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April 21, 2019

“Just Show Up”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

1 Corinthians 15.19-26

John 20.1-18

April 21, 2019

In Jerusalem you will never be short of a tour guide. If you ever visit the Holy Land there are plenty of people willing to show you around the ancient ruins, the sacred grounds, and the holy churches. If you visit the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, you will first be greeted by the Garden of Gethsemane. The church was built next to olive trees that date back to before the time of Jesus. When you approach the door to the church you will find a sign that says: “No explanations inside the church.” This sign is meant to restrain tour guides from talking too loudly in the church and ruining the ambiance.[1] Jim Friedrich, an Episcopal priest, wonders what might happen if this sign was put up in various churches on Easter Sunday. What if someone approached our church and found “no explanations inside” posted on our door? Would it discourage people from entering? Encourage them? Would you enter?

Some people go to church for answers. Some look to the pastor for answers. I don’t mean to disappoint, but I don’t have all the answers. Easter is a Sunday of resurrection – a day when preachers often become defensive because we have the attention of so many. Some preachers feel the need to convince people the resurrection happened – to explain it and defend the disciples as if they are on trial.

Friedrich comments that we need to back off the explanations and just proclaim the good news on Easter Sunday.[2] Now, Presbyterian pastors like to encourage questions. We are an educated bunch and we want people to feel comfortable asking questions, because God wants us to ask questions. Yet, maybe today we ask some different questions. Instead of “how” did Jesus resurrect, we ask what it means for us now.

We hear the resurrection story every year – it is in each of the Gospels – yet, it is different every year. There is always at least one woman at the tomb. There is always fear. Always disbelief. Sometimes there is an angel. Sometimes Jesus appears. What we can find in all the Gospels is an “empty tomb” and “appearance to the disciples.”[3] If we just leave this story to that, what does the empty tomb mean?

Mary Magdalene was the one in this Gospel to see the empty tomb first. She doesn’t go inside or inspect, but instead begins this race – think of it as a Mary-thon for Jesus. She dashes to the disciples but we are not told how far a distance. A few blocks? A mile? Ten miles? When she catches her breath she tells the disciples that the tomb is empty. Then, they run, and she runs back with them. Another ten? Twenty miles? Did they not believe? We do not hear why they race – most likely to see for themselves. Peter won’t go in but the other disciple does enter the empty tomb. When they see for themselves, they go home. Did they believe? Were they confused? Anxious? All of the above? We don’t hear much about them after they leave.

Mary stays at the tomb and she weeps. She tries to figure out what has happened. Some angels appear, and so does Jesus. She recognizes him only when he uses her name. We cannot see what happens because we only read the conversation here, but Jesus tells her that she cannot cling to him. This is definitely emotionally, but perhaps also physically. We might assume that she has gone to embrace him, her friend, dead, but now alive. The relationship changes – everything changes.[4] What they once knew is gone because the resurrection has turned the world on its head.

That is the power of resurrection. We are not the same. When we resurrect, or when the church resurrects, or when the world turns and changes, we are new. This is where the Mary-thon for Jesus pays off. If you know anything about the very first Marathon, you know that Pheidippides, a man from Marathon, ran all the way to Athens to tell the good news of victory against the Persians. One of the great arguments against running a marathon is that Pheidippides ran the 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens and promptly died. Yet, before he did, he is thought to have shouted: “Joy to you! We’ve won!” This is the good news – Mary has run this race from the tomb to the disciples, and back to the tomb, to discover, “Joy to you! Jesus has won over death!”

Rather than trying to figure out how resurrection happens – the science, the details, any of it – for one day, let ‘s just sit with it. What does resurrection mean in your own life? What needs to be resurrected? What does it mean to the church? Whatever needs to be resurrected, it means that God is at work – not us. It means there is a mystery. Unknown.

If all of this is up to God, what do we do? We show up. We are present, attentive, and we take it all in. Author Rachel Held Evans writes about the resurrection, saying: “…sometimes just showing up, burial spices in hand, is all it takes to witness a miracle.”[5] I have heard this about running a race, as well. Runners like to complain that they run too slowly, or that they don’t run an entire race – sometimes they just walk, and sometimes they stop. Yet, sometimes we just have to show up.

Later today we will welcome two new members – one through confirmation and one through reaffirmation of faith. Rachel Held Evans also talks about confirmation, which I think works well with the mystery of the resurrection. She tells a story of Julian, someone being confirmed, and he was told: “What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”[6] Each week we keep wrestling with this story. Each day we wrestle with it.

Our faith changes. We keep experiencing life and how God resurrects the dead – or what appears to be dead in our lives. Still want to know more about the resurrection? Didn’t find your questions answered this morning? Come back next week – we will have interactive prayer stations as part of our worship service so we can experience resurrection. Still have questions? Come back the next Sunday, as we explore resurrection in word and song. Still have questions? Keep coming back – because showing up doesn’t mean you believe it all literally or completely – it means you are witnessing to something you hold true, and that you are ready to learn more. There might not be explanations inside the church, but at least you’ll be able to wrestle with faith among friends. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Jim Friedrich, “Don’t Explain It” in Christian Century, April 10, 2019, Vol. 136, No. 8, p.10.

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Rene Kieffer, “John” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 996.

[4] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 226.

[5] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015)188.

[6] Ibid., 194.