Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sermon from April 24, 2011; John 20:1-18

Rev. George Miller
John 20:1-18
“Letting Go to Hold On”
April 24, 2011; Easter

It’s Easter; the day in which we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We celebrate what God has done.

We celebrate that death has lost its hold, tears turn into joy and that God, the giver of life, prevails.

…but truth be told, resurrection is complex and difficult to preach.

Why? - Because resurrection is a mystery. It defies any concept of space and time; a reality that no words can fully define.

The meaning of Easter is truly something that is best understood here (point to heart) and not here (point to head).

In the Bible alone there are at least 5 different accounts of the Resurrection given by at least 8 different authors, and none of them match up.

That’s partly due to the fact that each writer wanted to convey a different aspect of what the Resurrection meant to them and to their community.

In Mark, Christ’s resurrection creates terror and amazement. Matthew’s Resurrection is an event that shook the world. Luke tells us that the risen Christ is present when we break bread.

John puts a cool spin on the Resurrection- that it is something we should simply believe in even if we did not see it or do not fully understand it.

During our Bible Study last week, one of the participants felt that John’s resurrection accounts were very personal and unique. I like her take on John.

John, as a writer, is very deliberate in his images and words. We just heard how he tells his version of the Resurrection.

It’s dark. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb. The stone has been rolled away.

Expecting the worst she runs to the disciples. She reports the news. Two of them engage in a running match. The body’s not there.

Mary stands outside. She weeps. She bends. She looks. She sees. She weeps some more. She turns. She talks…

She hears her teacher’s voice: “Mary.”

Thanks to a scarcity of words, John creates a powerful tale of reuniting. Then something happens which has puzzled scholars.

Christ says to Mary “Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to…my God and your God.’”

Why does this puzzle scholars? First, Mary is not sent to proclaim that Christ has been resurrected or that he’ll make future appearances; Mary is sent to say that Christ is ascending to the Father.

Second, Mary is told “Do not hold onto me.” Another way to put this is “Stop clinging to me.”

What does this mean? Why would Christ tell Mary not to hold on?

…I don’t know about you, but I’ve become a reality-show junkie. “America’s Next Top Model”, “Celebrity Apprentice”: guilty pleasures, except for one show called “Hoarders.”

“Hoarders” is about people whose homes are filled with things they can’t let go of. For example, one young man who was afraid that if threw out an item, like a water bottle his mother gave him, that it meant he did not love her anymore.

I could understand his rational. Because so many people in my life have died I too can hold onto things, be it emotional or physical.

As an example, for years I’ve had in my dresser draw a little black book that belonged to my Grandfather George, who died when I was around 5.

After watching this particular episode of “Hoarders” I came across Grandpa’s black book. I read it, at first thinking it was a cool bit of family history; soon I realized it was a memento of a very sad life.

One entry was about his father’s death. The following entry was about his sister’s death.

The book was filled with addresses and names of people who were long gone, people I had never known or heard about.

One entry was about meeting my Grandma, whom he adored. But truth be told, she never truly adored him back, marrying him only because she was afraid of being an old maid.

I realized that by holding onto his book I was literally holding onto my Grandpa’s sadness and grief. So I said my goodbyes and put it into the recycle bin.

But by letting go, three things happened.

There was a peace in knowing that somewhere that lifeless paper had been tuned into something usable, perhaps a newspaper or a best seller.

Second, I got to know more about my Grandfather and in a way he feels present and real.

Finally, I feel as if he is free; his grief has been released into the world and transformed into something else, I know not what.

By holding onto that book, it stayed dead, by letting go, life prevailed.

I think this is part of what John’s Jesus is trying to say to Mary Magdalene.

John’s Gospel embraces Jesus ascending back to God; after all, it is John who starts his Gospel by saying “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…”

So it makes sense that John would want to see the Word return to God; it becomes yet another way in which Christ is glorified.

But what did this ascension, this return to God do? It accomplished a few things.

First, by ascending to God, Christ created a space that allowed the disciples to be united by a common bond, in which they shared an intimate, spiritual relationship with Christ, in which physical contact was no longer needed.

Second, by ascending to God, Christ created a space for the Holy Spirit to enter in, so that everyone can experience God in new, unexpected ways.

So that we can embrace our gifts, remember what Jesus taught and do our part in reflecting God’s love to the world.

Finally, by ascending to God, Christ went ahead to prepare; to prepare a place for you and for I;

to ensure that each of us has a heavenly destination to return to when our earthly time has come to its conclusion.

None of these things could happen if Mary Magdalene held on to and clung to Christ. For to have clung onto would not have been an act of faith or an act of trust.

To cling onto is to want that person or that thing all to yourself, believing you can only feel that way or remember that joy if you smother it, suppress it, and control it.

But the Good News could not be smothered; it could not be controlled or clutched onto like a guarded gem.

The news of Christ was meant to be given flight and shared unselfishly with the world, giving new life, fresh beginnings and freedom from fears.

In conclusion, when the risen Christ appeared to Mary she became the first to pronounce the Good News.

She who felt his absence at the tomb was the first to see how God defeated death’s hold.

She who was the first to try and hold on became the first to learn how to let go.

One thing we can learn from John’s Gospel is that when we have an encounter with the Risen Christ, we can let go, announcing to the world that in the one who was crucified, resurrected and ascended:

Good returns to good
Love returns to love
life returns to the source of life
and God ultimately prevails.

Happy and joyous Easter to all and blessings be to our Heavenly Parent, the Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen and amen.

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