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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter Sunday 03/31/2013

There’s an old Jewish prayer that begins, “Days pass and years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”  If it’s an old Jewish prayer it obviously isn’t about Easter, but it could be because Easter of all days, is a day of miracles if we take the blinders off so we can see it.  Among all the claims of Christianity though, for many, the Easter claim of Jesus’ resurrection is the most difficult.  For many, they remain sightless to the claim of such a miracle and so remain in the darkness of early Easter morning, as it was when Mary Magdalene first went to the tomb. 

We want to make this lack of vision a modern problem with the idea that it was easier for people “back then” to believe that someone could return from the dead.  A reading of any of the gospel accounts of the resurrection tells you otherwise though.  The accounts all differ in various details but what they have in common is the skepticism of the earliest witnesses, their inability to see what had happened. 

In what we heard from John today, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, while it was still dark, and found the stone had been removed, her first reaction was not “Alleluia!  He is Risen!” it was the more logical “someone has stolen the body.”  In the dark, she walked sightless to the miracle, her expectation being that Jesus’ death would follow the normal course of things when, in fact, something totally unexpected had happened, something wildly outside the normal course of things, something new.

But why would Mary have thought any different than she did?  There was no reason for her to expect a miracle.  Most of what she was doing was just part of what we call the grieving process.  She was paying her respects just as many people still do, visiting the grave site as a way to feel closer to the one who has died.  What she knew was that Jesus was dead.  Her expectation was that he would remain dead but life would go on, for her, not the same as it was, but she would carry on as best she could.

What Mary found though was not what she expected but being sightless to the miracle her first reaction was to put it into a category that she could understand, the idea that someone had moved the body; no miracle there, nothing we would be celebrating here this morning.  This miracle however, wasn’t through with her.  Having run to get Peter and the other disciple they returned to the tomb.  First looking in and then going in, they saw the linen wrappings and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head not just thrown aside, but neatly rolled up, but still there was no “Alleluia!  He is Risen!”  The two disciples went home leaving Mary Magdalene there, by herself, still outside the tomb, still in the dark.

When she looked in again she saw two angels who asked her why she was weeping.  Even with that though, even encountering angels, she was still sightless to the miracle, sharing with the angels her assumption that someone had taken the body and then we expect the angels to announce “He is Risen!” like they do in the other gospels…but they don’t.  That’s it for the angels in John’s telling of things.  They don’t announce the resurrection; they don’t announce anything, they just ask Mary why she is weeping. 

The unexpected continues for her though as she turns around and sees Jesus when he speaks to her but she doesn’t recognize him.  She doesn’t know it’s him, but we do.  Mary remains sightless to the miracle, still interpreting things in more conventional ways with the assumption that she has met the gardener.  So you see, this inability to see the miracle isn’t a modern problem. 

The way John tells the story is different.  He shifts the focus of suspense.   Even if we had never heard the story before, at this point we know that the person Mary Magdalene thinks is the gardener is Jesus.  At this point we could say, “Alleluia!  He is Risen!”   For John though, the suspense has to do with when will the darkness lift for Mary?  When and how will the miracle become real to her?    

In John the darkness lifts for Mary when Jesus calls her by name.  For Mary that’s when she goes from walking sightless, in the dark, to the light of living the miracle.  The empty tomb didn’t do it; the appearance of angels didn’t do it; even the voice of Jesus didn’t do it.  It wasn’t until she heard her name spoken by the Risen Christ that the reality of the miracle hit her and her eyes were opened.  She wasn’t looking for a miracle, but at that moment, the moment she heard her name, suddenly, for her, there were miraculous categories that went beyond that which was expected and normal. 

Something new and unexpected had happened but even with her new vision Mary Magdalene’s immediate expectation was probably still bound by a desire for what was, most likely the hope that things could return to what had been normal, the hope that the events of the past few days would be undone and life would resume as it was.  On hearing her name, she called Jesus “Teacher” because that’s who he had been to her.  She wanted Jesus back at the center of her life and for a moment that’s what she thought she had, but her next surprise was Jesus saying, “Don’t hold on to me!” when that’s exactly what she wanted to do.  He would still be at the center of her life, but in a new way.  This miracle wasn’t about undoing what had been done, it was something new.

That’s what we celebrate here today, that something new.  That’s the meaning of our cries of “Alleluia!  He is Risen!”  But there’s more; it’s not just that something new done long ago; it’s also about a new reality and the continuing possibility of something new.  Jesus’ caution to Mary not to hold on to him was about the future direction of the Resurrection.  The Resurrection wasn’t about a return to what had been, the old expected and normal. 

Jesus’ Resurrection opened a new world of possibility.  It was God’s act against all the powers of the world that deal in death, all the powers that only deal in that which is expected and normal, the future just a reworking of the past.  But the miracle of the Resurrection is that all of that has been put in the past and left there and you can’t go back!  You can’t go back because with Jesus’ resurrection, the world is different. With that difference, you can only move forward in hope, into a new and unexpected future.   

On Easter Sunday, you can’t go back!  With Mary Magdalene, and the disciples we become part of resurrection life.  In baptism, we too have been called by name and welcomed into the future that Jesus opens for us.  Days still pass and years still vanish, and miracles are still all around us; but because of this greatest miracle we are no longer sightless.

Christ is Risen.  He is risen indeed.  That is the new and miraculous reality that we proclaim.  The tomb is empty and He is Risen.  With the Risen Christ we expect the unexpected, we move into the future expecting miracles, and we’re not going back. 

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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