Sermons

Little Easter; Rev. Dee Ledger, April 4, 2021

The great Christian proclamation of Easter is that Resurrection happens.

Even today, two thousand and eighteen years after Jesus’ death, it is a lot to take in… Jesus rising from a tomb back then and his ability to rise even now.

So, it is not so very odd if, on a personal level, you wrestle with belief or frequently dispute just how Jesus rose from the dead.

Easter, in some ways, is not about us—it is about God.

It is a proclamation not simply about Jesus, a human Messiah, but about the kind of God and the kind of Messiah that continually proclaims hope from a grave.

And Easter may take a lifetime to believe…especially since Easter and resurrection are not something in which you merely believe, they are something that you practice.  They are something for which you train your eyes, your mind, and your heart to see.

Early that first Easter morn, after Mary reported the heavy stone rolled away from the tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple raced to the tomb to see for themselves and to check out Mary’s story.  What follows is a curious detail that may not, at first, seem significant and yet it was added to our story many, many years ago and then retained.

Peter and that beloved disciple had been running together in tandem, but the other disciple outpaces Peter and gets to the tomb first.

Why does one disciple outrun the other?  And when the beloved disciple arrives, clearly ahead of Peter, why doesn’t he go inside?

It is curious, yes?

I have some friends who train for marathons.  They explain that it takes at least 4-7 months to train for a marathon, even if one has a good base to begin with.  Furthermore, according to one of our runners in the congregation, “training isn’t just about the running.  It is also about getting enough sleep, eating, and drinking enough, stretching, etc.  When you commit to a marathon, you need to commit to really being conscious of all those aspects.”  Unlike a sprint, marathon training is about your body and mind learning to accept a bit of discomfort for a much longer period.”[1]

So, the other disciple may outrun Peter, but he stops short of actually entering the tomb.  He stops short in his discomfort.  And often, so do we.  In our race to resurrection, we often stop short of looking for God in the cavernous spaces of human misery.  Furthermore, we often expect to get to Resurrection without spending any quality time with the God who seems to favor and encourage our perseverance in the life of faith.  One runner explained that, in running a marathon, “the difficulty is finding the time to do the training and balancing priorities.”[2]  Likewise, in the life of faith, our endurance and priorities matter.

Perhaps the beloved disciple’s waiting outside of the tomb was just a polite way to wait for Peter.  Then again, if he were so keen on racing to see Jesus, don’t you think he would have stepped inside and checked things out for himself?

Some believe that the other disciple, the beloved disciple, was John the author of the gospel. Some believe that the beloved disciple is someone much younger, more physically fit, since he gets to the tomb first after Mary.  Some believe that the unnamed other disciple is Jesus’ brother, James.  Still others believe that the beloved disciple who outpaces Peter is a kind of “everyman” or “everywoman” who models our continued discipleship.

Consider that the other disciple, the beloved disciple, may have been running just a race to see Jesus again, instead of preparing for a marathon in the life of faith.  And that is just like us.

For it will be a marathon that the disciples will run after Easter.  They will see, but not understand this business of rising from the dead.  They will see, but they will not understand it for themselves.  It will take some time and some perseverance to see beyond the pain and discomfort to Resurrection truth in Jesus’ life, much less their own.

Peter, who enters the tomb, has been preparing for what was to come—for the fullness of Easter truth to become part of him.  For it to become part of his identity.  Peter, the one who denied, will eventually become a rock of faith.  But it will not happen all at once. You cannot sprint to resurrection; resurrection is a slow unfolding over time.  You must be able to see little easters all around you before you can believe Christ walked from the tomb.

When Peter chooses to enter the tomb that day, he was preparing for a marathon. It could not have been easy.

Many years ago, when I was working at a battered women’s shelter, I described to my then spiritual advisor a harrowing account of one woman’s story that had persisted in deeply troubling me and keeping me up at night.

She quietly listened and then asked me, “Where is God in this?”

“What do you mean?” I challenged her.  “I don’t see God anywhere in this mess!” God was not easily found in the hard stories of these suffering women, at least initially, to my eyes.

It took a very long while to catch up to her question.

At the time, to see God in flesh in the stories of these women was to encounter a dying Jesus, a Jesus entombed, a Jesus entrapped, a Jesus that was a victim and only a victim.  Like the beloved disciple, in my demand for answers, I had stopped short in my discomfort.

Yet, my friend’s question made me look within the tomb for the Jesus that rose beyond the tomb.  A Jesus that was bigger than the bruises, the horrid fights, the domestic abuse and violence, and the general Good Friday nastiness that humans have been wreaking since the beginning of time.  Jesus would not be found by standing outside the tomb.  Jesus would not be found be sprinting and then refusing to look inside. There would be no racing to the resurrection in the lives of these women or in my own experience.

Part of my mentor’s question rankled me.  I understood broken promises, broken dreams, broken hearts, and broken flesh.  I thought that I understood death.  But I did not understand how God brings life from ruins, even my own ruins.

Like Mary who stood weeping outside the tomb and mistook the living Jesus for a gardener through her tears, we often struggle to recognize a living God in the human messes of our lives.  We believe the tomb to be full of broken dreams, broken promises, broken bodies, and broken hearts.  And it is.  Loss is real, just as Jesus’ crucifixion and death were real.

But that was not the only thing in the tomb that day and goodness would not remain lifeless, incapable of rising beyond death.

Resurrection, friends, is about God and the lengths to which God will go for us.  It is about the character of a Marathon God that does not leave us weeping on the outside of tombs forever.  It is about a God who did not leave Jesus’ friends to pine away their lives in regret, fear, sadness, and agony.  It is about a God who brought Jesus from the depths of human pain, about a Marathon God who brings goodness, transformation, and life out of the many and varied tombs in which we try to bury ourselves.

As my mentor told me, we must look within the grave, within the end, and even beyond it, to glimpse the resurrection.  We must look for a little Easter before we see the big Easter.

Some of you might recognize the idea of “little Easter.”  You might remember that the Sundays of Lent are not actually counted as Lenten days because each is a mini- Easter, a celebration of resurrection that continues, no matter the day or circumstance.  It is a reminder of resurrection even when all is Lent.

And, while it may seem baffling, training ourselves to see God in all circumstances, is also like training for a marathon.  It is training ourselves to see a little Easter happening amid crisis and death, as God accompanies us and reminds us that God is very much ALIVE and not some dead figment of our imagination.

And when we witness a little Easter, we are not to simply stand on the sidelines of resurrection, but to participate in it as we are able.  To seek out Jesus and to encounter angels like Mary.  To explore the darkness for the good–not simply to understand it for our own intellectual understanding and benefit– but to find glimmers of hope and life within it for others.  To see it as a womb for resurrection.  To seek Easter even while everything is still Good Friday.

In some ways, that is what we have been doing as a faith community since last year this time.  In our second Easter of this pandemic, we may feel ourselves overly ready to rise from the destruction and sadness that this pandemic has wrought.  We may feel entirely ready to roll away the stones of our misery and shout that we have been vaccinated (or nearly so) and, by golly, partially restored.  For some, at least, that may be true.

We are on our way to resurrection.

Yet it is a marathon, not a sprint.  Like one of our runners said, “[the unexpected thing is how you feel in running.  “People say that the 13.1 mile mark isn’t really halfway.  Halfway mentally is really around mile 18, and most of the training that you do is about getting you ready to run the last 6.2 miles since those are the hardest.”[3]

In the coming days, even with Jesus’ careful teaching, it would be hard to believe that life would and could continue with Jesus beyond death.  Likewise, it will be hard for us to believe his words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. If you know me, you will know my Abba, [my God], also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”(see John 14).  Yet, we who are participating in this marathon of faith, can learn something from the “little easters” that we have seen in this pandemic.  The little graces, the little moments where joy and simple beauty delights despite all we have endured, the blessed return of health and well-being, even the ability to meet and mingle within certain safe parameters.  While so much depends on us, resurrection thankfully does not.  It will occur even if we deny or try to delay it.

Even so, we might remember something that one of our congregants said about running and compare it to our own spiritual journey:

“On the surface, running is, of course, a solo event.  Only YOU can do physically do it.  But there is no way I would have been able to train and run a marathon without the help and support of others.  I have met a lot of wonderful training partners and have also relied a great deal on my spouse’s support.  I have also learned that when it comes down to it, a marathon is a mental race just as much as it is a physical one.  There are moments that you have to rely on your mental stamina because your body really wants to stop. But I find those moments when I have to will myself to continue as the most rewarding because it reminds me that I’m strong and resilient.”

Friends, if you find yourself racing, or even limping, to Easter this morning, remember that that experiencing Easter is a marathon, not a sprint.  Remember the help and support of others who are there moving in tandem with you, like Peter and the beloved disciple.  Remember that you have a better chance of seeing resurrection when you dare to enter the many and varied tombs that try to bury God’s goodness and truth in this world.  See and participate in all the little easters along the way, so that will not miss the BIG Easter to come.

And therefore, as the apostle Paul says, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Happy Resurrection, friends, and may your running to God be blessed!

Christ is risen, risen indeed!

 

[1] Email with Shannon R., marathon runner and member, in response to pastor’s inquiry. April 3, 2021.

[2] Email with Michael L., congregant and runner,  April 3, 2021.

[3] Mike L. in an emailed response to questions, April 3, 2021.