John 20: 1-18
For all of life’s wondrous beauty, inhaled with each anticipated breath:
The joyful smile of a young child at play,
An orange sunset, brilliantly painted on the canvas of an evening sky,
The sounds of birds lifting songs of creaturely praise
as perched in leaf-covered treetops –
For the breadth and depth of human experience:
Joyful celebration meeting bitter sorrow,
stretching sinews of the mortal heart;
For every possible yearning the human soul could ever know,
There is still nothing like that moment
when love calls your name.
Love. Spoken breathlessly as an embrace
That cannot cease its embracing.
Lifted with loud voice from mountaintops,
Echoing through the valley below:
Love. A bright light cutting through the deepest dark,
Stirring up dust of a weary soul.
A choice made each day
Because hate, as MLK said
Is too great a burden to bear.
Because death never gets the final word.
It was Mary who first encountered that love,
Early morn, dew still glistening.
She made her way to the tomb,
Numbed by the grief of dashed hopes and discarded dreams,
His body she came for anointing.
It was Mary who would soon learn how love could move stones
Once placed to shut out life forever;
How love casts them aside with earth’s groaning tremors;
For he who once had been laid to rest
Was no longer there.
She cried inconsolable tears. After all – who among us
Can put back together the puzzle of life once disassembled.
Death is death – an eventual certainty.
She cried, but not for grief alone – for confusion, for anger.
Stones, after all, do not roll away on their own.
Burial cloths and head coverings do not remove themselves
From a corpse gone missing.
It was death she expected to meet that day –
And yet all she found was absence, emptiness
That only her tears could fill.
So she cried.
And then, looking in, she gazed up two men dressed in dazzling white
Sitting at either end of where the body had once been.
Their voice, soft and soothing:
Why are you weeping?
Who are you looking for?
She is not interested in interrogation:
Just tell me where you’ve taken him, she says –
Tell me where my hope has gone, for it has left me….desolate.
What has it been – three days? Seems longer.
Tell me where you’ve laid him, so I can anoint his body
And let go of this dream that has let go of me.
Like Mary, you and I are prone to live as if entombed
As if death has already greeted us:
From waking to sleeping, going through the motions…..
But for what, we ask? For what?
Hope? Nothing more than inertia
Carrying us from one day to the next.
Faith? Mere window-dressing
Framing the unsavory futility of human life.
Like Mary, we sometimes resign ourselves
To the harsh reality of life’s tragic end
And the limits of our earthly existence
And the knowledge that grave stones,
Once placed, are not easily moved:
Sheer weight and mass weighing down fragile souls.
Weighing us down with a failing grade, fractured relationships,
The second past due notice,
The lab results we did not want to get.
Weighing us down with the tiresome rhetoric of fear;
And the misguided desire
To draw lines and craftily legislate
Who is in and out;
Who is welcome and not.
Weighing us down with breaking news and smartphone notifications,
That another suicide bomber has opened wide death’s door
In crowded airports and mass transit stations,
Snatching life from dozens, injuring more,
Putting the world on edge,
Knee-jerk reactions, quick judgments,
The worst of them
Bringing out the worst in us.
Thus entombed, we are
Living as the dead.
It was love who called Mary’s name that morning,
Called to her from outside the tomb
Because it could hold him in no more.
The boldest of proclamations made, Good news to end all news,
The world’s greatest one-word sermon he spoke:
Long before, the ancient Hebrews believed that, when named,
An infant truly became alive, their person infused with Spirit.
Named and claimed by their God,
A place in community,
Alive with a name.
And so, on this Easter morning,
Jesus, resurrected, called Mary’s name.
And in that moment, death turned on its end:
That moment when massive stones become mere pebbles,
Tossed aside as children kick street gravel.
That moment when the stale stench of a rank tomb
Becomes the sweetest fragrance emanating from a thousand lilies.
That moment when death’s stubborn stronghold,
Forever loses its grip on that which it was never meant to have:
It was love that called Mary’s name, and in that moment
She found what she’d been looking for:
Life outside an empty tomb.
Hope in a grave stone swept aside.
Love from a stranger who was no stranger,
Jesus spoke her into existence,
Calling her out of her tomb of grief
Into the bright warmth and light
Of resurrection’s dawning.
Now we gather in sanctuaries on this holiest of days,
Decked out in Sunday best,
Brass and timpani extolling melodic praise,
Window shutters flung wide open
To welcome in the joy of Easter tidings.
Now we gather outside our proverbial tombs,
Expecting death and finding nothing;
Clinging to a three-word question that sits
Forever perched unspoken on our lips:
Is it true?
Is it true that he’s risen?
Is it true that death’s reign is done?
Is it true that love has finally called our name?
This – this is the Easter story, and we share it over and over
Every year, every Sunday, resurrection’s reminder:
The empty tomb, the moved stone,
The stranger’s questions, Mary’s pleading, His one-word answer,
The happy, triumphant ending.
And yet, it is more than story, far from fable
Designed to fill church pews on a spring Sunday;
More than victory, hashtag winning,
Like a favorite basketball team’s unbusted March bracket.
Make no mistake: claims poet John Updike,
If he rose at all, it was as His body;
The cells’ dissolution reversed, the molecules
Reknit, the amino acids rekindled,
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
The same valved heart
That–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
Regathered out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
We speak of Easter truth
Because new life comes out of absolute death.
We share it
Because the drama outside the tomb that Sunday morning
Is played out every day of our lives,
Every waking moment, every inhaled breath.
We live as Easter people.
We testify to the Resurrection
Because the searching world finds their way to our doorstep
Expecting absence and surprised by abundance,
Looking for death and happening upon new life
All because love has called our name.
And when love calls our name, love shows up and stays put:
Proclaiming truth when it needs voice,
Grounding us as the storms swirl,
And the earth wobbles on its shaky axis,
As ebb and flows lead to highs and lows,
Love calls our name.
Love calls our name –
And forces us to confront the reality
That death is no aberration, optical illusion.
Death is death, an eventual certainty.
But – love whispers in the morning breeze
That death’s sting won’t last forever
That death will never get the final word
Because love has called our name.
Love calls our name, and we are thus called
To celebrate that which the world does not comprehend:
God’s son, turning water to wine,
Turning over tables, turning over the world
Healing, praying, feeding, living, dying, and living again,
Love invites us to take a glimpse into
The very genesis of God’s great work.
Embodied in Jesus, who encountered death,
And went through it, went beyond it,
Going where we could never go ourselves
And finding on the other side of it
Our resurrection glory.
Love calls our name – and it beckons us to fill empty tombs
With bounteous love.
Shining God’s light into a darkened and darkening world,
Living as people of resurrection hope:
So we love the unloved,
We speak truth when it needs speaking.
We cease the fear-mongering, end the fighting.
We do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
Feed, clothe, house, comfort those God loves most
As they listen to his sweet voice
Call their name.
So let us once again make our way to the tomb and find it lacking.
Let us encounter the risen Christ outside,
Let us hear him call our name.
And then, leaving the grave behind
And with joy-filled faith, let us make our way into new life
As Easter people:
Serving all with our actions,
Loving all with our hearts
Proclaiming boldly with our voices
That which the world
Has literally been dying to hear:
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 Adapted from the poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike. (http://genius.com/John-updike-seven-stanzas-at-easter-annotated)