april 4, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
April 4, 2010
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18

You have heard the story read…the gospel account of the Resurrection, according to John, and then according to Luke. Gospel is Greek for Good News, and this morning, the news truly is Good! Life overcomes death! God’s love overcomes the forces of injustice, and destruction! The Lord is risen! The tomb is empty! There’s a song of love in every heart, a gift from the living Christ! Alleluia!

I want to share another story with you this morning. But first, let us pray:

Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come as the fire and burn, come as the wind and cleanse, come as the dew and refresh, come as the light and reveal. Convict, convert, consecrate, until we are Wholly Thine…

Long, long ago, but not so long ago that I have forgotten, or that you should have forgotten, in a place far away, but not so far away, or so different from here—two best friends, Turtle and Raven, set out for a long journey together.

The first day they started off was delightful! “There is so much to see in this world, cried Raven! “There is much that is beautiful,” agreed Turtle. So on they went, two best friends. Turtle, moving slowly, step by step by step. And Raven, flapping and flitting and cawing about.

They talked as they went about what they saw, and they laughed, and they shared it with each other, and they delighted in this, because they saw it through different eyes.

After a few days of traveling, Raven’s impatience about Turtle’s pace was growing. Come on! Come on! Raven cried. There’s so much to see! We’ll miss so much if we move at your pace. Can’t you hurry it up?”

“I’m doing the best I can,” said Turtle.

It went on like this…Raven sighing loudly, pouting pointedly, rushing ahead and then turning back to tell Turtle all that Turtle would miss, was missing.

I’ll miss it all too, if I keep travelling with you, cried Raven. Come on! Come on!
I’m doing the best I can! said Turtle.

When they stopped that night to eat and rest, Raven took Turtle’s food away. “Maybe you move so slow because you eat too much! Don’t eat, and maybe tomorrow you won’t be so slow!”

So Turtle went to bed hungry, because of his best friend Raven.

The next morning they set off, and Turtle was very hungry indeed. But he couldn’t move any faster. It seemed, actually, that he was moving even slower. Come on! Come on! I’m doing the best I can…And, Raven, filled to the top with impatience and judgment and that dangerous hope that his friend would become just like him, turned to Turtle and slapped him across the face.


Turtle couldn’t believe what Raven had done. Raven couldn’t believe what Raven had done. Turtle, with tears in his eyes, took a stick, and began to write in the sand by the side of the road: Today…my best friend, my brother, Raven, slapped me in the face.

They continued to travel, but they no longer talked, they no longer laughed, and they no longer delighted in sharing with each other what they saw through different eyes.

Raven was so ashamed at what he had done, so sad at the hurt he had caused his best friend, his brother, that he made a promise that he would never again lash out like this. But the hurt was still deep, and they continued on in silence…
Finally, they came to a river, and it looked very, very good. They were hot and tired and weary…body and soul…and the water was so cool and inviting. When Turtle slid into the water, Raven couldn’t believe it! Turtle was graceful and fast. “Look at you! Look at you! cried Raven. We must always travel in water! Look at how fast you move!

So Turtle swam on, now much ahead of Raven. But suddenly, Turtle’s foot got stuck underwater, and something was pulling him down…Turtle tried to get his foot free, but he couldn’t, and he was being pulled under. “Help!” he cried. “Help!” Raven heard Turtle, and flew fast fast fast fast, as fast as he could, and grabbed onto Turtle and pulled and pulled and pulled and right when they thought all was lost, Raven pulled Turtle free!

Turtle swam to the bank of the river, and found a stone. Slowly, Turtle sharpened the stone on the rocks by the river, and then found a big rock that everyone who passed by would see. Turtle took the stone, and slowly wrote, Today…my best friend, my brother, Raven, saved my life.

“Oh, Turtle,” cried Raven…why did you write this in stone, and before, you only scratched it in sand?”

Because, said Turtle. We must write the hurt, the loss, the suffering, the pain, in the sand…so that the winds of time can wipe it away. But. We must write the good, the care, the gift, the love in stone, so that it is always, always there, to return to, and remember.

This is a good story. But like The story, the gospel story, it is an easier story to hear, to admire, to share, than it is to live.
With the empty tomb, with the scattered cloths, with the risen Lord, God’s love for God’s people, for us, for all the world, was written in stone, meant to be remembered, returned to over and over again…

John and Luke tell two different accounts of the same event. In John, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone. In Luke, she in one of a group of women. In both, the shadow of night still covers the world like a veil, and devotion that runs deeper than words can convey compels a women, or women, to sneak to a grave in the dark, so that they might offer tender touch, and final expressions of care.

In John, Mary runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple, unnamed, but marked and known as Jesus’ beloved, before the angels appear. In Luke, the women have not left the empty grave before they see the two men, light cascading over them. In both, the empty tomb was startling. A body was expected. Death was thought certain. An empty tomb just meant more loss…the body of their teacher, not even receiving a proper burial.

In John, Mary is greeted by the risen Lord. But, as well as she knows him, as long and as closely as she has followed him, she does not recognize him. She mistakes him for the gardener. The Word is flesh, and at first she cannot hear, or see. In Luke, the news of the resurrection is shared by the men in a sort of riddle: Why are you looking for the Living One among the dead? In both, those who first happen upon the Good News almost miss it, entirely.

In John, Jesus calls Mary by name, and it is then that she knows him for who he is. Mary, the only one to see Jesus through it all—through his betrayal, his sentencing, his crucifixion, his burial, and now, his resurrection, is sent out, to share the Good News. In Luke, the women go to share what they have seen, and no one listens to them, or believes. They are only women, after all…what could they know? (CONT)

In both, the Good News is meant to be shared, but will run into roadblocks of disbelief, and cries of, “Impossible!” And, the resistance comes first from those who think themselves faithful.

In John, the story comes to a close with Mary sharing the Good News. We do not know how people respond. In Luke, the women go to the apostles, and the Gospel falls on unhearing ears. Those who think themselves faithful, well, they think they already have it figured out. The facts might confuse them. They have been told the truth, and yet they are stuck in their own confusion.

We must write the hurt, the loss, the suffering, the pain in the sand, so that the winds of time can wipe it away. But we must write the good, the care, the gift, the love in stone, so that it is always, always there, to return to, and remember.

In this story, in all accounts, the weeping, the fear, the grief and loss, the not recognizing, not knowing, not getting, not listening, the feeling of being separated from the Word become Flesh…all of this is written in sand…real, but ready for the winds of time to wipe away.

And, in this story, in all accounts, the Good News is carved in stone, to be remembered, and returned to:

Even when we don’t know him, Jesus knows us, and Jesus calls us by name.

Often, we don’t know Christ when we see Christ; we don’t recognize Jesus’ way, even when it is immediately before us, crystal clear. But, the Living Christ is with us, close, teaching and guiding.

Often, we walk away from encounters with the Holy confused, shaking our heads, wondering about it all, not yet understanding, even when evidence of God’s laboring love is all around us, in plain sight.

The Good News is proclaimed by people we are used to overlooking and ignoring. The Good News can surprise, indeed, must surprise even the most faithful, the most devoted.

And, we can’t know the Good News, and certainly can’t share it, unless we keep showing up, reading to serve, and to care. Not just on Easter, for the pomp and celebration, but when the going gets tough…when the weeks wear on…when the cross looms large…when the forces of betrayal, oppression, and injustice threaten to choke out life…when suffering cannot be hidden away or disguised…when the cost seems too high…when it would be easier to just stay home…when it’s just one more Sunday, like all the others…when the world thinks us fools…when it is still night, and sleep would be easier…when the Good News expects much from us…

We can’t know the Good News, and certainly can’t share it, unless we keep showing up…keep looking for signs of life, and love…keep searching out ways to care, and serve, and believe…keep seeking the face of Christ on every gardener, every stranger, every body that is bruised, betrayed, beaten, yet begotten, and beloved…

For God so loved the world…When the stone is rolled away and we gaze into the empty tomb, God’s love is carved in stone…God’s gift of life—abundant, overflowing, amazing, unexpected—carved for eternity. The Good News is alive, to be returned to, and remembered. Today, tomorrow, and every day after…Christ is risen! Alleluia! Amen!

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