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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

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The Risen Christ Says Yes

John 20:1-18 (The Message)

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

A common principle in mysticism and spiritual teaching across religions is that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no.

We see only what we choose to see, consciously or subconsciously. We can’t say yes to everything; after all; there is simply too much stuff in the world for us to absorb and comprehend it all. Saying no is our brain’s way to avoid overstimulation. Think of it like a camera lens. When there is too much light on the subject that you are shooting with a camera, the lens aperture must restrict. So too, our brains restrict the input of our senses to allow only that which we already think we know, expect, and understand.

Any posture of humility must begin with an awareness that things exist even if we don’t see, know, expect, or understand them. If we are closed off to new possibilities, insights, or realities, we are no different than the baby boy who is confident his father is really gone when his face disappears behind his hands during a game of peek-a-boo.

“We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see. If we start with no, we usually get some form of no in return. If we start with yes, we are much more likely to get a yes back. Once we have learned how to say a fundamental yes, later no’s can be very helpful and are surely necessary. However, beginning with yes is the foundation of mature nonviolence and compassionate action. The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.”*

In the resurrection account from the gospel of John, we see Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple all respond to Christ’s resurrection from a position of no. Mary sees the empty tomb and the only logical reason she can imagine is that Jesus’ body was moved by someone else. Despite Jesus’ repeated announcements that he would die and rise after three days, Mary’s brain could not even begin to entertain the idea that what Jesus had said was even a possibility. Likely she and the disciples hadn’t heard him say this at all – their spiritual aperture was too restricted to let that in.

Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb to witness its emptiness and John says the beloved disciple “went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? That Jesus was raised from the dead? No, because the scripture continues, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:9). The beloved disciple’s belief is not in the good news of the resurrection; rather, he believes that Mary wasn’t lying…Jesus’ body is in fact, gone. That is the extent of the bewildering scenario that he can process because he “did not understand.”

The great good news is that the Christ’s yes is able to break through their nos. No amount of denial or unbelief from the disciples would be able to negate the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Christ didn’t postpone his resurrection until people believed. Christ was and will forever be resurrected, regardless of whether our response to this good news is yes or no.

Despite starting with a no, something in the deepest depths of Mary’s mind wouldn’t let her walk away from the mystery of the empty tomb. Her spiritual aperture was opened just wide enough to allow one word from the gardener into her heart. “Mary,” he said. And with that one word her no became a yes.

It wasn’t just any word…it was her name. Not a judgy, dismissive, or frustrated use of her name; rather it was her name wrapped in the vocal inflection of loving invitation. Anytime someone who loves you utters your name, it is an invitation to deeper and more intimate relationship.

Have you ever lovingly uttered the name of someone whose posture is no instead of yes? It’s terribly difficult, but when it’s wrapped in the language of loving invitation, it is absolutely disarming.

On my best days as a parent this is how I respond when my kids’ behavior requires intervention. If they’re acting up, I have much more success in reaching them with a loving, calm, and inviting uttering of their names. When their emotions and volume increase, I find it best to respond with calm and quiet; invitation, never exclusion.

Of course, not all of my days are my best days as a parent. Sometimes I respond to their no with a louder and more demonstrative no of my own. However, I can’t remember a time when I responded that way and thought to myself, “Well done. That took a lot of courage to stand up to a 7 year old like that…you sure put him in his place. I’m sure he has newfound love and appreciation for you after that.”

Invitation over exclusion. Holding open over closing. Yes over no. Life over death. All of this can be communicated to someone simply in the way you say their name.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to say someone’s name in a new, more open and inviting way.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to hear God calling to you in a new, more open and inviting way – a way that can turn your no into a yes.

Your yes will open your aperture will be opened to allow the fullness of God’s glory to make its way into your heart and mind. Once we have learned how to say yes to the God of unconditional love we will start to see it everywhere.

Remember, the Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.

And so we respond with the Hebrew word for yes: Amen.

* Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, “Beginning with Yes.” August 12, 2016

I Loved You Already

John 8:23-30

He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

One of those Nicorette commercials caught my attention the other day. You know the ones for nicotine gum or patches or pills that help people quit smoking. They have some real-life former smokers tell stories about why they finally decided to kick the habit. There’s one where a guy misses his kid’s game-winning basketball shot because he had to run outside for a smoke. There’s another one where a woman realized how crazy it was that she found herself hoofing it through a snowstorm, just for another cigarette. And there’s one where a young, new dad is on the floor playing with his baby girl. They all describe their respective “aha” moments as their own, personal “why” that convinced them, finally, to quit smoking.

And the tag-line at the end of each commercial suggests that “every great why, needs a great how.” “Every great why, needs a great how.”

I think there’s some truth to that – especially if you’re looking for a nicotine replacement therapy. And I think it applies to our spiritual life, too, in some ways... “Every great why, needs a great how.”

But when it comes to Good Friday and all that brings us here, we focus too much on “how” too much of the time, if you ask me. For lots of reasons, we are captivated and fascinated by the “how” of this night. I’m always glad for and impressed and surprised, frankly, year after year by the turnout we have for Good Friday worship, this occasion where we gather very deliberately to get as close to death as most of us are comfortable getting – unless or until we have to, anyway.

Now, I imagine the reasons that draw us here – like everything else – are as varied as are the people in the room, and a lot of that has to do with the “how” of Jesus’ crucifixion. And I’m right there with you. Many of you know I love a good, gory - preferably true - crime story, as much as the next guy. My wife and kids are a little creeped out by my Netflix history, to be honest, which includes a lot of that sort of thing: Making a Murderer, Abduction in Plain Sight, The Keepers. That new Ted Bundy documentary is fantastic, by the way.

And the “how” of tonight is like a lot of that – blood and guts and gore, I mean. We’ll hear again about the whips and the thorns and the spit and the screaming. And we can get carried away with all of it, if we’re not careful. (I read a story just this week about a youth pastor in an Ohio suburb who encouraged his high school students to spit on him, whip him, and even cut his back with a knife as a Holy Week exercise. And the senior pastor watched it all happen, before some wise and frightened parents stepped in to stop it!) Like I said, we can get a little carried away with the “how” of what happened to Jesus at his crucifixion.

But what’s more important tonight for a million reasons… the thing that matters for God, in Jesus… isn’t so much the “how” of all of this, as it is the “why.”

Because, honestly, if you’ve been around awhile – or if your Netflix history looks anything like mine – you know that crucifixion, as horrible as it was for Jesus and others who suffered it, might not even be the worst way to go. I’d have a hard time convincing a holocaust victim of the concentration camps and gas chambers that their suffering was preferable to what Jesus endured. I’d have a hard time explaining to a black boy in America’s Jim Crow, 1950’s south that his lynching was any easier than a crucifixion in 1st century Palestine. And I’ve even heard people wonder if the long, slow, painful death march of a loved-one’s cancer or Alzheimer’s disease wasn’t as ugly and painful and twisted a way to die as anything the Romans might have come up with.

So it can’t be the how that matters or captivates our imagination in all of this. The “how” of tonight isn’t the point, so much as the “why” that brings us here. So, in the case of Jesus and all that compels us to call this fateful Friday “good” – the “how” we’ll hear about in a moment better come with a pretty darn good “why.”

And it does. And some of you won’t be surprised to know it all comes down to this thing we call grace, around here.

The “why” that drove God, in Jesus, to the Cross of Good Friday is that God already loved the world and that God already loved us – way back when.

And that’s something we can’t here too much or be reminded of often enough.

I think if we were to ask Jesus about his “why,” on that first Good Friday, he might have said, “Because I love you, already.” God’s promise and proclamation, in Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t some cosmic guilt-trip meant to coerce our obedience; it wasn’t some kind of tit-for-tat transaction; it wasn’t some sadistic sideshow of suffering where God said “look what I’ve done for you, you better shape up, or else.”

It was nothing less than the heart of God, burdened by the brokenness and corruption and ugliness and injustice and inequity and greed and sin of the world’s people – the children of God whom God already loved. God’s heart broke – Jesus died – because God already loved us – not because God was trying to make us love him back.

It’s something I’ve recently started trying to say to my boys on a regular basis – “I love you already” – and something I think we all need to hear more frequently than we do, on behalf of our creator. “I loved you already.”

“I loved you already.” Before you won the game. Before you passed the test. Before the grades were posted. “I loved you already.”

“I loved you already.” Before that sin. Before your confession. Before you felt the forgiveness, even. “I loved you already.”

“I loved you already.” Before the addiction. Before the divorce. Before you lost the job.

“I loved you already.” Before the infidelity. Before you stopped coming to church. Before you started coming back.

And I think this is the simple, sweet, sacred message of God’s act, in Jesus, on Good Friday. Why? Why all of this darkness, despair and dying? “Because I loved you already.”

“I loved you already,” even though you can’t understand it; or wrap your brain around it; or possibly ever live up to it.

“I loved you already,” and there’s nothing you can do but marvel at it; be humbled by and grateful for the truth of it.

“I loved you already – and so much – that it killed me.”

“I loved you already – and so much – that I died for your sake and for the sake of the world.”

“I loved you already. And, come Sunday you’ll see, I love you still, and will forever.”


All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.