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A Good Enough Faith

“A Good Enough Faith” - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

April 17, 2022 - Easter Sunday - Cobleskill United Methodist Church

John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

While it was still dark, she came to the tomb. The sun had not yet come out and Mary found herself drawn to the tomb to be near the body of her beloved teacher. The tomb was not as she expected though; it was opened. And so she ran for the others. They came. The looked inside and all that they saw were the empty wrappings that had held the body of their Lord. Jesus was not there. The men left. But Mary stayed, in the dark. And she wept. Wasn’t the trauma of watching her friend and teacher be murdered enough? Why did they have to endure this grave vandalism? When would the pain end? Why did the tragedies feel like they were too much to bear?

And then a voice came. Woman, why are you weeping? She sees two angels in the darkness where the others had only seen emptiness. Woman, why are you weeping? they ask her. Now if I had been Mary, my first thought would have naturally been the normal shock and fear any one has at seeing two angels sitting in an empty tomb, but my second thought would have been, wait a second…. Did you seriously just ask me, in the midst of all of this tragedy, why I am weeping? Was this the equivalent of a “don’t worry be happy” card sent to someone in the midst of a really terribly thing?

The truth is, probably not. Because moments later the question comes again, but not from the angels, but from a man that in the shadows of the early dawn looks a lot like a gardener. He asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And it strikes me that maybe this question wasn’t so much of an accusation or a brushing off of genuine sadness, but instead more of an invitation. Woman, what is it about this dark and empty tomb that makes you sad? What is the thing behind the thing?

So why was Mary weeping? Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene knew Jesus not just as a Messiah and a teacher, but as a healer. That he released her from seven evil spirits that held her captive. Mary was weeping because Jesus didn’t see her like other people had seen her. He was the first person to ever see her as a whole person, not just the crazy lady. Mary was weeping because Jesus could say her name, Mary, and it would be a complete sentence.

And now his body was gone and she didn’t yet know why. “They’ve taken him away,” she pleads to this gardener, “and I don’t know where they’ve laid him.” Wasn’t it enough that they took his life? They’ve taken his body away. They’ve taken love away. They’ve taken hope away. They’ve taken human dignity away. They’ve taken the one who completes her away.

This is why Mary wept. She came to the tomb in the darkness because she was comfortable walking in the dark. When Jesus came to her in here season of struggling he had given her the confidence to see God in the midst of dark times. Jesus had taught her that it is in the hardest of times that God shows up. In our illnesses, in our torments, in our grief, in our human pain, in our fear of violence, in the midst of war, in the isolation of a pandemic.

Mary wept because she it had taken Jesus dying for her to realize just how much he completed her in the midst of her brokenness. It had taken Jesus dying for her to realize that God had been there the whole time. Grief is the price we pay for having loved.

Out of the shadows and silence of the early morning, the Good Gardener spoke again. “Mary.” The name came out of his mouth in a tone of voice that immediately reminded her of the way Jesus used to say her name in a way that made her feel complete. She turned to him and with shock and awe, called him by his name, teacher. The Good Gardener was not there to teach the flowers how to bloom that early morning, he was there to teach her how to see miracles in the dark. And Mary knew at the sound of her name, like a seed planted beneath the ground, that hope could live, even now, even here.

This is a good story, isn’t it? The best story, actually. Beginning with Mary telling the other disciples and then them telling their friends and their friends telling their friends this story has been handed down from generation to generation and here we are reading it today. This year something different about the story stuck out to me; it’s usually something a little different each year. I was thinking about our journey thus far through Lent. How we’ve been trying to balance the tension between the expectations of the world often has of us to be the best and most shiny version of ourselves when in reality we often are often just barely holding it together. And so I read the Easter story this year feeling a little skeptical of how it’s often portrayed as a happy ending story, when real life sorrow and pain that we all know very rarely ends in a happy ending.

I reread the story. I have read this dozens of times and preached several sermons on it, but it had never sunk into me that the entire encounter happens while it is still dark. And in the midst of the confusion and the running back and forth and the weeping, there is Mary Magdalene who sees something in darkness that others either missed or weren’t yet ready to see. Mary, the one who had spent much of her life battling inner demons and dealing with the social isolation that they brought, saw what others had missed in that early morning darkness because she was familiar with the darkness. She had already learned to walk in the dark, see in the dark, and know God in the dark because her life’s pain had given her night vision. She knew what it was like to witness the Resurrection not when the lilies were in full bloom or the sun is burning brightly in the sky, but when life was in its most unclear and bleak moments.

I confess that I don’t understand very much at all about the Resurrection of Jesus and that when Easter comes only two days after the sadness of Good Friday, my eyes are still puffy and salty from the tears. But what I do know is that this amazing story of Mary and her tears and her night vision to see what others missed, tells me all I need to know about the Resurrection. That it didn’t need full sun or even full comprehension for it to still happen. Resurrection hope doesn’t wait for life to be perfect and shiny and all figured out. It doesn’t care about how amazing your Easter outfit is or how delicious your dinner will be. Resurrection hope is the kind of hope that is meant for breaking into life’s darkest moments, saying your name in a way that makes you whole when you never thought it would be possible again. Resurrection hope is the kind of hope that is born while it is still dark, like a seed planted in the earth that waits for its moment to grow.

We spend half of our life in the darkness. Literally, and probably figuratively, too. We all have seasons of grief, disappointment, heartache and illness. Our world cycles through devastating wars and escalations in violence that leave us in despair. Easter is not the happy ending that takes all of that away. But it is the reminder that God knows how to move and work in the dark. That, in fact, God’s best work is done there. Resurrection begins in the dark with one witness who fumbled her way through the shadows of that early morning and told the rest of the world as the sun rose. I don’t need to understand everything to know that that kind of faith is a good enough faith. It will see us through our dark seasons and it will make something new will grow. May it be so for all of us.

Let us pray.

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