Easter Sermon: Jesus, Unbound + Children’s Story

“Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ” by Janet McKenzie.

John 20:1-18

Early in the morning, around 5am, Mary Magdalene walks alone to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. She has barely slept since Friday, when she watched — watched! — her teacher, her best friend, her soulmate, brutally murdered. The whole time she stood there, looking up at him, trying to communicate through her presence the unbreakable bond between them, that she was with him, he was not alone, she was there.

This was the person in whom she had experienced the most powerful embodiment of the Lifeforce, Creator, God. And this was the person who had helped her connect to that Lifeforce. Because of him, the veils had fallen away and she saw. She saw the glory of God, the radiant life energy that bursts forth from every branch, every stone, every flower, every person, from her. She felt it inside of her. She had never known herself to be so alive, and so loved, completely, just as she was. She had seen what that aliveness and that love can do — how it can empower an oppressed community, help them imagine new worlds, take big risks, do new things.

How can he be gone? Words can not contain her agony. She has risen from her sleepless bed to go to the tomb. She just wants to be near his body. She just wants to get through her head what has happened. He’s gone, right? It’s unreal. It’s not real. It didn’t happen. Did it? Nothing makes sense. 

She arrives at the tomb in the rock where they laid him just a day and a half ago. And, the stone’s been rolled aside. What? Did Jesus walk out of there? But no, the stone across the entrance to the tomb is massive — it’s 6 feet tall. One person couldn’t roll it aside. And, of course, it dawns on her instantly: Grave robbers have stolen his body. And God knows what they are going to do to him! They can not even allow his body one last dignity. She is shaking as she turns to run to her friends and tell them the horrible news. 

Upon hearing this, two of them instantly race to the tomb. She’s running, too, but can’t keep up. When she gets there, they have already looked in the tomb. One is confused, and the other is saying something about Jesus rising from the dead. They leave again. She goes up to the tomb, realizes she hasn’t looked in it herself, and there are two people there, except they are really tall and radiate light in a way she’s never seen. It doesn’t make sense. They ask her why she’s weeping, and she tells them that Jesus’ body has been stolen and all she wants to do is find him, and then she turns around and another person is standing there. He doesn’t look quite like a person, though, either, but he has to be the gardener — right, the gardener. Certainly the gardener knows what  happened. Yes, yes, the gardener knows what happened. The gardener is asking her now why she’s weeping — why does everyone keep asking her that? — and she begs, “Please, please, tell me where they have taken him, I’ll take him away, you won’t have to do anything, I’ll do it, I’ll take him. Just lead me to him.”

The gardener says: “Mary.” And the veils fall away. She feels an explosion of light at the center of her being. It’s him! Somehow, it’s him. How can that be, but it’s him! “Rabbouni !” She goes to hug him, to touch his face, his arms, his body, his body, he’s back, she gets to touch him again. And he says, “Don’t hold onto me.” What? Why? But then she looks at him, really looks at him, really sees him, sees who he has become. And it starts coming together — what he told them was going to happen. He’s saying to her:

“Mary, I’m no longer the person you knew – the Jesus you hugged, the Jesus with whom you ate, and laughed and conspired. I am that person but I am much more than that person now. Jesus’ life experience lives on in me. That life will be forever available to you. Just remember the times we were together, and we will be reunited. But I am now unbounded. I am not limited to a human body. Just say my name, and I will be there and I will breathe into you the same Lifeforce and Love that animated Jesus all his life. You will be empowered to carry on his work of healing and liberation. Remember, I told you, but you didn’t yet fully get it: God, the Lifeforce, is in me and I am in God, and you are in us. The glory that the Lifeforce gave me, I gave to you, so that you may be one with me just as I and God are one, so that we may all be completely one.” (John 17:20-23) 

Knowing, now, that Jesus Christ, the Risen One, could never be separated from her or anyone else, she runs again to find her friends, but this time it is to tell them good news.

Let’s take a deep breath together.

Can we let ourselves have this good news of Easter morning? Because this is the experience of Love and New Life at the heart of Christianity, and it belongs to us.

Most religions begin with some kind of big mystical experience —Moses and the burning bush, the Buddha reaching Enlightenment under the bodhi tree, Muhammed receiving divine revelations from the archangel Gabriel— and this one is ours. 

If we find it hard to let ourselves have it, I suspect one reason is because this experience has been encrusted, obscured, by centuries of imperial Christian BS, by a pseudo-Christianity that became allied with Empire, power and wealth early on and started getting codified and made into a creed and suddenly you had to believe just the right thing and you could get killed if you didn’t, and, oh, by the way, only certain people have the right to say what the right thing is, and those people are always wealthy men, even though it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was the apostle to the apostles, who had the first experience of Love and New Light we call the Risen Christ and then told everyone else about it! This is the same blasphemous Christianity that was then used for centuries to justify anti-Semitism, racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia. 

Can we let ourselves have this good news of Easter morning? Because this is the experience of Love and New Life at the heart of Christianity, and it belongs to us. If we find it hard to let ourselves have it, I suspect another reason is because this experience has been encrusted, obscured, by centuries of an Enlightenment rationalism that doesn’t believe in anything except what can be experienced through the senses or proven through the scientific method. Did the resurrection literally happen? Did Jesus’ body literally rise from the dead? And if we can’t believe that, then there’s really nothing to believe in, right?  Spiritual truths can never ever be fully accessed through a certain kind of rationality or the scientific method. These things are wonderful and necessary, but they must bend their knee before a different kind of truth.

Underneath these encrustations of imperial Christianity and scientific rationalism, like a buried treasure, is the experience of Mary Magdalene—- this explosion of light at the core our tradition. And our mystics have never forgotten this. That’s why we have been learning from them all Lent long and why we need to continue to learn from them. They tell us that this powerful spiritual energy, this Risen Christ, is available to us in each moment, especially when we linger at the places of death, whether in grief or in prophetic witness. When we sang “I am the Bread of Life” at my father’s memorial service, I sensed the presence of the Risen Christ.  And when members of Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson recently camped on the grounds of the San Carlos Apache, in solidarity with their struggle to save their sacred ancestral lands from a copper mining corporation, the Risen Christ was there with them. We can call upon that spiritual energy and be comforted and healed and empowered by it. 

And we can have our Risen Christ without saying that everyone has to have it, without saying that everyone has to call upon that spiritual energy with that name. My Tibetan Buddhist friend can have her experience of Green Tara, and Wendsler Nosie Sr. of the San Carlos Apache can have his incredible connection to Ussen, the Source of all life. But we can have what Mary Magdalene — the first witness to resurrection — had, what she told us about that morning.

Now,  more than ever, as life on this sacred planet is imperiled, we need her good news, we need this empowerment. The Risen One is saying our name. They (for the Risen One transcends gender) are here. They are with us, ready to comfort us, heal us on our journey. They are with us, read to empower us for the journey, for the fight. We can do things we never thought possible because the Risen One is with us. We can imagine new worlds! Take big risks! Do new things! Their Life-force and Love are always with us, everywhere, here, now and at the heart of every moment. 

Christ is risen. Amen.

Children’s Story

Hi, my name is Jesus. Actually, it was Yeshua if you say it in the language I spoke, but I’m going to make it easy on you and just call myself by the name you know — Jesus. You’ve probably heard of me before. This day is kind of all about me, right? I mean, most days are about me, but especially today. Do you know what today is? Do you know why it’s such a special day? (explain this was the day I came back to life after I had died)

I want to tell you my version of how this day went down. It’s Easter morning, and I’m sitting on a rock, not too far away from the tomb I had been lying in for almost two days. I’m getting used to this new body I’ve got. Elbows? Still got ‘em. Ankles? There. I pull my hair in front of my eyes — still looks about the same color. I was kind of hoping to come back as a redhead, but… oh well. But the body is definitely new, not like the old body. I’m sort of made of light now. I don’t quite know how to describe it. But I can do things I didn’t do before, like suddenly appear wherever I think about appearing. That is pretty cool, let me tell you.  I can’t wait to use that on my friends. 

Speaking of my friends, I was sitting there on the rock, when Mary comes by. Now, I love Mary. She’s my best friend. She understands me and what I’m about more than anybody else.  The whole time I was dying, Mary was there. Others left, but she stayed. 

But clearly, she doesn’t remember what I had told her and the others — that I would die and come back on the 3rd day in a new body. Because Mary is crying. She must really miss me. She goes into my tomb, and I follow her in. She turns around and looks at me.  I ask her why she’s so sad, who she’s looking for. I’m joking with her. I mean, I’m right here!  Tada!  But unbelievably, she doesn’t recognize me. And now I really see how sad and confused and scared she is. My heart breaks for her. I love her so much. And I say: “Mary.” 

And, finally, she recognizes me. And she stops crying, because she gets it right away, just like she always does. She gets that I’m here with her and I love her and that I will always be with her. I’m never going away again. I’m alive and I’m always going to be alive! If she just calls my name, I will be right there with her. In fact, in this new body, I can be with everyone who calls for me, because that’s another great thing I can do now: I can be in more than one place at a time! How cool is that?  Now, I can be with everyone, everywhere, and give them my love. Like this.  Go through and say to each child, calling them by name: I am with you and I love you.

Okay, that’s my story about Easter morning. Give me some high fives and then you can go back to your seat or downstairs.