210404 – But Wait There’s More

Yr B ~ Easter ~ John 20:1-18

We have just come through Holy Week! The week we church-folk ride an emotional roller coaster. This year we’ve moved through the story in John’s gospel. We went from the dinner party of Maundy Thursday that got ruined by a betrayal – then on Good Friday we went through an arrest – and a trial – and a brutal crucifixion – a state-sponsored execution. 

Then yesterday we had the silence of Saturday – and all seemed quiet, and lost. A hard time for us, to be sure – but imagine what it must’ve been like for those first followers of Jesus that first Holy Saturday. They didn’t have the luxury of knowing what you and I know.
I wish I could travel back in time and tell them, “Yeah, I know. This is the worst. It feels hopeless. But wait! There’s more! Sunday’s coming! Easter’s coming! Hallelujah! Yeah, I know – you don’t know what I mean. But you will. And it’s gonna knock your socks off!”

I have jokingly been saying lately, “Man, we need us some Easter this year!” No kidding.
But imagine how deeply they needed it back then! We’ve journeyed through the ups and downs of this Holy Week – perhaps more stressed and stretched than usual because of Covid, and lockdowns, and all that frustrating and challenging stuff. But we’ve made this journey always knowing that this Sunday’s coming – Easter’s coming! So perhaps it’s hard for us to grasp just how shocking and mind-blowing the events of that first Easter morning were.

Let’s look at the way the gospel of John tells the story.

Mary Magdalene arrives at dawn and finds the stone to Jesus’ tomb has been rolled away. She runs and tells the disciples, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Her first reaction? Somebody stole Jesus’ body! Their minds must’ve been racing. What?!?! Why? Who?
But wait! There’s more!

Peter and ‘another disciple’ – not sure why they’re not named – maybe it’s because they ran faster than Peter and he didn’t like that (!) – anyway, they start running, and Buddy gets there first and looks in, but doesn’t go in. Peter catches up and enters the empty tomb, and stands there flabbergasted. The other disciple joins him. It says they “saw and believed, but didn’t understand.” Of course, it doesn’t say what they believed. And then they went home.

But wait! There’s more!

That’s not the end of the story. Left there it might still seem like body snatchers got Jesus. Confused and mystified the disciples head for home – thinking the worst, no doubt.
Don’t you wish you could tell them not to leave so quickly?
Don’t you wish they had stuck around, like Mary did?

Weeping, Mary peers into the tomb and sees two angels dressed in white, sitting at either end of the place where Jesus had been lying. You know, ‘cuz the day hadn’t been weird enough! Then the angels spoke to her, and asked her why she was crying. She replies – because what else would you do when you’re chatting up angels – “They’ve taken Jesus and I don’t know where he is.” She’s locked in on this idea that his body has been stolen.
The angels don’t answer her – so she turns to go home. Story over.

But wait! There’s more!

As she’s leaving she sees the gardener standing there. Except it wasn’t the gardener. We know who it was – but she didn’t recognize that it was Jesus. I don’t know if that was because he looked different somehow, or if it was just that in her mind she couldn’t process anything other than ‘Jesus is dead and gone’ so a gardener is what she saw. The gardener (Jesus), like the angels, asks why she’s weeping. And adds, who’s she looking for? She pleads with him, thinking maybe he was the one who took Jesus away (which, in a way, he was).

You have to read between the lines for this next bit, but it seems like there was a pause here, and Mary, like the disciples, had given up and turned to go home – bewildered at this morning’s events. It’s over. He’s gone. No one knows where he is. May as well go.

But wait. There’s more!

Jesus softly speaks her name. The scripture says that she turned and said to him “Robbouni!” which means Rabbi, teacher. What the scripture doesn’t say is how fast her heart must’ve been racing in that moment. And it doesn’t say what expression was on her face as she heard her name – spoken in a voice that she knew deep in her soul. Her eyes couldn’t see it, but her ears heard that voice, and it resonated deeply. Imagine her face. Eyes wider than they’d ever been. Mouth smiling broader than it had ever smiled before. Head probably spinning with trying to comprehend something incomprehensible.

Again, you have to read between the lines, but I think the next thing she did was to collapse into Jesus’ arms, hugging him with all her might, and shaking with joy, and relief, and wonder, and confusion, and love, and questions, and bewilderment, and elation.
Wouldn’t you?

And the music swells, and the camera pans out, and the sun shines, and the scenery glows, and the screen says, The End.
That’s what happens after the big reveal, and the couple is reunited, and they embrace after conquering impossible odds, right? Yes!

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus says to her, “Mary, you can’t hold on to me just now. This isn’t the time. Now go and tell my friends, my followers. Tell them what you’ve experienced.”
It doesn’t say how long it took her to let go. How long would it take you?
Wouldn’t you want that moment to last forever?
Wouldn’t you wonder that if you did let go and walked away that maybe you were just dreaming the whole thing?

But Mary chooses to trust, and goes to the disciples. What will she find when she arrives?
A room full of defeated and devastated disciples. They hear Mary’s knock on the door – which is locked, because if Jesus was arrested and executed then his followers are in danger too. As she walks in she hears a disciple say, “I can’t believe this is all over! And that they stole his body – it’s sacrilegious, it’s the ultimate desecration. I just can’t understand it!”

And Mary says…”But wait. There’s more!”

I know we don’t live in biblical times, and these stories are romanticized, and our lives feel far more ordinary than the extraordinary happenings we find in scripture. But think about it – are our lives really that different?

Big, heavy, challenging circumstances and calamities unravel our lives from time to time. We may not understand things in the moment. All hope may seem lost. It may feel like the world is transpiring against us.
Just when we’re getting a whiff of spring we get plunged back into lockdown again.
Just as vaccinations are ramping up new variants of illness emerge and threaten us again.
Just when it was seeming like we might be gathering again sooner than expected it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting, and waiting.

When life goes off the rails and it feels like there’s no light – remember. There once was a Holy Saturday that looked as dark or darker than anything we can imagine. There once was an Easter morning where insult was added to injury and the worst thing imaginable (desecration) was piled onto what was already the worst thing imaginable (crucifixion and death).
All hope was lost.
All openings had closed.
All good was sullied.

But wait. There’s more!
There’s always more.

In Christ, there is always more.
In God, there is always more.
In Spirit, there is always more.

The more won’t be a cure-all, it won’t be a winning lottery ticket, and it won’t be a magic wand or a genie in a lamp with three wishes.
The more will be a glimmer when we thought there was only darkness.
The more will be a caring presence when we thought there was only loneliness.
The more will be a laugh when we thought there were only tears.
The more will be a rest when there was only exhaustion.
The more will be a question when we thought there was an answer.
The more will be a comma when we thought there was a period.

That’s what Easter is all about. It’s God’s great comma.
It’s not a happy ending, really. It’s just a new beginning – a fresh start – a turn of the page and onto a new chapter, when it felt like the story was over. That’s the holy, sacred rhythm we celebrate today.
There is dying, and there is rising.
There is death, and there is new life.
There are endings, and there are beginnings.
There is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – but wait – there’s more – there’s Sunday – Easter Day – Resurrection Day – today – every day.

And we take a deep, glorious breath – we pray prayers of profound gratitude for the Sacred Love that enfolds us, and surrounds us, and inspires us, and carries us through life’s most challenging circumstances and calamities even when we forget, or can’t feel it – and in that dawning, awakening, resurrection moment, we celebrate God’s great comma – the Holy…More.

And then we get on with it.