Sermon for Easter Sunday April 4th, 2021
“Where is your Lord?” she scornful asks:
“Where is his hire? we know his tasks;
Sons of a king ye boast to be:
Let us your crowns and treasures see.”
We in the words of Truth reply,
(An angel brought them from the sky,)
“Our crown, our treasure is not here,
‘Tis stored above the highest sphere:
“Methinks your wisdom guides amiss,
To seek on earth a Christian’s bliss;
We watch not now the lifeless stone;
Our only Lord is risen and gone.”
Yet e’en the lifeless stone is dear
For thoughts of him who late lay here;
And the base world, now Christ hath died,
Enobled is and glorified.
No more a charnel-house, to fence
The relics of lost innocence,
A vault of ruin and decay;
Th’ imprisoning stone is rolled away:
‘Tis now a cell, where angels use
To come and go with heavenly news,
And in the ears of mourners say,
“Come, see the place where Jesus lay:”
Oh! Joy to Mary first allowed,
When roused from weeping o’er his shroud,
By his own calm, soul-soothing tone,
Breathing her name, as still his own!
So it is still: to holy tears,
In lonely hours, Christ risen appears!
I shared the words of the priest/poet John Keble on Good Friday, so I thought it would be only fitting that I should share his words on Easter Sunday as well. Poetry has a way of helping us see and experience familiar stories in a different way. Poetry also has a way of helping us experience the heart, the spirit, or the emotions of story in a way that prose just doesn’t. You may think, “well, I’m not really a big fan of poetry.” Do you have a radio in your car? Do you listen to it? Then you ARE a fan of poetry. That’s what music is. Songs are a form of poetry. That’s why hymns are so important: they help us to experience parts of the gospel story that we can’t fully grasp when we are just reading the words on a page. And singing and poetry have been a part of the worship of God from the very beginning. That’s probably why music was invented: to worship God, to tell sacred stories. Jesus sang on the night before he died. And you can be sure that there were angels singing three days later.
When this covid crisis has passed, I promise you, we are going to have a great big hymn sing here, so we can get caught up on all the singing, and on all that beautiful poetry that we have missed over the past year. Now obviously I have written this sermon with the 10:30 service in mind, because we all know that 8 o’clockers don’t sing, but I’m willing to bet that secretly they love music too, they’re just a little shy and like to get up early. 8 o’clockers know the power of music and poetry too. It is one thing to say “He is risen!”, but it is another thing to sing “because he lives!” It is one thing to read “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb” but it is another thing to sing “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.” It is one thing to tell the story of the resurrection, but it is another thing to sing about it, or to read and write poems about it. The poem draws you into the story; the singing the song makes it your story too.
You have probably heard the story from John Chapter 20 many times, but did you ever realize that everything changes for Mary Magdalene when Jesus calls her name? That is when everything becomes real for Mary. That is the moment of transformation for her, when she realizes that her Lord is calling her name. She had seen the stone rolled away, but she had another explanation for that. She had seen the empty tomb and the linen shroud lying on the floor, but she thought someone had stolen his body. Angels were speaking to her, only she didn’t realize they were angels; she is so wrapt up in her grief. She even sees Jesus, standing right in front of her, only she doesn’t recognize it is him, until he calls her name: “Mary!”
That is when the resurrection becomes real for Mary, when Jesus calls her name.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, when Jesus talks about the good shepherd, he says: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…the sheep follow him, because they know his voice…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” And a little further on Jesus says: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again…I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again.”
It’s all coming true. Jesus lays down his life, and takes it up again. Jesus calls one of his sheep by name, and she knows his voice.
It’s one thing to hear about or to see an empty tomb, but it is quite another for the risen Christ to call your name. That is when you realize that God didn’t go through all of this for his own benefit; he did it for yours. Jesus doesn’t just get out of the tomb and leave; he comes back to it, to call his sheep out of the tomb, by name, so that his resurrection can be their resurrection. Jesus calls Mary, as one of his own, and invites her to share in the joy of his resurrection. Mary was the first, but she’s not the last. Jesus is still entering tombs and calling his sheep by name. Have you heard him call yours yet?
It’s ok if you haven’t. Just wait. Cry if you need to, but keep praying. Keep singing. Keep telling the sacred story in poetry and in prose, because some glad morning when he does call your name, your eyes will be opened and you will see him and you will realize that it’s not his empty tomb you are being called out of…it’s yours.