November 28, 2020 Volume no.15

Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

In medias res since 1969.

Published from just outside of Washington, DC.

Easter 2020 Homily

April 15, 2020

In the shadow of a pandemic, we gathered remotely with several friends for an online Easter celebration. These are some thoughts from the Gospel reading:

(please remember the old adage, “Sermons are written for the ears, not the eyes,” and forgive any tortured grammar or awkward formatting.)

John 20:1-18
20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

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Happy Easter! Welcome to this ongoing, still unfolding story of the God who acts decisively and miraculously and unilaterally, but who at the same time is completely preoccupied with sharing the news of this action through people, and continuing this work in collaboration with people.

It’s a story that involves you, and me, and all of us. Thanks be to God.

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Y’all know this story well, so I can just hit the high points. SPOILER ALERT, because many of you haven’t been to church in a long time: Jesus rises from the dead.

There is a delightful, timeless subtext here about men and women. It’s kinda awesome that right here, at the climax of John’s gospel, he takes the time to outline these very specific, very entertaining, very timeless ideas:

1. Men don’t believe women.
2. Men are super competitive. Not only are they in a hurry, but they are competing about whose hurry is the biggest.

Mary visits the tomb, sees that it is empty, and in a very generous gesture she *runs* back to where the *men* are *HIDING* to tell them the news.

And right on cue, the men need to do some fact-checking. They *run* back to the tomb, in fact *racing*. (What’s the hurry, boys? She already told you what happened!) John notes that he himself got there first, and that Peter arrived later. But John graciously waited for Peter, and Peter goes into the tomb first.

The text doesn’t say, but I imagine Mary taking her time walking back (remember she’s already walked, then run this route once!) maybe stopping at Starbucks, it being early morning and in the time before social distancing and the closure of non-essential businesses…

The thing that stuck out to me– perhaps because I myself have had to slow my roll of late– is how much (and how repeatedly) Mary slows down and learns more and more by doing less and less. This narrative is like an onion, with Mary patiently peeling back layer after layer until she gets to the sweet core of this story.

This thought connected with a Wendell Berry quote I encountered this week:
“Unless we grieve like Mary
At His grace, giving Him up
As lost, no Easter morning comes”

There is no resurrection without death.
There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

>>Mary is willing to stay in the slowness, in the sadness, in the place of *unknowing* in order to find greater understanding and enlightenment.

See how this principle unfolds in the text:

The boys hurry back.

Mary stays put. More to the point, Mary stays sad.

And because she lingers, and follows her sadness and considers her fears, she sees something extraordinary.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
(this designation ‘the disciples’ has an ironic twist, since we are about to see that Mary is a better apprentice of Jesus than the official, titled, bona fide ‘Disciples’)

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

There’s an interesting, enduring question here: did the angels appear suddenly? Or were the angels there all along, but the boys were in too much of a rush to really look and see?

…And, it’s about to happen again, this slowing down:

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

See these layers of seeing, hearing, and truly understanding? She sees the angels, and she interacts with them. Then she turns to see Jesus, seeing but not really seeing… because really seeing something takes time.
Truly apprehending truth takes time.
We might not see what is right in front of us, staring us in the face.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

…NOW she sees! For real, because she heard something and put it all together. She hears her name, and sees clearly, and uses her familiar name for Jesus.

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus says, “Go tell the boys! They hurried off and missed the whole show”

I like to imagine Mary walking slowly, maybe stopping for another cup of coffee as she hums to herself and imagines how much those manly male bona fide ‘DISCIPLES’ are losing their freaking minds, running around the room, speculating on what happens next. “WHAT are we gonna DO???!!??”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary is the enlightened one, because she SLOWED DOWN. She is the sage, the hero of this story. She is a highlight of the climax of John’s gospel, simply because she slowed down.

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Now let me say by way of disclaimer that historically, I detest sermons that tell me to “slow down” or “take time to listen to Jesus” or “walk with the Father”…
Because 1. I never can tell what the heck they are actually talking about, and
2. I am persuaded that being an apprentice of Jesus is much more about *doing* stuff.

So I don’t normally roll this way, but recent events have changed my view.

(I know, I know, I see you all unmuting yourselves: “WE ARE ALL SLOWING DOWN, STAV!! We have no choice! I haven’t traveled faster than 3 miles an hour all week!!” I hear that. )

I don’t know what each of you are going through. So I don’t know how slowing down might help you.

But I’ve also noticed that this big worldwide slowdown has required me to– really and truly–
S l o w   d o w n.
To walk outside, to notice the flowers and the trees.

In order to stay sane, I have had to slow my entire approach to the world, to slow the way I process information, to slow the flow of news into my brain.

And it’s not all sweetness and light, either.

I’ve endured some sleepless nights, fearful dreams, dealt with frustrations and anxieties and deep grief.

I’ve dealt with some crap from the past. I’d been running from regret, and when I slowed down it caught up to me, piled into me, and knocked me over.

Some of us feel trapped with our families, like we are locked in a prison filled with unruly inmates. Others feel trapped in individual isolation that feels like solitary confinement.

We hear news reports of people who are in isolation with abusive family members, with no escape.

It’s an important time for us to empathize with others, to be careful about complaining about something that someone else is yearning for. And at the same time, to allow our friends to get their grump on when necessary, and to listen empathetically. Some of us are anxious to get back to work as normal, and others are terrified of going to work tomorrow. Some of us are bored stiff, and others are working harder than ever before.

In this time I’ve hit ‘refresh’ on some old joys that are new again. Noble things like poetry and writing, and less noble things like watching TV and movies.
I’ve worked in the garden, watched my kids play, walked in circles, talked to my neighbors (with raised voices from a distance).
I’ve cooked meals with my family and then eaten them with delight.

There’s slowing down, and there is   s l o w i n g    d o w n.
In this Easter season, enjoy the gift of time, contemplation, and truly seeing what is in front of you.
If your slowness leads to sadness, follow that sadness and like Mary, express it and learn from it.

It’s good that you are here. Thank God and Zoom for this technology. Like Mary, you’ve found something wonderful. Maybe even miraculous.

But like Mary, there might be something even better if you can find the courage to slow your roll even more.

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May God protect us from our fears and from ourselves as we slow down and contemplate the deeper joys of Easter, and of this strange and surprising chapter in our lives. Amen.

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