Message for Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
Glennon Heights Mennonite Church
Betsy Headrick McCrae
Scripture passage: John 20:1-18
Nothing between us
Our Lenten theme these past weeks has been “Between Me (God) and You.”
We’ve talked about barriers – those things, often of our own making – that come between
us and God. We talked about covenant – God’s promise to stay in close and loving
relationship with humankind. We observed God’s surprising willingness to renegotiate
this covenant rather than to throw in the towel as circumstances change.
First there was the covenant with Noah after the flood: “I am establishing my
covenant with you and your descendants after you,” God says to Noah, “and with every
living creature that is with you. The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy
all flesh” (Genesis 9:9-10). Even if things again get very bad, God says, I will not
destroy you. I commit to sticking with you no matter what.
Then there was the covenant with Abraham and Sarah: “I will make you
exceedingly fruitful,” God says to them. “I will establish my covenant between me and
you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations” (Genesis 17:6-7). This
time God asked for reciprocity: All males were to be circumcised as a sign of the
covenant between God and the people. Let’s see your commitment in the flesh. Ouch!
We talked about the rules – the Ten Commandments – which were put in place to
help the people of Israel live into their covenant with God. And we talked about how
easy it is to break or ignore or undermine these rules. We human beings don’t hold up
our end of the covenant. We go our own way. We erect barriers. We choose to live in
darkness rather than in light.
But even then God sticks with us. God takes stock of the situation and makes an
adjustment. God tries again. “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will
make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law
within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be
my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the
LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the
LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah
Which bring us to Jesus. God tried a new tack. Understanding that we human
beings come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the unique and ordinary,
not the other way around, God chose to come to us in the unique and the ordinary, in the
human person of Jesus. Someone just like us who we could relate to. In Jesus, we see
God revealed in everyday life. We learn to know God up close and personal. We are
taught by words and example what God requires. We are brought into a relationship
where there are no barriers. A new covenant begins to be established: Our hearts are
opened and we “Know the Lord.”
This is challenging, of course. Knowing God takes us into uncomfortable
territory. Like betrayal, denial, rejection, torture and horrible death. “This is my body
broken for you,” Jesus says as he anticipates his death. “This is your new covenant with
God, sealed with my blood.” Broken bodies, spilled blood – these painful, horrible parts
of our collective human experience are included in this new covenant. They, too, are
recognized and held by God. They are not outside of God’s care and compassion. In
fact, they are often where God’s love for us is most obvious, most powerful and lifechanging.
Franciscan Richard Rohr writes: “Many of the happiest and most authentic
people I know love a God who walks with crucified people and thus reveals and
‘redeems’ their plight as God’s own. For them, God is not observing human suffering
from a distance but is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. Jesus takes on our
suffering, bears it, and moves through it to resurrection.”
That’s where we are today – at resurrection! Alleluia! Christ is no longer dead;
he is risen! We know this. However, as Mary Magdalene approaches the tomb that first
Easter morning, her heart is not singing. Far from it. She is still preoccupied with
barriers. Unsurmountable barriers. Death is one – she saw Jesus suffer and die on the
cross. Dead is dead. Definitely a barrier. The large, heavy stone rolled in front of the
tomb where his body lies is another barrier. She doesn’t expect either of these barriers to
be removed. How could they be? She just needs to be there, in that place, near where
Jesus’ body lies. Near to him one last time. She needs to grieve. That is what this early
morning trip to the graveyard is all about.
So when she turns the corner and sees that the stone has been rolled away from
the tomb she is caught by surprise, the kind of surprise which makes you run the other
way because it is so utterly impossible and unexpected. She jumps to conclusions:
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid
him,” she tells the disciples, catching her breath. We don’t even have his body anymore!
Another barrier erected. The disciples run back to the tomb with her and corroborate
what she has seen. Yes, it’s true: Jesus’ body is definitely not there.
Now aren’t you a bit perplexed by the apparent equanimity of the disciples in the
face of this momentous development? They see that the tomb is indeed empty, and then
they turn around and return to their homes. I think I’d be a bit more like Mary. Too
upset and nervous to be anywhere but right there, in that place, in the middle of the
mystery, trying to figure out how to cross this new barrier and find out what happened.
How distressing it all is. She is weeping, which is also something I can identify with.
In her anxiety she finally bends down and looks into the tomb herself. She sees
two angels who are seated there where Jesus’ body had lain. Aha! Maybe they know
what happened. Where were they went the disciples looked in? The angels speak to
Mary: “Woman, why are you weeping?” She replies, “They have taken the Lord out of
the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” But before that conversation
can go any further, her attention is caught by movement behind her. It’s the gardener,
she thinks. Surely he will know what’s going on. He, too, asks her why she is weeping.
“Who are you looking for?” he says. Mary makes her appeal: “Sir, if you have carried
him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Oh, please, don’t
let this final barrier of loss and uncertainty stand between me and the body of the one I
have loved. I want to know where he is.
Then Jesus – for it is Jesus – calls her by name. “Mary,” he says. Just that:
“Mary.” It’s an intimate gesture. An act of familiarity. Her eyes fly open. All the
barriers come tumbling down. Her whole body fills with joy! “Rabbouni!” she cries out
in response. Rabbouni is an Aramaic word, a very personal form of address, a term of
endearment. My beloved teacher! It is you! She reaches out to touch him but he says,
“Don’t hold onto me. Instead go and tell my brothers, ‘I am ascending to my Father and
your Father, to my God and your God.'” Tell them that I am alive and that our
relationship, your relationship with God continues.
In fact, the relationship not only continues but it expands. We, as Jesus’ followers
are drawn into ever closer relationship with God. Jesus’ resurrected assent to God makes
permanent that which was reveled about God during the incarnation. The love of God
embodied in Jesus was not of temporary duration, lasting only as long as his earthy life.
Rather, the truth of Jesus’ revelation of God receives its final seal in his return to God. It
forever changes for us the way God is known.
The ascension of the resurrected Jesus is the confirmation that the believing
community – those who follow him – now know God as Jesus knows God. Jesus has
opened up the possibility of a new and full relationship with God. Iniquities are forgiven
and sins are remembered no more. The intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the
Father, now marks the believing community’s relationship with God. We are drawn into
God’s family, into a relationship that cannot be severed, no matter what. All barriers are
gone. There is nothing between us. No matter what may happen – betrayal, pain and
even death – we are ultimately and eternally safe and secure in God’s everlasting arms.
I’d like to share with you some words from the Goshen College Lenten devotions.
Professor Andrew Hartzler reflected on the theme, “Nothing between us.” He writes:
”Experiencing the reality of God’s presence with us, the Holy Spirit in and among
us, is a result of Christ shattering the barriers between our human existence and the
presence of the Living God. This is a powerful truth. However for us to experience the
peace that passes all understanding, we must engage in an active pursuit of God’s
presence. Becoming aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit amidst the ups and downs,
joys and sorrows and chaos around us requires a daily resolution to seek and find God.
”One of my favorite writers,” he says, “is Sarah Young. She frames some of this
daily conversation with the Holy Spirit in her devotional book entitled ‘Jesus Calling.’
The following are some of her thoughts:
I (Christ) reside in the deepest depths of your being, in eternal union with
your spirit. You need Me every moment. Your awareness of your need
for Me is your greatest strength. Your inadequacy presents you with a
constant choice – deep dependence on Me or despair.
“Let us not despair,” Prof. Hartzler continues, “knowing that Christ has overcome
the world, and has paved the way for us to encounter the spirit of the Living God. Praise
be to God!”
Sisters and brothers, the message of Easter is loud and clear: God remains in covenant
with us. We have been drawn even closer in. We are now part of the family. There are
no barriers between us. With the Apostle Paul we can confidently say that we are
“convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will
be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
This is the truth and it can be trusted. We are leaning on and encircled by God’s
Message for Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018