life coursing through the currents of this place. I feel it now.
I haven’t been here long, but I’ve been here long enough to know that this place is special. I’ve also been here long enough to know that this community has had its ups and downs. There has been hurt here—death, dwindling, suffering.
But this is my sense about this place: At the foundation of this community is joy. The love here keeps growing. The commitment here is growing. The Spirit is moving in new ways. I can feel it when we gather. There is resurrection life here.
Jesus transformed suffering into hope.
He came back, and he is calling our names, asking us to live into the hope he gave us, to live a life of resurrection. Will we turn, will we recognize him?