Looking for Bones … Finding the Risen Christ
Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
April 8, 2007 (Easter)
John 20:1-18 Isaiah 65:17-25
We can imagine Mary Magdalene’s grief on this first Easter morning, as she arrives at the tomb to see her beloved Jesus one last time … and his body is gone. On Friday this man whom she loved so dearly had been killed, and now even his body is gone. She wanted to be close to him again, but now she can’t.
Many of us understand from experience the need to see, to hold, the body of a loved one—one last time. Sometimes when someone we love has died, it takes a while before we’re ready to let the body go. We want to touch those hands again, smooth back that hair, bury our head on that breast. We want to remember what it felt like to be with that person.
There’s also a sense that when we can touch someone or something, hold them, see them, weigh them in our hands or arms, that knowing gives us a bit of control, a bit of power. Of course, parents of young children soon realize that the control they actually have over their children is a great deal less than the power they thought they’d have when those children were first born. I’d still say, though, that as a Mom I felt I had a whole lot more control over my three-year-old son, whom I could touch and see, than I did over his imaginary friend, Bebe.
We have sayings in our culture that teach us about these things: Seeing is believing, we say, and Knowledge is power. The more we can touch and see, hear and smell, weigh and measure and evaluate, the more we feel we know and the more comfortable we are. We read the science section of our newsmagazines and watch the Discovery Channel to learn “what we know now.”
This reminds me of the little boy who was most insistent that for his birthday—he was turning four—he wanted a ruler. When his mother asked what kind of ruler he wanted, he looked at her in some disdain. “You know, a measuring ruler.” So she got him a ruler and gave it to him with his other gifts at a party with all his aunts and uncles and cousins in attendance. He received it with joy and some awe, she saw, and he carried it with him all afternoon. She noticed that he would go up to a group of older cousins, or a couple of uncles, or an aunt, and hold his ruler up … and then after a few minutes of conversation he would walk away, each time with a greater look of disappointment on his face. When she finally had a chance to talk to him about his ruler, he burst into tears. “It’s no good!” he sobbed. “It doesn’t measure how many freckles Cousin Anne has on her face or how much sunlight is coming through the window or how many times Uncle Jim hiccups or even how much Grandmom loves me! It’s just no good.”
He was following that instinct that so many of us have, to measure and count and weigh our world so that we can know it. We use the tools we have—the scientific method, logic, even common sense and “natural law”—to make sense of our world. And when our tools can’t measure a piece of the world—ESP, for example, or Eastern medicine, or the power of faith, or God—we either discard the tool or we discount the thing we were trying to measure.
You may have heard the news reports in the past couple of months about the new book that reports on the discovery of bones said to be those of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, in
But what is it in us that wants to see those bones, touch those bones, do DNA testing on those bones? I think it’s partially our need to see and touch and weigh and measure so we can evaluate … and it’s partially that same desire Mary Magdalene had. We want to be close to Jesus. We want to hold Jesus, to hang on to him.
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni” (Teacher).
Oh, what joy! Here he is—he lives! He’s here! And surely she reached out to grab him, to hug him, to kiss him … but he said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” And he told her to go tell the disciples, and she did. “I have seen the Lord!” she said.
I remember the first year that I understood the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. I was about seven, I think, and I remember coming to my mother in tears. “But Mommy!” I said. “Wouldn’t it have been better if he had just kept on living forever and ever?” I know that she tried to explain how he had died for our sins and that it really was better this way, but it didn’t make any sense to me at seven. It’s hard for a seven-year-old to get a hold on the Risen Christ; 47 years later I sometimes feel like I’m just beginning to get a glimpse.
Jesus told Mary to tell the disciples that he was returning to “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” When Jesus wiped our sins away, he allowed us to truly become children of God. Our sins are what separate us from God, but God has forgiven our sins … God continues to forgive our sins. And as God’s beloved daughters and sons, we are participants with the Risen Christ in the
Our scripture from Isaiah describes this kingdom:
I will create new heavens and a new earth. … I will rejoice over
What a wonderful world, where children and old people thrive, where no refugees are forced from their homes, where no one works for decades only to see everything taken away because of catastrophic medical bills or unjust lending practices. What a wonderful world. The resurrection means that this world is possible, and our faith tells us it’s coming.
We can’t see and hold Jesus’ bones, but we can see and hold the signs of the Kingdom. Or as some contemporary theologians call it, the Kin-dom—where all are family, are kin. As God’s forgiven people, we are members of that Kin-dom—receivers of its blessings and actors in bringing it about. No matter how much the world turns its back on the Kin-dom, no matter how often we seem to pave over
We look around us today and see the beautiful Easter lilies, symbols of Christ’s purity. They’re wonderful … and who among us can see them and not think, “Easter”? But you know, lilies aren’t flowers that we encounter every day. Philadelphians started importing them from
But I’d like to suggest that there’s another flower that can also be a symbol of the Risen Christ and the Kin-dom of God. The world turns its back on this flower, it paves it over and pulls it up and poisons it and tramples it and cuts it off, but the Spirit blows the dandelion where it wills, and there it is … in your back yard and growing between the cracks in your neighbor’s front walk, and here and there in whole glorious yellow, sunny fields.
The Lord is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! And that means that you and you and you and I are restored to our rightful role and full children of God, full members of the family of God, true participants in the Kin-dom of God. It’s a responsibility—to love our neighbors and care for our children and our world, to be part of the everlasting re-creation of the world—and most of all it’s a joy. Hallelujah!
As you go out into the world in the coming weeks and months, keep your eyes open for dandelions. And even if you feel that you simply must eradicate that weed from your yard, remember that it is a sign of the Kin-dom of the Risen Christ. Let it remind you to look around: Where is that Kin-dom at work, and how can you be a participant in it?
Hallelujah! Christ is risen, and with him we are raised into the Kin-dom of God. Hallelujah!