Sunday, April 1, 2018, Easter Day

Kristin White

The Feast of the Resurrection

John 20:1-18


Shortly before the time that the March for our Lives event officially began in Washington DC eight days ago, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walked in a line through the crowd on their way to the platform. They passed very near to where our group stood, near enough that we could see them, near enough that if I had stretched, I could have reached them.

As they walked, they held up the student identification cards of their friends who had been killed in that short and horrible six minutes and twenty seconds at the end of school on Ash Wednesday. They held up those badges that bore the names and images of their friends: Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang. They carried with them the names of the adults who died that day trying to protect their students: Scott Biegel, Aaron Feiss, Chris Hixon.

In the substance of that act and many others before and since, I found a defiance of inertia, an unwillingness to accept that this is the way it all has to go. Instead, I saw – I see – this nation’s young people insisting upon hope. I see this nation’s young people demanding resurrection.

This day we celebrate right now began so many years ago in the dark. Mary Magdalene, the one who is too often held wrongly in suspicion, the one from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, the one with means enough to finance Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry…Mary walked to the tomb before the sun had risen. I wonder: had she slept in those three days since she saw Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross? Did the darkness and her own bleary-eyed grief add to her to her confusion? Whatever the case, what she found when she got there was not the thing she had expected. The stone had been rolled away from his grave. He wasn’t there.

So she ran back and told the disciple Jesus loved, together with Peter: “They have taken our Lord from the grave, and I don’t know where.” So Peter ran. And the beloved disciple ran. And somehow it was important enough to someone along the way to record the fact that Peter came in second in that race to the tomb.

The confusion did not belong only to Mary, though, as that beloved disciple and Peter looked into Jesus’ grave. Peter looked in, and the beloved disciple looked in, and the scripture tells us that the beloved disciple saw and believed (what exactly he believed we do not know)…but that neither of them understood, and so…they left.

Mary Magdalene stayed, though. She refused to accept whatever it was that compelled the others to go. She stayed and she wept as she spoke to the angels who she didn’t seem to know were angels. She stayed and she wept as she spoke to the gardener…who, as it turns out, wasn’t the gardener after all.

“Mary.” he said. And she knew.

He named her, and she knew him.[1] She saw him, and suddenly the confusion and the fear and the way that all of this had seemed to go…it was all turned upside down, by the God who loves her, the God who loves you, the God who loves us all enough to split heaven and earth to be with us.

Mary stayed, and she wept. And she was witness to resurrection.

This feast that we celebrate today, which lies at the very heart of our faith, makes no intellectual sense. We cannot think our way into an understanding of a person – fully human, scripture promises – being resurrected to new life. We cannot comprehend it. And yet the story of our faith insists that this is so.

So we pray our creeds. Maybe some folks leave out those parts you can’t assent to, and I think that’s alright. And maybe some work it into a part of a narrative that you can live with, and I think that’s alright too.

We are reasonable people, after all, aren’t we? We go to work, we raise our kids, we pay our taxes, we try to be kind, we talk to our neighbors, we walk the dog, we try to take care of ourselves, we try to take care of each other.

So what does it say, that the heart of our faith rests on this completely unreasonable event? And especially the way John’s gospel tells it: with the running, and the who-got-there-first, and the who-went-in-and-saw-the-linen-wrappings…when you think about who wrote down the words of this gospel in the first place, and then the generations upon generations of scribes who copied and copied and copied them…those details have to have merit to have made it through, right? But who decided which pieces mattered so much?

The beloved disciple saw and believed, but neither he nor Peter understood. And so they, in their not-understanding-ness, went home.

But Mary stood. And she wept.

None of it makes sense, really. Ours is not a reasonable faith. It’s mysterious. It asks us to follow those disciples running in the dark to an empty grave. It asks us to notice and to care about who got there first, about the linen wrappings that covered him, and the fact that the one from his head is lying in a separate space. It asks us to care about a woman who wasn’t believed…even by her friends, who had to go see it for themselves, and even then, well…it asks us to care about a woman who, people at the time, and in the thousands of years since, have sought to discredit and dismiss. Ours is a faith that asks us to care about that woman, the one who stood weeping, the one who would be the first witness to the resurrection.

That’s a lot to ask of reasonable people.

And yet, here we are.

And yet, we reasonable people now find ourselves in the midst of a world that does not make sense.

We live right now in a world where our children have become experts in the differences between a soft lockdown and a hard one – terms that did not exist when I was in the classroom as a student, or, more recently, as a teacher.

We live in a world in which a friend of mine recently overheard her eleven-year-old child talking about which classroom he hopes he’s in if there is ever a shooting at his school, because he knows where the best places are to hide.

We live in a world where a teenager who was a literal target in his high school on Ash Wednesday has earned enough traction in his effort to be heard on this matter that he has become a threat, enough of a threat to have been targeted by a pundit…who would mock him.

We live in a world, on this Feast of the Resurrection, that through some act of poetic strangeness also happens to be April Fools’ Day, in which a generation of young people sees the violence of mass shootings and the gun violence found every day, every hour, every minute…and says to the powers that be: this world you have created is in fact entirely unreasonable. And we insist on changing it.

A child shall lead them.

That’s what Jesus does, isn’t it? He goes first, through the crowd. He goes first, naming the outrageousness, upsetting the order that isn’t really order after all.

He goes first, to the cross.

First, to the tomb.

We prepare the way for him, so that he can make a way for us to march for our very lives.[2]

He shows us that anticipating the new life of resurrection is the one sane choice in the midst of a crazy system that can expect only death and the grave.

He teaches us to demand resurrection, at the very moment it would seem that death has won. And then he invites us to step into that resurrection and keep going, because resurrection alone was never the end of the story anyway.

Those high school kids whose names and pictures were carried through the crowd last Saturday had lives to live – lives cut short on the first of this 40 days’ journey we have been privileged to share. The young people who carried them have lives now shaped forever by what they witnessed.

They are asking for the freedom to live their lives.

They are insisting upon hope.

They are demanding resurrection.




[2] Thanks to Karoline Lewis for this commentary, pieces of which are threaded throughout this sermon.