He’ll be coming ’round the mountain when he comes: A Resurrection Sunday Sermon
Text: John 20:1-18
Note: this was a write up of a practice version of the sermon, somewhat different words but the same word.
Last week we were gathered here for Palm Sunday – triumphant procession – cheering for the one who came in the name of the Lord, cheering for the coronation of Messiah, Lord, and King. Surely this was the moment he would take his throne, boot Rome to the curb, and take Israel to heights previously unknown on the world stage. Only… they did not know what it meant to be Messiah in the way of Jesus Christ. How often we do not know what it means to be people of the way of Jesus Christ? We too celebrate triumph at times when we do not know what we are doing.
The week progressed and the unexpected kept happening, Jesus didn’t cater to the people of power, he didn’t play the military game to secure a kingdom but instead he befriended – at the expense of those people – the poor, the outcast, the widow. These are not what strong kingdoms are made of, what is he doing? Never mind he was simply doing what he’d been doing all along. There was nothing new… why did we expect something different than the same ol’ Jesus who from the beginning had announced that he came that the lame should walk, the blind shall see, and the poor shall have good news preached to them. This Jesus, this messiah, doesn’t play politics in earthly kingdoms… he is playing a different game and no coronation celebration was going to change to that.
And the week continues and Jesus speaks of uprooting establishment, tearing down a temple, a dying messiah. Jesus overturns far more than the money tables but all our expectations – and they should have seen it coming, for God’s sake we should have seen it coming… but we didn’t, and we don’t. And Jesus scattered us once again out from our safety like recklessly sown seed on the highways and byways of Jerusalem and beyond.
And even his disciples don’t know why this happening, even the disciples are confused. So plans are made about betrayal. And the signs are shown of denial. On Thursday when Jesus commands us to love one another and serve one another in love, Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet. He thinks the Lord shouldn’t be a servant – he just doesn’t understand, Jesus is who Jesus is, in birth, in live, pre-death, death… and after death. Jesus has – in fact – come to serve. And then Peter, once he thinks getting his feet washed gets him some kind of secured place in Christ’s kingdom, wants to have all of him washed… because Peter still doesn’t understand that following Christ isn’t about being made clean for the kingdom but about participating in the very dirty kingdom work of bathing the world in love.
The kingdom work is about coming to those who are damaged goods and naming that we too are damaged goods and then together participating in the life of the messiah who becomes damaged goods but made those broken places, those scarred memories, and those shattered dreams sacred. Bathing the wounds in gracious love – making us all, damaged goods that we are, infused with the Holy and whole in the Spirit.
This is my body – broken for you… (no, not you Lord!) This is my blood poured out for you.
This act wasn’t meant to be some spiritualized ritual of pretending at brokenness because the very next day after he said it we gathered again and we witnessed – maybe not through our eyes but through trusted eyes – as Jesus marched again the streets of Jerusalem, not in triumph this time but as a mocked and failed savior at the hands of an uncaring empire and control-minded religious structures – and he was killed. Broken, shattered, and poured out. And the disciples watched from afar because they did not know what they were watching and they did not know what to make of it…. So they watched from afar and then they scattered and hid.
This has been our week, and then we wake up – as early as is our want (or maybe in some cases way early than we’d want) – and when we wake up, we proclaim that He is risen. We email it, facebook it, tweet it, shout it, cheer it, hallmark it, liturgically proclaim and sing it, trumpet and play it on any and all instrument we can find. He is risen indeed… …but do we believe it? Do we understand it? What, if anything, is different because of it?
Are our Easter proclamations any more informed than the triumphant entry of Palm Sunday when the crowds thought they were proclaiming the victory of their king? Does our cries of ‘He is Risen’ have any more substance behind it than the crowds proclamation that ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – Hosanna! Hosanna!?!?!’
We say that there is an empty tomb, like that is good news. But it wasn’t for the disciples. It was just what it always was – another act to be questioned. Another thing that wasn’t supposed to be. They don’t see an empty tomb and think resurrection – they think grave robbers. The empty tomb is not demonstrative of death having no sting… its demonstrative of their empty hearts and dreams. It is a further descent, not the beginning of ascendant hope. And perhaps all good news starts this way – its starts before we even know it – or know what we are seeing and participating in.
And so we find Mary lamenting, ‘Where is the body, that I may pay it the proper respect and bury him as he is due. Please not more mockery, not more shame, just let me do this one thing as it should be.’ And Mary turns and encounters Jesus but she doesn’t recognize him (would we?, we might presumptuously assume so, but we wouldn’t have) so she thinks he’s a gardener. And he is, he is THE Gardner. He is the planter and nurturer of seeds, he prunes and waters, he weeds and braces, he is the THE Gardner of all life but she she thinks he is just “a” gardener. “Just tell me where his body has been taken.” And he looks at her and calls her by name, “Mary” and that’s all it took, he names her, and she knows him – Teacher.
But when she goes to tell the disciples they don’t believe her of course… they will have to encounter him for themselves and when they do – you know what happens? They do what they have always done – they get scared, they don’t understand and they lock themselves back into the upper room. He is Risen – but what in the world does that mean?
Jesus will say to them – my peace I give to you – Jesus will tell them not to be afraid –Jesus will tell them to go into the world to preach and act on the receiving and giving of peace. Jesus will tell them to feed and tend the sheep, Jesus will tell them to teach and baptism to bless and build up… that is to say Jesus will tell them that what resurrection means is exactly what he has always meant. Jesus is what he always was… nothing has changed… and yet everything has changed. Jesus laid it all on the line in the greatest demonstration of practicing what he preached – but what he preaches it doesn’t change, its just more of what it always was.
C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia contrasts old Narnia with new Narnia by likening it to the difference between seeing something in a mirror and then beholding the real thing. They are the same – but the second is more the same than the first image ever was, the same… and yet more so. This is like the experience of the risen Christ.
Jesus is the same Jesus and yet more Jesus than ever before. Jesus came to reveal to us the nature and character of God. God loves the world so much that God would engage death – so much that God would die, on our behalf. And we know now, empty tomb and all / Risen Christ encountered, that life cannot be contained by death, God who is love – God who is life, cannot be held in death. That the tomb and the stone, and no number of stones, could hold God down. Death cannot hold sway over life. God the gardener has planted seeds and those seeds will sprout – will burst up, will grow and flourish and proclaim life and life abundant. Because they cannot – will not – be held down. And so Jesus went to all the places where life was least likely… as Jew he went to Samaria, he sent his followers to Gentiles, he touched lepers, he healed women who were unnamable and allowed the most impure of people to touch and clean him. Because God is not about pushing down, adding guilt, causing shame, or walling off and claiming in and casting out. God is about life. We play a justice game, a world of retribution and punishment. And we get caught up in unending cycles of violence and hurt. You hurt me so I’ll hurt you. You did wrong so I’ll punish you … And to that whole game Jesus says – do that to me and then I’ll let it go, I will show that we can just stop the cycle… and promote life. Eye for an eye is killing us – literally. And I am the God of life, not death….
So for those who denied him – Jesus loved them and entrusted them again with the kingdom. Those who killed him – Jesus offered peace. To those who take him for granted Jesus returns them nothing but love. Its about redemption not retribution.
The Easter story is the same story that Jesus has preached at every turn. That God wants life to win over death. That God is gardener of all life and wishes all life to prosper – all people – all animals – and manner of life… to prosper and grow.
I got the song “He’ll be coming around the mountain when he comes” stuck in my head with regards to this sermon almost a month ago. I found out that the song really is about Jesus. It was sung about Jesus and the second coming… or more exactly about the chariot he’ll be riding. And its about how will we know him, how will we recognize him. And it’s a great question because no-one, not one person, not Mary or the twelve, or the those on the Emmaus road or Paul on the Damascas road… no one recognizes Jesus when he comes. So how will we?
And it may just be that the answer is easier than we imagine – because Jesus is who he has always been. A gardener bringing life from death. A lover who makes wounds sacred and gives peace in exchange for hate, and redemption in exchange for violence, love in exchange for fear, service in exchange for jealously, and life in exchange for death.
How will we know him? Because we will find him sewing life in places of death. He will in the back alley, at an AA meeting, in the women’s shelter, or the morgue. We will find him on the battle field – not with a gun in hand – but with the children of yet another generation slain in the name of retribution and hate. We will find him among those enslaved in sex trades around the world and in our neighbor’s basement. We will find him in the line for a bowl of soul, or incarcerated, or hanging out on Sunday morning with hipster “nones” who want nothing to do with church. How will we know him? It won’t because he’ll be sitting in a pew next to you. He won’t look our part – he will look least like what we expect but exactly like he always has. We will know him because he will be the one creating peace and mercy in the harshest and driest landscapes of our world. We will know him by his love.
He is Risen, are we? He does not rise for his sake but for ours. We need not ask who he is, but who we are in response. Will we be people of retribution, exclusion, and hate? Or will we too play the gardener. Go to places that reek of death, get our hands dirty and through your damaged selves bleeding into the world and sew love and life. Nurture redemption and healing. And live and love in such a way that we all might rise with the one who is risen.
Christ IS risen, he is risen inDEED.
Thanks be to God.