3/31/13 – SURPRISE! by Samantha Crossley+

Easter Sunday, Year C

Isaiah 65: 17-25, John 20:1-18

(The Sunday school kids processed to the front with the Gospel procession, and were at the altar with the preacher nowhere in sight)

Preacher (from out of sight): Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Kids (and congregation): The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! (Repeated as preacher came forward from the back)

Kid’s sermon: an interactive discussion on surprise, and the Gospel story.

Whatever the kids have to say, surprise leaves us a little bit ambivalent, doesn’t it? Wonderful as it is to have the kids involved, wasn’t it just the littlest bit uncomfortable when the kids came up, or more to the point when the familiar landmarks were missing? Everything was proceeding as normal today, a little more festive perhaps, but the basics were stable: a song, a prayer or two, a lesson or two, the Gospel, then the sermon. But wait. We sit down when the preacher starts looking like some preaching might happen, but nobody is up there looking preachy, but the kids are but….ach! It’s so much easier if we know what to do and what the responses are and what happens next.

Mary certainly didn’t like her initial surprise that first Easter dawn. Lost, grieving, empty with the loss of her friend, her teacher, she went to the tomb to render to him the only service left in her power, to dress and prepare his body. Things are not as expected. She does what anybody would – she runs to tell somebody else.

The beloved disciple and Peter come to confirm her story – grave robbers are the primary suspect at that point. Next surprise – not only is the tomb empty, but the burial linens are neatly arranged. Grave robbers do not, in general, tidy up behind themselves. This is not life as they understand it. It is not life and death. It is something…other. Scripture tells us that the beloved disciple believes, but he does not understand what it is that he believes. So naturally, they go home. Absolutely classic reaction to surprise – go home and ignore it as best you can. If you surround yourself with familiarity, maybe when you look around again all will be as it was before.

Still grieving over her loss, and over what “they” have done in stealing the body of her friend, Mary stays and searches for answers, apparently too blinded by her sadness to notice that she’s talking to angels in an otherwise empty tomb. She reaches out to the gardener, only to face another surprise, this time a happy one. “Mary” He says. And with that the flash of recognition, the joy of reunion and the next classic reaction to surprise – cling to what you know. But Jesus doesn’t work that way. He didn’t in life and he doesn’t after death. Jesus turns the world upside down and ushers in a new way. He would not let her cling to the old way.

Today is Easter – our Holiest day. It is a day of surprise and wonder. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. What does that mean to us? Now.

Jesus came into the world of the disciples as a baby, lived a human life, died a human death at the hands of all too human power seekers whom he dared to challenge. In the Resurrection, His divinity is revealed and new life was ushered in. From our early days, we have heard of the divinity of Christ. Christianity is culturally a dominant force in our society. We know the words to say and when to sit and when to stand. For us, the challenge becomes to remember the intimacy and the immediate reality of the Divine.

He called her by name. “Rabbouni!” Mary answers. It means teacher, but scholars are divided about the significance of the word Rabbouni versus Rabbi. It may be aramaic or a Galilean dialect. Some say it is a form which means “Rabbi of God”, emphasizing Jesus’s divinity. Some scholars suggest that “rabbouni” actually represents an endearment, “my own dear teacher”. (Source information: Rev. Kristi Denham) I don’t pretend to know the answer, but the latter is what makes sense to me. Mary is bereft and bereaved. You can practically feel her joy leaping from the page as she cries “Rabbouni!” She does not yet understand Jesus’s new life or her own, but she knows Jesus. Jesus’s words join human life and God’s own still further, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

He calls us all by name. He has a job for us to do. He promises new life. I believe there will be a life in Heaven some day, but we can’t sit around waiting for that day. The tomb is empty now. He is risen today. We begin that new life here. Now. Today. And again tomorrow. And again the next day.

John McQuiston said, “I have been brought to this morning by a process that began billions of years ago; I am an amalgamation of stardust that has miraculously been made aware; I am cradled in the hands of God; I am part of the living, conscious expression of the Infinite.”

We live the surprise of God among us, God within us daily. It can be disconcerting. It can be uncomfortable. We can run away from its challenge, back to the familiar, waiting to see how things will develop. We can cling to the stuff we know. Or we can further God’s Kingdom on earth in our words and most particularly in our actions proclaiming with Mary, “I have seen the Lord.”, and rejoicing with Isaiah in the creation of a new heaven, and a new earth.

To quote Barbara Brown Taylor, “In the end, that is the only evidence we have to offer those who ask us how we can possibly believe. Because we live, that is why. Because we have found, to our surprise, that we are not alone. Because we never know where he will turn up next. Here is one thing that helps: never get so focused on the empty tomb that you forget to speak to the gardener.”

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed, Alleluia! Amen!

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