Crossroads: The Way to Resurrection
Rev. Lindsay L. Fulmer
Ladera Community Church
Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
She stood by the grave, weeping. The others had come, seen the emptiness for themselves, and gone. Emptiness is all she sees. Even the angels offer no comfort, for their radiance doesn’t penetrate her grief and fear. She has lost him, the one who meant everything to her, the one whose love had saved her. They have taken him away, is all she can think. The final desecration. It had been so terrible, and yet she had stayed, stayed through the agonizing death and his last breath. Stayed by the cross weeping, until they came and took his broken body down. Held his poor wounded hand, touched his face, and cried. Watched them lay him in the tomb, sealing it securely shut. Returning, she’s drawn back to the place she had last seen him. In the dark, she went back and found him gone. Panicked, she runs to get others, who only confirm her worst fear. He’s gone...
This is it. The road they traveled together ends at the grave, now she will have to go on alone, without him. To all who know the pain of such loss, and we all will sometime, for death does not discriminate, pain like this is familiar. Sooner or later we all face that emptiness. Death comes, and the world as we’ve known it changes, forever. The hand no longer there to hold, the face to touch, the voice we long to hear silenced. I don’t believe we fear our own deaths as much as we fear the death of ones we love - the ultimate, universal separation anxiety. How well we can understand the disciples who run away from the tomb, away from the awful emptiness, the mystery and misery of death. There’s nothing more to be done there it seems, and so they go back. Back to busy themselves with what they can do. Make arrangements; figure out a plan, it’s truly understandable.
Meanwhile Mary stays, and weeps, and we understand this too. Can understand how in her grief she’s fixated on his absence, so much so that she asks even the gardener where they have taken him. Mary, he says, calling her name. And with a word, she knows him. Rabbouni, she replies, an old-fashioned name for a teacher, maybe a particular term of endearment for her. Do not hold onto me, Jesus replies, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. A peculiar thing to say, since there’s no evidence she was holding onto him in any way, unless it’s in what she called him. Maybe it was in the way she spoke that he could hear her longing, how she wanted him back, wanted life back the way it was before, back before this frightening new reality.
But there was no going back, not then, not now. That first Easter morning, and this one today, do not carry us back down a path to the past, however reassuring or comforting that might be. The grave couldn’t hold Jesus, neither could Mary, nor can we.
No, Easter comes and Christ is on the loose. No pinning him down, no holding him back, no stopping him now. Everything is at stake here – the whole Easter story and the faith that follows hinges on this. For every time we think we have a hold on Jesus, he doesn’t stay long. There are places he wants to take us and people he wants us to meet. He hasn’t stopped leading, and no, not even death can hold him back. The risen, living Christ is on the move, calling us to follow, seeking to free us from every dead-end, stone-sealed tomb we find ourselves in. To liberate us from the fear, fear that shuts the door, stops the heart, diminishes and deadens life. The way that leads to resurrection does not turn back, but comes face to face with fearful emptiness, and then moves on past it.
The reality of resurrection tells us that death may end a life we can touch and hold, but does not end a relationship. Mary does not come to faith by evidence of the empty tomb, or the abandoned grave clothes. Not by angels’ reassurance, or even seeing the risen Christ. She comes to faith by his word. Jesus calls her by name, prompting her recognition of a relationship already established, now by Easter awareness vindicated, and affirmed as an abiding one. A profound message for John’s community, who would not have been able to touch or hold Jesus, not be able recognize him by sight, but knew him by the power of his word; his voice still speaking, still calling.
There is a deeper truth revealed, for the same voice of love that calls Mary by name, away from death and into new life, away from fear to trust, that voice still speaks. This is the way of resurrection the Easter story opens up, the way of transformation that winds all through Jesus’ story, and ours. From the very first, rising up from the waters of baptism, Jesus hears a voice naming him beloved. Through wilderness temptation, through every hard testing ground, through every turn, every crossroads, every trial and tribulation, we have been witness to his faithfulness to that voice of love. Jesus follows the way love leads, even into suffering and death, and beyond into resurrected life. And by his willingness to go that hard and heartbreaking distance, we are freed - freed to experience our own resurrections. Resurrections that happen whenever, wherever the power of love trumps the power of fear.
For Mary, and for us who inherit the story of her amazing testimony, what seemed the end becomes a life-changing beginning – a whole new adventure in faith that leads her on to bold witness and what can only be called blessed assurance. She believes. What seemed lost is now and forever found.
So the journey continues, the road doesn’t stop at Golgotha, doesn’t end in Jerusalem, but keeps unfolding toward every far horizon, and beyond. Jesus on the move tells Mary, I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. I believe what he’s saying is this: The same God that got him out of the grave has done that for Mary, and for us. Will meet us right where and when the dream has died, hope and heart are broken, and all seems lost. Calls us to new life, if we are willing to let go, loosen our anxious grasp, and die to the fear that keeps us either running away, hiding in denial, or going back, lost in the longing for the way things used to be. Light shines into the tomb, emptied of power. Christ is on the loose, and nothing, not any death dealing power the world might wield, can stop him. Believe the good news, rejoice for love has won this day, and opened the way. The way to life, the way to live…answering the voice of love that calls us by name, and following, ever on. Alleluia and amen!