“Same Old, Same Old, Or…?”
By the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
March 27, 2016
I am not what you’d call an early riser, but this morning, as I have since I was six years old, I rose at 5:15 and greeted Easter morning with a hearty group of folks at the Sunrise service. It’s my tradition. It’s my habit.
And we humans are creatures of habit aren’t we?
And we love traditions! Every Easter, we get up and get dressed and we come to church. Some of us put on bow ties. Some put on Easter bonnets. And the food on our tables this afternoon will be very much like the food that was there last Easter.
We are habitual in other ways as well. The way we spend our evenings: The same dinners over and over again. The same TV shows. The same authors. The same restaurants. The same music. The same websites. We may not all have the same routines, but we all have routines.
They make us feel comfortable. They make us feel safe. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless they keep us from the new things that God has in store for us.
And don’t we ever need new things right now?!
I’m not going to get political this morning. The gospel does have political implications, but it’s Easter and I don’t want to offend anyone. But wow. Things have gotten out of hand, haven’t they?
If I were going to get political, which I’m not, I’d have a lot to say about the quality of discourse in the presidential primary. If I were going to get political, which I’m not, I’d have a lot to say about how important it is for us to resurrect our long and inspiring history of respect and cooperation amongst political parties and amongst our leaders.
Listening and respectful negotiation led to our cherished freedom of religion and to so many other milestones in our society, moments of liberation and inclusion that reflect our best values and our best selves.
If I were going to get political, which I’m not, I’d say that Canada is a very, very nice country. I’ve been there on vacation and I could picture myself there…
In all seriousness, I believe we’ll get through this odd time in our history and that we’ll be stronger for it, as long as we are open to a new way of being.
But things are a mess these days, aren’t they, not only here, but all over the world.
There’s ISIS and Boko Haram. We read about them every day in the news. These groups and others are causing great suffering, mostly amongst other Muslims (who are their main target). They are giving Islam a bad name (which is causing my Muslim friends and colleagues great despair).
The global temperature is rising. The seas are rising.
Oil and gas prices are down, which is nice, except that it’s causing the stock market to go down, too.
You might be feeling down as well.
You lost your job. You lost your dad or your mom or your best friend. Your marriage is on the rocks. You messed up at work or in your classes or in your personal life. You’re in debt and you have no idea how you’re going to get out of it. Your body is rebelling against you. Your mind is rebelling and you can’t seem to control it.
You know what we need right now? Each one of us? We need resurrection!
And thank God… Thank God it’s Easter! And we have a story of resurrection right here in front of us in the Gospel of John.
Since there are four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are four different resurrection stories, each one emphasizing the priorities of its author.
John’s priorities were more internal, personal, and spiritual than the other three gospel writers’. From the very first chapter, the Jesus we meet in the Gospel of John is more of a Cosmic Christ than he is Jesus, the man, the carpenter of Nazareth.
And on this morning, this morning when we may be feeling so disappointed in our world, our nation, and ourselves, we meet this Jesus, the Jesus of the heart. And just in time, too.
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She is devastated. Her teacher, her best friend, has been executed in a horrific and very public way. She has no idea what she is going to do now. She goes to the tomb to pay her respects and sees that the stone is rolled away. In a panic, she runs to get Peter and John. They run to the tomb and they, too, see that it is empty.
Their reaction? The author says that these two male disciples simply leave and go home. The text says that they did not yet understand that he must rise from the dead. So, they go back to their old lives, their old assumptions about the rottenness of the world, their old routines. At least fishing will bring in a little money.
But something in Mary causes her to linger. She stays in the graveyard, weeping, and runs into a man she thinks is the gardener.
How is it possible that she doesn’t recognize Jesus, the most important person in her life? Maybe, like her male counterparts, Peter and John, she had already returned to her old life, at least mentally. Her life before Jesus. The bad old days.
But then… in an instant, she does recognize him and reaches out to embrace him. But Jesus says, no. And it makes sense. Resurrection is all about the new, the future. He doesn’t want Mary to hang on to any part of the past, including his earthly body. In refusing to let her hold on to him physically, he is saying, Mary, we are creating something new here, a new heart within each one of us.
Unlike the other three gospel writers’ accounts, this resurrection story is intensely personal. It’s all about a resurrection of the heart within Jesus’ closest female disciple.
Can we experience that same kind of new life within, a resurrection of the heart? Even allowing for our love of routines, can we also allow the risen Christ to make our heart – our core – brand new?
And what would that be like? What would it feel like to really leave the past in the past? To have a new attitude about ourselves, a new hopefulness about each day, a new mind-set toward the people around us, especially the ones who are hard to be around?
Earlier in John, Jesus says, I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.
And in Matthew, he says, The Realm of God is among you.
In other words, Christ’s resurrection isn’t only about our private, individual experience of enlightenment. Even Mary eventually left the graveyard and rejoined the other disciples. Jesus spoke about a whole new reality for everyone, a new world we share and experience alongside our neighbors.
I’m not talking about converting others; I’m talking about respecting others, listening to others, loving others who are different, serving others, just like Jesus did.
But it starts inside each one of us, with that resurrection of the heart.
My wish, my prayer for each one of you is that, as you move through this day, with all of its beautiful sights and smells and tastes, that you will also sense a new reality within yourself, and that the joy in your eyes will light up the world.