Scripture - John 20:1-18
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. 2 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 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.
*Hymn - Alleluia (FWS 2043)
We’ve all seen the iconic images of the Notre Dame Cathedral this week - the video of the spire tumbling from on high, snapshots of crowds singing hymns as it burned, photographs of the billowing clouds of smoke and flames surging from the rooftop. On Monday, there was so much speculation as the fire burned on - what would be saved? What would happen to the art, the relics, the stained glass, the organ? What about the centuries old beams of wood that have withstood the test of time?
Everyone started sharing pictures, memories, stories about their connection with Notre Dame - many heartbroken over the devastation. I saw comments on social media saying “It feels like everything good is on fire these days” or “with the burning of Notre Dame, it seems like all of Western civilization is burning down around us.”
I don’t think we here on this island are strangers to that feeling after the season we’ve had together where it as felt like one unending string of sadness and traumatic events, one after another. It’s that feeling where we’re sitting together in the ashes, wondering what comes next; the one where it seems like everything good in our lives is slipping through our fingers, no matter how desperately we try to hold on; the one where personal tragedies and heartbreaks become communal burdens that we bear for one another and yet still we wonder - how much pain and hurt and suffering can we actually bear? We hurt for our friends and neighbors and children, we hurt for ourselves, we hurt for our whole community as nothing will ever be the same anymore.
It makes me think of Mary Magdalene in the garden from the familiar Easter story. I love the version from the Gospel of John that we heard read this morning - because she comes to the tomb alone while it was still dark. Her hopes and dreams - the ones that were flying high as Jesus came into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week - had been dashed. She comes by herself, not with anything in hand to tend the body, but simply to grieve. I can imagine that she had spent a fitful night of sleep - tossing and turning - unable to rest because of her sorrow and grief. So she does the only thing she can think of to do: keep vigil at Jesus’ tomb...to cling to that comfort of closeness that helps us in the aftermath of a loved one’s death...that even though they are gone, some part of them yet remains for us to honor their memory.
And yet, she is even denied that measure of peace as there is no body anywhere to be found. The stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. It was the gut punch on top of the horrific events surrounding Jesus’ execution - that last physical touch stone, gone. Mary runs to notify the other disciples, assuming the worst -- and two of them run back to the tomb to investigate for themselves. They go in and see the linen wrappings laying neatly rolled up, no Jesus to be found anywhere - and then the story says that they believed - which honestly, annoys me a bit because they didn’t see fit to tell that to Mary, who stands there outside the tomb, continuing to weep as they leave her behind. No words of comfort, no hope or encouragement. She remains there in her grief, deepened by the physical loss of Jesus.
The words she speaks to the angels who suddenly appear are full of hurt and longing. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” They resonate with intimate emotion and affection and Mary is so caught up in the depth of her despair that when she turns away from the tomb, she sees a man there and assumes he is the gardener when, in fact, it is Jesus himself.
In the conversation that follows, she is again desperate for some clue, some evidence that Jesus’ body is out there, somewhere, and wants to know where she can go to keep that connection, to have some link to the one she had given her life as a follower. It is not until he says her name - Mary - that she recognizes Jesus for who he is - and I can imagine that she must have reached out to touch him, his hands or his robe, to cling to him in some way so as to reassure herself that he was not going to leave her again.
Yet even in that moment, Jesus withdraws and tells her not to hold on to him - because there is more work for him to do - that he was, in fact, going away - ascending to God, and he commissions her in that moment to share that news with the disciples - he says, “tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Even though the other two disciples came to the tomb and believed - Mary is the only one in this story who actually witnesses the risen Christ, who has a conversation with him face to face, who must first wrestle with the news that even though he has risen, he must still leave her, he must still leave the disciples, he still has to leave this world and return to God.
There’s both sadness and hope in this moment when Mary and Jesus part - sadness in the reality that things never will be the same...but hope in that the story will continue unchained from the past expectations of who Jesus was and what he came to do. Jesus calls her by name to announce to the disciples and all believers that a new creations is here, a future they never could have imagined on their own is here, and that this reality she sent out to proclaim is only the beginning of an ongoing revelation of what resurrection and all that that implies might mean.
So often when we think of resurrection, we think of restoration, of revival, of something dead coming back to life again as if everything is back to normal, that everything will be the way it was again. But that’s not here in this story at all - Jesus may be alive, but he’s not staying around so that things will go back to the way they used to be. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of something completely new - of God fashioning a new creation, something that had never been done before, something that arises fresh out of the ashes of the past. We cannot go back ever to how things were because the past is the past and it is gone. Resurrection doesn’t bring that past back, resurrection vaults us into the future where God is doing something radically new - in us, with us, and through us - and by extension, in and with and through our world and all of creation.
Resurrection - true resurrection - means that something new and beautiful will take shape from the dead and broken places in our lives. I love that the choir sang “The Storm is Passing Over” for our anthem this morning - because our whole community certainly has been through a storm this past year. We’ve been Mary, full of loss and pain. We’ve kept vigil at the tomb, not knowing what life will look like next. We’ve been battered by the winds and the rains of grief and felt the rising flood around us. We’ve seen neighbors and loved ones weighed down and burdened - yet what the Easter story promises us is that new life - that resurrection is on its way. The storm is passing over. The morning light does appear. Our task is not to forget the pain of the past, but to let go of it - as Mary lets go of Jesus - to allow the transforming power of God’s resurrection to work to bring about something new and so that we can proclaim that hope will come out of the ashes, that fear does give way to joy, that life does grow out of death. All that is needed is to look to Jesus...and to let go of what holds us back from embracing that love for ourselves...so that we can move forward into the new creation Christ has for us. It’s not easy - letting go of what is familiar to us is scary - but the promise is that God will be with us in the new life that will unfold.
It reminds me of another image that was making the rounds in the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire - the one that is on the cover of our Easter bulletin this morning, of the cross shining on the wall in the midst of the rubble of the burned cathedral. It reminds me that no matter what life may bring our way - in moments of joy and celebration...but especially in moments when everything seems to fall apart around us - God is there, Jesus is waiting to meet us - offering us hope and life...carrying us in the moments when we cannot carry ourselves...showing us that our mistakes, failures, heartbreaks, sufferings, struggles - our very brokenness is what makes us able to know and feel the new life that Christ ushered in on Easter morning and that waits for each one of us to claim for ourselves.
And so this Easter - with the storm passing over us - with the light dawning on the horizon - with Jesus risen from the tomb, will we move from pain to joy, from uncertainty to boldness, from mourning to dancing, from death into life - will we enter the resurrection life Jesus brings to us? As we venture, like Mary, into the tombs of our past, will we let go of what holds us back and instead run headlong into joy and love, hope and new life, toward a resurrection so powerful that when we find it, we we too will run to tell the world, “I have seen the Lord.”
Christ is risen - Christ is risen indeed. May that resurrection reality become true for you; for us, for our community, and for our world, on this day....and every day. Amen.
Scripture Reading - Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40
Philippians 2:5-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Luke 19:28-40 (New Revised Standard Version)
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
*Hymn - Mantos y Palmas (UMH 279)
Palm Sunday often feels to me like the little party before the big party on Easter - after all, it’s been a long journey to get to this point! We’ve been together over 5 long weeks of Lent, delving deep into the broken places in our lives and in our world, inviting God’s healing and wholeness into our own hearts and desiring that gift for others. We’ve been fasting from the things that harm us and our relationship with God, we’ve been more intentional in our prayer practices or the things that draw us further into God’s grace, and perhaps we’ve even begun to notice those small shoots of new life blooming in our hearts - signs of God’s redeeming power and love.
The excitement is in the air, and so we - along with the crowd ushering Jesus into Jerusalem - shout Hosanna! Praise be to God! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Salvation is at hand! We can almost taste the victory to come.
And yet….there is still one more week of Lent...the week that we remember what happened after Jesus entered into the city...Jesus’s final days here on earth.
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem amid the preparations for the Passover - one of the biggest festivals when the Jews remembered God rescuing them - saving them - from slavery in Egypt. The Passover was a time for them to remember how God overthrew their oppressors and fashioned them as a people - that God had selected Moses to defy Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to freedom.
This story was very much in the air as Jesus arrived - and the people had placed similar hopes of salvation and deliverance onto him - that Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppressors, make them a sovereign people again, that they would once more be free and be restored to the glory days of King David. There was so much potential for unrest that Pilate, the Roman governor of the area, had to come to make sure order was maintained - a procession full of military glory, pomp and circumstance, power and might.
Jesus’s own entry into the city was quite the opposite - he instructs two disciples to borrow a colt for him to ride - and only if someone asks about it, to say “The Lord needs it.” A coat is spread over the back of the colt and Jesus and his disciples make their way into the city. It’s clearly not the display of power and wealth and glory one might expect from a conquering hero or from someone on whom all these expectations and hopes of deliverance have been placed.
Luke’s retelling of this parade into the city actually lacks one of the key things we’ve come to associate with this processional - anyone pick up on what that might be during our scripture reading?....Palms. Luke’s version doesn’t emphasize the waving of palm branches in praise and adoration as Jesus enters Jerusalem...what Luke highlights is the spreading of cloaks on the ground before him - an act of reverence and humility and submission. The crowd is laying down what they have in front of Jesus...perhaps this was one of the only things that each person owned - laid down before him.
As we lift our palm branches high and give God thanks and praise...what might God be inviting us to lay down before Christ as we continue the journey toward the cross?
I love how the reading from the book of Philippians pairs with our Gospel reading for this morning, because it highlights how Jesus - who had every right to claim that power and majesty of being equal with God, who could have come down in militaristic might to vanquish the oppressors, who could have demanded every honor and status due him as the Son of God - instead emptied himself in love and humility, coming as one of us in service...coming as one who lived our life, who died our death...who laid down every power and privilege for the sake of humankind. Jesus as God poured himself out in love for each one us….and at the very beginning of that passage, we have that exhortation from Paul to “Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus…” -- that same emptying of self...that same pouring out for others...that same laying down of power and privilege in preference for humility and love and service.
Even as we celebrate the coming of the reign of God, as we wave our palm branches high in praise for Jesus and laud him as savior and king...what do we need to lay down before him? What do we need to empty ourselves of so that God’s love and life can bloom even more fully in our hearts?
As a few of my colleagues have shared, “As we lift up our shouts of praise on this Palm Sunday, might we also lay down ways of living that do not honor God, our neighbor, and all life around us? As we lift up our voices crying out for an end to injustice and suffering, might we also lay down our lives, allowing Christ to fill them with humility and the new beginnings of hope? As we lift up our palms with songs to bless the One who comes in peace, might we also lay down the superficial cries of victory and triumph? As we lift up our eyes to see a vision of earth and heaven made one, might we also lay down our expectations of how God will change us and our world; of how God will come into our lives to accomplish this? As we lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, might we also lay down our hearts until they burn with the desires of God’s heart? And in our lifting up and laying down, God might just weave us into a tapestry of resurrection.”
What Palm Sunday -- and the story of this week to come remind us -- is that the pathway to resurrection and exaltation is never a steady upward climb or a sequence of brilliant successes and triumphs. It doesn’t come through the pompous parades or displays of might. Resurrection and redemption - healing and wholeness - come through the mess and the struggle, the hurt and betrayal, the putting aside of self, denying our egos, laying down our own expectations so that we can be open to the transforming power of the God who has conquered the powers of death, who fashions us into new creations, and who will make all things new. Redemption came on a borrowed colt, accompanied by the shouts and accolades of peasants...and who was ultimately executed by the state because of the message of life, love, and hope he shared and exemplified.
And so this coming week, are we willing to lay aside our lives - our time, our energy, our thoughts - to walk this journey with Jesus? What does God call us to lay down - to empty ourselves of - so that God’s resurrection power can come forth in our hearts….in our lives...or in this church?
May each of us continue to examine our hearts and our lives so that we - just as the crowd laid down their cloaks before Jesus two thousand years ago - may lay ourselves down so that God’s love and hope can be made manifest in our lives...in our community...and in our world. Amen.
Scripture Reading - Jeremiah 31:31-34
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (New Revised Standard Version)
31 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. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. 34 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.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
We’ve been on a journey together this season - a time of exploring God’s healing and wholeness...a calling to remember ourselves as Holy Vessels of God’s love - and to remember that as we move toward healing, the gift is not just to see ourselves in that light, but to desire that gift of wholeness for each other and for all of creation.
Over the past four weeks of Lent, we’ve written our brokenness on pieces of seaglass and placed them on the altar as an offering to God. They’ve been here over this season as a reminder of the ways that we are a broken people, each of us seeking healing, and as a reminder of how we have a God who yearns to make us whole.
We’ve talked about the ways God gathers us together - like a beachcomber collecting seaglass - and holds us for safekeeping. We acknowledged the ways that God accounts for each one of our tears and struggles and heartbreaks and in gathering us together provides us with a safe space for healing. And yet, we remembered that not everyone experiences this gift of community - that there are those in our world who do not have safe spaces because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity, or their gender.
We’ve talked about stories - about how our stories become clear as they come into contact with the life-giving water that Jesus has to offer. Claiming our stories - in all their beauty and brokenness - not only leads to healing for ourselves, but can point others on the pathway to wholeness.
Last week, we talked about how community can allow our true selves to shine as part of something bigger that God is doing in the world. There’s power in a community that helps us create new and different pictures about our lives - different than the ones we’ve told ourselves or had imprinted upon us...and transformation can happen when one small piece becomes a part of a whole.
This week, we are reminded that our journeys toward healing and wholeness all take place in the context of relationship - relationship with the God who is present with us, loves us, bears with us in all things - and continues to offer us the grace we need as we become the people God created us to be.
We see God’s relationship with humankind all throughout the scriptures, but I find the language around covenant particularly helpful. We talk about the promises God made with various individuals and communities in the Bible as covenants - where both sides agree to uphold certain commitments and agreements. The stone tablets with the 10 Commandments - which were part of this covenant - were kept in a box called the Ark of the Covenant that moved around with them before the Temple was constructed.
However, again and again in Scripture, the Israelites can’t seem to keep up their end of the covenant God made with them. They worship other gods. They fail to care for the orphan, the stranger, and the widow among them. They exploit the poorest in their communities. They constantly struggle with God and with each other. They mess up time and time again - and yet God’s covenant love remained with them - even when they broke the laws and commandments. Even more, as our Scripture passage this morning points to - God is willing to enter into another covenant with this people - one that isn’t based on laws or words, but is within the very souls of the people - a covenant based on intimate knowledge...on forgiveness...a covenant that doesn’t need a physical reminder - stone tablets in a box, laws written on stone - but a covenant that resides within the deepest parts of their being...written on their hearts.
It’s a covenant that we understand was made through Jesus - his life, teaching, death, and resurrection - in the ways he demonstrated a new way of being and living with one another and with God, in the ways he offered of himself as fulfilment of God’s love, in the ways he gave of himself to those who were hurting...those who were broken...and restored them to life….and in the ways Jesus continues to offer reconciliation and restoration for each of us as we claim God’s promises - God’s covenant - for ourselves.
Claiming that covenant for ourselves - allowing that knowledge and love of God to rest fully in our hearts, opening our lives to the healing God has to offer, becoming fully the people God created us to be - is a journey. Much like the Israelites, it’s one we often don’t get right. We mess up, we get hurt or hurt others, we fail to live in to the hopes and dreams God has for us - this is why we regularly in worship have a time of confession together - and yet God is always present with us. God never gives up on us. God always keeps those promises - that no matter what we may experience in this life, God’s love will never go away. God’s grace will never leave us. There always can be resurrection.
This journey of healing and wholeness is messy and difficult - especially in a community when we’re constantly rubbing up against each others’ growing edges. It’s a slow and difficult process - one that takes time and attention but can’t be forced or hurried. It’s a process that can be full of unexpected twists and turns, of two steps forward and one step back. It’s not linear or even necessarily logical. And yet - God is with each of us. God is present, binding up our wounds, drawing us closer together, bringing us into deeper relationship with God.
Much like jewelry from seaglass...using wire to suspend...or to wrap around with decorative spirals and beads...God makes something beautiful out of our broken places, out of the twisting and the turning.
Our scripture passage from Jeremiah ended with “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. 34 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.”
If this is something you want to be true for you in your life - no matter if you’ve been on the journey for your whole life or aren’t sure you want to be on that pathway - if deeper relationship with God is something you are yearning for...as we sing our next hymn together, I invite you to come forward, and you’ll receive a seaglass pendant that we spent time making yesterday. Each one has been prayed over - that it might be a reminder of God working in your life, creating something beautiful from the broken places...a symbol of God’s continuing healing power and presence.
Let us remain seated as we sing together number 394 in the red hymnal, Something Beautiful, and come forward as you are moved to do so. You are also invited to stay at the communion rail for a time of prayer.
May God continue to write words of love...hope….mercy...and grace on our hearts - may we rely on God’s promisesof healing and wholeness to guide us - and may we continually allow God to work our lives - broken as they are - into things of beauty. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and two year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.