Sunday, April 05, 2015

Unexpected Jesus

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 5, 2015

Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

Unexpected Jesus
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Happy Easter!
            We had a very rich and powerful Holy Week, the days leading up to this great festival of love and new life.
            On Thursday evening we reenacted the footwashing, when Jesus showed his disciples – shows us – what love looks like.
            On Friday we carried the cross of Christ into places of violence and despair in our community – sharing the love of Christ and making holy plots of earth stained by bloodshed.
            And then last night we began in darkness until the light of the Risen Christ was brought into our shadowy church, until the love of the Risen Christ was brought into our often shadowy world.
            We baptized two beautiful baby girls, Lena and Michelle.
            And then, finally, the lights came on and we cried out with great joy:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen today! Alleluia!
            And now this morning we are here – and thanks to a lot of hard work – including a quick clean-up of a quite a lot of candle wax last night - this old church has never looked more beautiful or smelled more fragrant.
            Gail and our choir and our guest musicians have been making so much gorgeous music – and there’s lots more to come.
            There are so many great Easter hymns – and we’re going to get to sing them today in the next few Sundays of Easter.
            But, oddly enough, as I’ve been reflecting on today’s gospel lesson the hymn that’s been stuck in my head isn’t an Easter hymn at all.
            It’s an Advent hymn that I bet many of you know:
            “Come Thou Long-expected Jesus.”
            Today’s gospel passage is one of the most poignant and moving in all of Scripture. Even though I’ve read it – and now have read it aloud - many times, it still chokes me up every time and often I have to hold back tears.
            We’re told that Mary Magdalene discovered that Jesus’ tomb had been opened.
            Imagine the horror of that for a second.
            She ran and got Peter and the Beloved Disciple who race to the tomb, look inside – don’t know what to make of it all – and go back home.
            But Magdalene stays at the tomb, weeping.
            Those tears. It was all so terribly sad – everything that had happened to Jesus and now the final indignity of a robbed grave.
            But then angels appear.
            And then someone else appears and asks Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
            We know it’s Jesus but we’re told that Mary thinks it’s the… gardener.
            Over the centuries lots of people have speculated about why Mary is not able to recognize Jesus, why she was unable to recognize the Risen Christ.
            Some say, she couldn’t see through her tears.
            Others say, the sun was in her eyes.
            In at least one painting, Jesus is pictured wearing a hat, which conceals his identity.
            But, I think the most likely explanation – the truest explanation - is that Mary simply didn’t expect to see Jesus. In fact, encountering a walking, talking, somehow miraculously living Jesus was the last thing – the last person – she expected to meet in that place of despair and death.
            Unexpected Jesus.
            But then, Jesus calls her by name, “Mary!”
            And Mary finally recognizes unexpected Jesus, “Rabbouni!”
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Now, I’m hoping that we’re here today because we’re expecting Jesus to be here. And I hope that we can feel the presence of Jesus in one another, in the beauty of this place, in our beautiful Easter music, and most especially in the Body and Blood of Christ, which we’ll receive in just a few minutes.
            But, speaking for myself – and, if you don’t mind, I’m going to speak for you, too – most of the time, like Mary Magdalene I don’t expect to meet Jesus out there in the world.
            Unexpected Jesus.
            And, yet, when we pay attention we do discover unexpected Jesus, especially in places in places of despair and death.
            So often I’ve been at the bedside of someone gravely ill surrounded by suffering family members and friends – places of despair and death, for sure – and yet, somehow, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up, pouring out grace and strength during these times of trial and sorrow.
            Sometimes, it’s only later that I recognize him.
            I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about.
            Unexpected Jesus.
            And then on this past Friday, on Good Friday, when we marched through streets littered with broken glass and ugly graffiti, when we paused at places where a “beloved child of God” had been shot or where a “beloved child of God” had been killed and hammered a nail into a large wooden cross to remember their suffering, when we visited street corners that are quite literally places of despair and death, well, I should have expected it, but sure enough Jesus showed up there, too.
            Unexpected Jesus.
            It was beautiful to look at the diverse crowd from all different branches of the Christian family who made the walk – it was moving to see some of our own parishioners carry that wooden cross through our streets – it was piercing to see and hear people hammer another nail into the cross – and it was extraordinary to see the reactions of bystanders and neighbors, including a woman looking down from her apartment window, sobbing.
            Once again, unexpected Jesus appears in a place of despair and death.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            My prayer is that during Easter and beyond, even through our tears, even when we’re blinded by the glare of life, even when – especially when - we’re in places of despair and death, we’ll expect to find Jesus right there – right here – loving us, and calling each one of us by name.
            Because here’s the Good News of Easter – here’s the best news ever: unexpected Jesus – long unexpected Jesus - is here.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!