Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Jesus we need

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

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The preacher always has an option on Easter of the gospel from the current year, which would be Matthew or the John version. I decided on the John a couple weeks ago and I wasn’t sure why, but it felt right. Then while walking on Maundy Thursday morning rehearsing the gospels I was going to tell for Maundy Thursday and Easter it dawned on me why this made sense.

This is an Easter where we truly need a message of hope, rebirth, resurrection and those who have been with me during Lent have hopefully picked up on that theme.

As I was looking back over the past several weeks,  I realized that I had really been working on the theme of sharing God’s love throughout the season of Lent. Preaching a message of hope, not one of penitence because I don’t think that is what we need right now. I said in my Maundy Thursday sermon that Holy Week is really a love story. The story of the week is the great love that God has for all of us. John’s gospel has the famous verse God so loved the world that he gave us his son. No matter what the world did to Jesus, God still loved us and took the worst and turned it into a message of hope and love.

There is a personal aspect to John’s version of the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus that he depicts. When you read all of the end of John from the resurrection through the doubting Thomas passage which will be next week and finishes with the breakfast on the beach passage something really stands out, and that is the personal touch that Jesus brings to how he appears to each of the people in John’s gospel.

You can actually read today’s gospel and leave Peter and the other disciple out and it makes perfect sense. Listen to just the beginning. 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.  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.”

Notice the intense depiction of Mary. Hear in her voice the anguish. At the end of the passage she is the one who goes back and announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” There is some speculation that Mary went with the community of John up to Ephesus and may in fact have been one of if not the leader of that community.

In the version with Peter included she runs back and tells him and the other disciple “They have taken the body of the Lord.” Notice it isn’t “my” lord, but “the” lord. Somehow that doesn’t carry the same passion to me. Peter and the other disciple look in and eventually believe, but they do not see the angels sitting there. Were they not there or did the two just not see them? How many times have we missed angels that might have been right in front of us, because we were not looking for them or were not paying attention? Now there is a question to ponder.

However I want to go back to Jesus appearing how we need him to appear. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Have you ever wondered about that? For when he appears in the upper room to the disciples, he bears all the wounds and uses them to show the disciples who he is and then Thomas demands to see the wounds. I have always wondered if the wounds were there when he appeared to Mary Magdalene. If they were there how did she mistake him for the gardener? The answer for me is that he was in his perfect resurrected form. She needed a whole Jesus not one who had been tortured.

I looked in the other gospels and John is the only one where he shows his wounds to the disciples and this only happens in the upper room, once on the day of resurrection and then a week later and we will hear about that appearance next Sunday. In Luke on the road to Emmaus, they do not recognize him until he breaks the bread. You would think they would notice wounds in his hands as he held the bread if they were there!

The point I’m trying to make is that each time Jesus shows up he appears to the person in the form they needed at that moment to grasp and understand what had happened. Angels do the same thing and that’s why we sometimes miss seeing them.

In this challenging time, we need to remember that the risen Christ is here for us, all the time and in exactly the form we need. The key is we need to keep our eyes and our hearts open. Open to see God and Christ at work in our world even in dark times. St. Ignatius teaches that it is in the dark times that Jesus is right there for us even when we don’t feel that presence. I pray that this Easter season, you open your eyes and look for Christ in the world. We see him every day if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Last night at the Vigil service, which is an entirely different gospel and sermon, I spoke to those being baptized and called to their attention that by baptism they become ministers in the church. In case you didn’t realize it. you are all ministers in the church by your baptism. I’m ordained as a priest because my ministry is a sacramental one. You have a very much boots on the ground ministry which is to proclaim the gospel by word and deed. You will all reaffirm that call in just a few moments in the baptismal promises. Trust me, what you do is far more important most of the time than what you say.

Right now the world needs our ministry of love, of acceptance, of welcome to all.  If nothing else, this gives new power to the last commandment that Jesus gave to the disciples on Maundy Thursday. “To have love for one another, just as I have loved you, you should have love for one another. Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

In this way we become not just Jesus’ disciples, but his hands and feet in our broken world. That is the true miracle of Easter. That Jesus’ act of love even unto death on the cross shows us the deep and unlimited love that God has for all of us. Now as Easter people it is our job to show that love to the world. That is the message of the cross. Jesus died to show us just how much God loved us. As Richard Rohr says, he died not to change God’s mind about humanity but to change our minds about God. To reconcile us and bring us back to the God who has been waiting with open arms for us to love God the same way. Then to show that love to the world.

That is our job as Easter people. To love each other and the whole world as God loves us. That is the Easter message for our time.