Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Jesus we need
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Easter 2020

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.

I saw an online discussion with some priests who wanted to go to the Mark version because in the actual ending of Mark’s gospel the women flee the tomb in fear and don’t say anything to anybody. All that is there is the empty tomb at the end of Mark and there is no resurrection except for the additions to Mark’s gospel that would be tacked on in later years. That empty tomb does feel right for this particular Easter. Yet this is an Easter where we truly need a message of hope, rebirth, resurrection. I was pondering that as I was working on the John version.

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!

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.

I have been asked am I going to consecrate some bread and wine to put in the aumbry behind me. After much prayer I have decided that I will wait until we are all here together. For just as we need to be able to see Jesus as he appears in the world, I want us to have an emphasis on Jesus not in a box in the front of the church, but out active in the world. That is what my hearts tells me.

Speaking of listening to your heart, I have encouraged you to take time to journal, to take notes, pay attention to what you are feeling, what lessons you may be learning. Some have said that God has said, I want you to take a timeout, step back and take stock. Some have said the message is to reengage with family in an up close and personal way. These are people that see the good that can come out of disaster. 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 the 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.