Sermon Rev. John Sovereign & Rev. Jennifer Burgoyne
About supper time on Good Friday, as I was getting home, I met our neighbour in the parking lot. She was getting into her car.
“Beautiful day,” I said. “Beautiful” she said.”
“Where you off to,” I asked. “Michael’s in Abbotsford,” she said.
“In Abbotsford? on Good Friday? are the stores open tonight?” I said. “Till 9,” she told me.
I said, “Guess religion doesn’t mean much to anyone these days,” but she was already backing out of her spot.
Peter begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears (or seeks him) and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
I appreciate religious diversity. We do not have the right to look down the nose at others, or to assume God will have nothing to do with them, or to refuse to see any truth in them.
Mary was a surprising choice to be the first witness to the resurrection, and the first apostle. She first came to Jesus as a distraught woman with her life a mess. Tradition remembers her as a woman of the street, common, overcome by guilt and shame, horribly lost and possessed by seven demons.
Jesus reached out and offered her forgiveness, hope, respect, and a place among his followers. He revealed in her that healing power and abundance that comes from God. It is more powerful than death itself. Jesus valued Mary in a world that counted her unimportant and worthless.
Mary was counted by God worthy to be entrusted with the very first proclamation of the resurrection. She announced it to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved. These two were always treated as if they were powerful and entitled, the adults, the leaders, the men, the most important – but they heard about the resurrection first from Mary.
I don’t think the empty tomb was a complete surprise. Tomb robbers were common, and all the disciples would have understood that their enemies might steal his body away. Bodies could be displayed, they could be defiled, they could be used to insult. There were soldiers stationed by the tomb, but in ancient Jerusalem that was no guarantee of safety. No one expected Jesus to just walk out.
There is a shroud called the “Shroud of Turin” which people purport to be the burial shroud placed over Jesus’ body. It bears the image of a man’s body. On the body you can see all the marks of crucifixion, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the spear in the side. It reminds us that when we speak about Jesus we are speaking about real history.
The disciples too were surprised, and disturbed. His body was gone. The shroud was still there.
Mary hung around the grave after Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved had left. Perhaps she just felt the need to be there.
At any rate, Jesus took her completely off guard. She did not expect him, and thought he was the gardener.
When she realized it was Jesus, all she wanted to do was hold him. “Rabbouni,” she calls him, dispelling the idea that her relationship was sexual in nature, and reinforcing the special relationship she and all the disciples had with Jesus. There is tenderness in the exchange between Jesus and Mary, but there is also a challenge to be a true witness to the resurrection. Mary is commissioned to proclaim that Christ has died, that Christ is risen and that Christ will come again.
Mary Magdalene is "the apostle to the apostles." In apocryphal texts, Mary is portrayed as a visionary and leader, who was loved by Jesus more than the other disciples. Mary faithfully proclaimed the resurrection to a doubting and sometimes hostile world.
Businesses up and down the Fraser Valley were open on Good Friday. My neighbour made it to Michael’s to buy whatever she was after. A great many people are in a great many churches this morning, celebrating the Easter resurrection and the victory that it represents. But for others, Easter has become a three or four day long weekend, not a religious celebration. Imagine their surprise someday, waking up after death in a place they never paid much attention to! Someone will say, “There’s no Easter Bunny here!” And then there will be a meeting with a very holy Being they never had time for!
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,” Peter says, “but in every nation anyone who fears (or seeks him) and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Wonderful words, soothing words, from Peter. The whole world nods its approval. But truth surprises. Sweet ideas of eternity and of a god out there somewhere who has low standards – are untrue. The Jesus of scripture is uncompromising, insightful, true, caring, and does not suffer fools. He is surprisingly decisive and he speaks often of terrifying judgement and white hot truth.
I believe we are going to be surprised at the resurrection. Surprised by the mercy and grace of our Saviour. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4
We have a story to tell to the nations, a true tale of salvation that has been carried out in history, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Who we are, what we do, who we know – all matter – but most importantly, God offers salvation to all who put their trust in the Risen Lord. Just like Mary at the empty tomb, we also need to proclaim to the world that Jesus is risen, and is alive today, and that we have met him. Amen