by Jason Micheli
John 20.1-18 (click to see Scripture text)
Everything Broken Will Be Mended
Last week the NY Times ran a story about the chaplains— rabbis and pastors and priests— rushing to care for the sick and the dying in hospitals overrun by the COVID- contagion.
Chaplains told the reporter that the Covid-19 pandemic was unlike anything they had seen before in the intensity of the sickness, the speed at which it can lay a person low, and the sheer number of deaths. Chaplain Walker, a veteran of the Persian Gulf, told the reporter that the pandemic reminds him of serving in the war — “except,” he said, “I’m closer to Death now than I was on the very front lines of combat…“Yesterday I was told, ‘Go to this unit — they had four deaths.’ Then it was, ‘Go to this unit — they had three deaths.’”
One rabbi who ministers at a facility in Queens, “the epicenter of the epicenter,” told the reporter, “I come in on the weekend, because I couldn’t say to God, ‘I didn’t come in, because I don’t get paid on Saturday.’
“It’s not just that they’re working flat-out,” a nurse commented on the chaplains’ work, “It’s that they are working flat-out knowing that doing so puts them and their own families at risk.”
“Few run toward the dying. Even fewer run toward the contagious,” Chaplain Walker observed. “It’s not natural to go racing toward someone or something that is trying to kill you.”
Few run toward the dying.
Even fewer run toward the contagious.
I read that quote— during Holy Week, no less— and it struck me how there is no better summary of the story of Jesus Christ. From incarnation to cross, Almighty God puts on flesh and runs towards us who are sick with Sin and Death.
The chaplain is right.
Such “love,” is not natural.
It’s, literally, a revelation.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Jesus said two weeks ago to Martha, the sister of Lazarus who’d been dead four days.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” Jesus says to the grief-stricken Martha right before he asks her— almost as an afterthought, “Do you believe this?”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life…even though you’ll die yet will you live…do you believe this?” Jesus asks Martha. And Martha, her eyes salty and pink with tears and voice hoarse from rage, replies, ‘Yes, I believe.”
But probably— Let’s be honest, probably she wants to say, “No.”
No, I do not believe.
No, it’s too hard to believe.
No, it’s too easy to believe— it’s foolish and silly to believe in the Resurrection and Life.
After all, by the time Jesus decides to show up, her brother Lazarus is four days dead.
And he didn’t have to be.
His was an unnecessary death.
When Lazarus first fell ill, Martha had sent word to Jesus, “Your friend whom you love is ill. Do something. Help.”
But for whatever reason, the warning was ignored. There was an unnecessary and fatal delay.
By the time Jesus shows up it’s too late and, by Martha’s estimation, it’s every bit unnecessary. It didn’t need to end the way it did, “Lord, if you had been here,” Martha spits at Jesus, “he wouldn’t be dead.”
In other words, It’s your fault, Jesus. It’s your fault, Lord.
To Jesus’ question about the Resurrection, Martha says “Yes, I believe” but I’m willing to be she felt like saying, “No.”
Scripture calls it the Enemy for a reason.
It’s really hard to believe. In the face of Death.
We don’t know the why or the how of Lazarus’ death.
We just know it didn’t have to be.
“Why didn’t you do anything, Jesus?! Why didn’t you stop it?!” Martha asks and, I’m willing to bet, she poked Jesus in the chest or, even, slapped Him across the face.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life…Do you believe this?” Jesus asks her, and her mouth says, “Yes,” but her heart?
“Do you believe this?”
Do you? Do you?
All of us this Easter, all of us around the world— we’re all Martha today.
Some of you’d say “Yes, I believe,” but really if you’re honest the answer is “No.”
For others of you the answer is. “No.”
You don’t believe. You don’t believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and Life, but, God, you want the answer to be “Yes.”
You don’t want Death to have the last word, but….
And still others of you want to have a Martha-like, angry word with Jesus, “Why didn’t you do anything, Jesus!?”
The “yes” on Martha’s lips. The “no” on her grief, heavy heart. The righteous anger in her throat and in her eyes.
We’re all somewhere in between this Easter.
We’re all Martha.
I’ve presided over enough funerals to know what it’s like to feel that the answer is “No.”
“No, I don’t believe.”
I have no idea who is gathered with us online this Easter.
So, I can’t speak for you, but I can say that Jesus of Nazareth was only one of tens of thousands crucified by Rome, all of whose names are unknown to us.
And, I can tell you that the Jewish people to which Jesus belonged did not have as a part of their religion a belief in the resurrection of a single man.
Take those two facts together, and I am convinced that had God not raised Him from the dead, we never would have heard of Jesus Christ.
So, despite how often the Power of the Enemy, Sin and Death, have tempted me to doubt it, I can testify to you that I believe. Yes, He’s the Resurrection and the Life.
And we’re meant to see in the Gospel lesson for Easter that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Life of us all.
Mary Magdalene, who’s come to the garden tomb to mourn, mistakes the Risen Jesus for the gardener because Resurrection and Life are not in any way her expectation.
She mistakes Him for the gardener.
Gardener is the job Adam was given by God to do in Eden, which is to say, this Risen Jesus— He is what we’re meant to be.
He is who we will become.
What God does with Him, God will do with us all.
His Resurrection is but the first fruit of a creation-wide, cosmic garden God is sowing.
When she realizes it’s really Him, she grabs ahold of Him. In her hands she clasps His scarred hands. Notice— His scars are still there. In His hands and His feet and His side. He still bears His scars.
The life He lived hasn’t vanished; it’s been vindicated.
The Risen Jesus still is the Crucified Jesus.
He is who He was.
That Mary mistakes Him for the gardener, what Adam was meant to be; that He still bears His scars and His wounds, reveals what Christians mean by that word, “Resurrection.”
Namely, this world and this life— it matters.
It matters to Almighty God.
Any kind of thinking or religion or piety or spirituality, that suggests our ultimate destination is an evacuation from this world has nothing to do with Christianity, nothing to do with Resurrection.
Mary mistakes Him for the gardener; therefore, Resurrection means that God has not abandoned the garden that he planted.
God didn’t send the ghost of Jesus back to the world to say, “Don’t worry… after you die, you’ll be OK.”
No, God Resurrected Jesus.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us something about what God has planned for the world, what God has planned for us. God plans to restore THIS world.
The Risen Christ still bears the scars life gave Him; therefore, Resurrection means that God is not interested in throwing out this world and moving on to something else, somewhere else.
If that were the case, why on earth go to the trouble of raising Jesus’ body from the dead? And not just Him, but God raised Him as the first fruit of God raising us all.
God didn’t say, “It’s enough for Jesus to come home to heaven now that He’s died.”
God raised Jesus from the dead.
Therefore, Resurrection means this world that God made matters.
Resurrection means that this world, this life— our hopes, our longings, our pain, our work, our choices, our relationships, our emotions, our bodies—
Literally, everything, it all matters.
Every fishing trip, every Opening Day, every dinner around the table, every hurt for which you’ve sought forgiveness.
It all matters.
Every concert. Every walk along the beach. Every date night in the city.
All of it matters.
All of it. Every bit of it.
All of your loved ones and every bit of your life with them.
It all matters.
It all matters to God.
When folks come to me to plan a funeral for a family member, they always want to tell me how they want the service to be a “Celebration of Life.”
I hate that language.
I hate it because it doesn’t lift the luggage.
For one, it compels us to be dishonest.
It temps us to lie and ignore our feelings of grief and confusion.
It forces us to ignore the fact that not every part of our lives is a cause for joy. For another, I hate that “celebration of life” language, because it doesn’t go far enough in the celebration.
We’re not celebrating a life that’s now lost, now past, alive only in our ability to remember it.
No, the Christian hope is different and better than the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
A funeral is a Celebration of Resurrection.
We’re not celebrating a life that’s now lost, now past, alive only in our memory of it. We’re celebrating a life that God is determined to recover, a life that is now present to God and will be future, will live again.
Mary mistakes Him for the gardener. He still bears the holes in His hands.
Resurrection means God doesn’t scrap Creation. God doesn’t throw things out.
Resurrection means that even if we forsake our life, God does not forsake us.
Resurrection means God will reclaim everything, redeem everything, renew everything, heal everyone.
Belinda Carlisle was right; she just got the tense of her verbs wrong.
Heaven will be a place on Earth, a New Earth— a New Creation— and nothing will be lost, nothing will be forgotten, no one will be forsaken, everything broken will be mended.
Every wound will be healed and the scars that remain do so only to remind us that all of it, all of our lives, are a gift.
He never stops running towards the dying and contagious, for the Risen One will return and make all things news.
Resurrection means that in the end, God gets what God wants.
And what God wants is each of every creature that God has made and God has loved and God has called very good.
“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus asks.
I realize occasions like Easter draw all sorts of people from all kinds of places. I can’t make assumptions about you or what you believe.
But Christians are those people who trust the “Yes” even when we feel the answer’s “No.”
Christians are the people who dare to live beautiful and complicated lives, lives of forgiveness and mercy and inconvenient love, lives that run towards the dying and contagious, lives that make no sense if the answer to Jesus’ question is not “Yes.”
Christians are the people who live as though we will live on—as Jesus lives on—as the unique and unrepeatable persons we have been since the moment of our conception.
Live on—body and soul glorified—as it was with Jesus in the Garden—the first fruits of the Resurrection—able to be touched and held, seen and heard.
Christians are those who believe we are not ghosts in machines that go back to being ghosts, nor are we mere material that becomes “one” again with the rest of Creation.
Christianity is not spirituality.
The Christian hope is particular, personal, and unapologetically material.
We are destined for eternal embodied existence, where all the things that made us who we are as one-of-a-kind divine image bearers—laughter, courage, generosity, brilliant thoughts and selfless deeds, skin and bones—will inhabit individual bodies that have something resembling hands and feet and fingerprints and nucleic acids.
All made alive again forever—somehow—redeemed by the humble power of God’s love.
Christians believe that God keeps all the information of us and all the mystery about us, and that the God who created everything from nothing knows how to raise us from Death.
That’s our hope.
That’s what we mean by Jesus being “the Resurrection and the Life.”
Do you believe this?
Funny thing is, even if you don’t, it doesn’t change what God’s going to do.
Because if ‘Resurrection’ is shorthand for anything, it’s shorthand for God being faithful to us.
Each of us. Every one of us. All of us.
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.
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.