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The Resurrection We Don't Expect

St. Philip Lutheran Church

4 April 2021 + Resurrection of Our Lord

John 20.1-18

Rev. Josh Evans, preaching


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It was the strangest funeral I’ve ever led. I wasn’t allowed to pass out the bulletins I had brought. Everyone wore face masks. Even the family that had carpooled together was told to stand six feet apart from each other during the short graveside service.


As a pastor, I’m frequently admitted into some of the most intimate places of people’s lives - places where it feels like I shouldn’t be, but somehow have the privilege to stand in. When I was a chaplain intern in a hospital, it meant being allowed behind doors that read “authorized personnel only.” At Doris’s funeral, it meant being allowed to preside at an in-person graveside liturgy at Wisconsin Memorial Park Cemetery, only a few weeks into the pandemic lockdown.


One year ago today, when I presided at Doris’s funeral, it was the eve of Holy Week, the Saturday before Palm Sunday. So much has changed in the year since then.


We’ve seen some stuff. A world shut down by a virus. Nearly 3 million deaths worldwide. One less place setting at the family dinner table. Protests over racial injustice erupting in cities from coast to coast. So much loss. So much anger. So much grief. So much uncertainty.


We’ve seen some stuff.


The disciples had seen some stuff. It was the strangest few days. They saw their rabbi and friend arrested in the garden, on trial before both Jewish and Roman authorities, and sentenced to death. They saw Jesus nailed to the cross. They heard him cry out, “It is finished.” They felt his last breath, as though it was their own, as he gave up his spirit. They saw Jesus die, and they saw him laid in the tomb.


The next day, while it was still dark, in more ways than one, Mary saw the tomb and the stone rolled away. That’s strange, she thought. Peter saw the linen wrappings, but no body. So did the “other disciple” - who exactly? - who saw… and believed… sort of… but didn’t fully get it. Alone again, Mary saw the two angels. She saw the gardener.


Mary and the other disciples saw a lot, but like anyone wracked with grief, did they really know what was going on? Fumbling around in the dim half-light of the early dawn, through swollen eyes still foggy with tears, the disciples had seen some stuff.


Why are you weeping? You have to be kidding. Whom are you looking for? Really? She was looking for the body. The dead body. She had no reason to expect anything else or hope for something different.


Whom are we looking for? What are we looking for?


Not long after Doris’s funeral last year, after Holy Week and Easter had come and gone, I went to visit two of my parishioners at their home. It was a nice day, so we could sit outside in their driveway at a distance. Since the pandemic shut down business as usual and forced all our services online, they hadn’t been able to participate in church since they didn’t have internet at home. So they asked me if I would come over to give them communion. When I arrived, they had their own wine and wafers set out on the trunk of their car in their garage, and three lawn chairs set out for us to sit.


I pulled out my own communion elements - a small mason jar with a splash of wine and a ziplock bag with a single Wheat Thin, and together we shared communion, read scripture, and prayed.


It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was what I needed. In that moment of driveway communion, I had seen the Lord, the presence of the risen Christ in our midst, in the most unexpected and surprising circumstances.


***


Mary had seen some stuff. She was looking for a dead body. She had no reason to expect anything different. But in that moment, with the simple utterance of her name, she is seen, and she sees. She didn’t go looking for resurrection that morning. She didn’t think it was possible. But resurrection happened nonetheless.


This Easter, like last Easter, might not feel like much of a cause for shouting alleluia, while we watch church on our screens, if we’re even watching church at all. It’s been a heavy year, and we’ve seen some stuff. And that stuff is real and valid and not to be dismissed.


But it is precisely in those places that resurrection happens, that the risen Christ shows up. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark… when it doesn’t feel very much like Easter… when we’re not expecting anything more than grave wrappings… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not and cannot and will not overcome it. The risen Christ stands in the dark half-light of the garden, calling Mary’s name, calling our names, holding our grief and our joy and everything in between.


Resurrection is not something that we set out to find or look for, and it’s certainly not something that we expect. But that’s the miracle of resurrection: It’s always surprising, a profound experience of abundant life, of seeing and being seen, that leads us to declare with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”


Alleluia, dear church. Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!

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