Read the Gospel text here: St. John 20:1-18
Just One More Surprise - Easter Sermon 2011
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! It had been a terrifying week for the followers of Jesus. He had entered Jerusalem in triumph and they all expected that the time had finally come – Jesus was finally going to reveal himself as the victorious Messiah. All Jesus’ followers were primed and ready to begin the revolution. But Jesus had withdrawn and had not followed through. What a disappointment! As time passed, the disciples and the crowds began to get frustrated and angry. What kind of Messiah is this, they wondered? By the middle of the week almost everyone had turned against him. Even Jesus’ closest disciples were grumbling and one, Judas, had begun to make plans to turn Jesus over to the authorities. Betrayal was in the air. And it was all because Jesus just didn’t seem to understand what was expected of him. Jesus just didn’t seem to understand what it meant to be the Messiah. Jesus’ refusal to fulfill his expected role was a surprise to his followers - a disappointing surprise!
But the surprises had only just begun. The disciples all met in a secret place for the last time in order to share a meal together. Jesus then surprised everyone when he washed his disciples’ feet – all of them – one after another! What kind of Messiah washes feet? That is a job for servants and slaves. Jesus then talked about love and service and commitment! Jesus then shared bread and wine – but with a surprising twist – the bread is my body, broken for you (he said); the wine is my blood, shed for you. The disciples were confused. They didn’t understand. This is not what was expected. Then they went out to the garden, and there Judas had arrived leading a group of soldiers to arrest Jesus. Now it begins! Finally the time has come when Jesus will reveal himself as the triumphant and victorious Messiah. Peter drew his sword and attacked. YES here we go! But, Jesus rebuked him – put away your sword! He said. WHAT?! What a surprise! What a disappointing surprise! Jesus arrested, then tried, condemned and crucified like a common criminal. This is definitely not what was expected. This was a horrible surprise. In fear and confusion and terror the disciples stayed hidden in a secret place in Jerusalem, not knowing what to do.
A day later, the Feast of Passover came to an end and on that day the women, who had been followers of Jesus, got up early in the morning and went to the tomb where Joseph of Arimethea had had Jesus buried. They intended to anoint the burial with oils and spices for burial, as was their custom. But when they arrived, the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Mary ran back to bring the news to the disciples. Peter and John raced to the tomb. Sure enough, he was not there! What kind of twist is this – what a surprise! Now what? They rushed back to the rest of the group leaving Mary there crying. This whole week has been just one surprise after another. This whole week has not turned out as was expected at all. Jesus was the Messiah - they all knew that – but he refused to act like the Messiah was supposed to act. Jesus was the Son of God, but the Son of God was crucified as a common criminal. And now Jesus’ body was supposed to be in the tomb, but it was missing.
Expectations and Surprises! That is what this Easter story is all about: Our expectations and God’s surprises! We all have lots of expectations of how the world is supposed to work, don’t we? And we take these expectations into all of our relationships, including our relationship with God. We have developed expectations of how we think God is supposed to act or what God’s opinion of this and that is supposed to be. We assume that God is always on our side and that our priorities are God’s priorities. We try to fit God into our box and we try to manipulate God. There are so many voices in our society that like to claim they know the mind of God; there are so many who think they need to defend God (as if the God who created the universe needed defending!) This is God’s position on this or that, they say; God is a republican or democrat or libertarian or tea party member; God acts like this; if you don’t do this or act like this or think like we think or have our priorities then God won’t love youz! We all are guilty of this. We’re all guilty of reducing God to our own size through our expectations.
Perhaps we don’t want to admit or to see that God is a God of surprises. Perhaps it is too threatening or it makes us too insecure and uncertain. But God will not be limited by our expectations. The Old Testament is filled with surprises. God simply refuses to act the way the Israelites think God is supposed to act. But, Jesus is God’s ultimate surprise. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, John tells us in chapter 1. God himself becomes en-fleshed; God moves in with us and lives among us! What a surprise that is! Do you mean to say that God is not off in the distance watching us impassively from above? Yes, that is exactly what John tells us in no uncertain terms in the Gospel. God is not to be found way off in the distance. Rather, God is right here with us, in our midst. Through Jesus, God enters into all human experiences. Through Jesus, God feels loss and grief, God mourns, God loves, God rejoices, God even laughs – all though Jesus. What a wonderful surprise that is! There is nothing that can befall us that God has not entered into through Jesus; and there is nothing can befall us that God can’t transform and redeem. For the ultimate surprise is the surprise we celebrate today on Easter: Christ is not in the tomb, where he’s supposed to be. Christ is Risen! Death is overcome; the darkness is defeated and light and life are victorious.
So, let’s get back to our story. We left Mary standing weeping outside of the tomb. Someone moves in beside her and she starts blabbering on about how they expected to find the body and now it’s gone and what are they going to do, and where did you move it to….. Mary – says Jesus gently. Surprise!
What about us? Life does not always proceed the way we expect does it? Life is filled with missed opportunities, the grind and monotony of work, failed relationships, destruction caused by substance abuse, broken hearts, disappointed dreams, grief and loss and we could go on and on. We expect this to some extent, don’t we? I mean, that is what life is like. We expect that there is nothing that can be done about it. That’s just the way it is. But Jesus is standing there besides us as we are going on and on like Mary, and then he gently speaks a name – your name. And in that moment we realize that the risen Christ is with us in the midst of our lives – and that no matter what Christ will never abandon us. In that moment the surprise of resurrection comes to us. The Easter proclamation – Christ is risen – He is Risen indeed is a joyous and, indeed, a giddy affirmation that God is full of surprises! Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed – Surprise!!!!
The title of this sermon is Just one more surprise. Some of you might recognize that line it comes from the beautiful and popular hymn “Borning Cry.” This has become John Ylvisaker’s best known and most loved hymn. I think it is easy to see why it’s so popular. The hymn begins with birth and baptism and goes through all the stages of life affirming Christ’s presence all along the way: childhood, young adult, marriage, middle age. And then the hymn concludes with these words: When the evening gently closes in, and you shut your weary eyes, I'll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise."
Christ is risen – He is Risen Indeed – Surprise!
See this beautifully created music video by Wolfie Productions: