The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Opening Prayer:  O God, may the words from my lips give us pause for our reflection on the good news of Easter this day.  Amen.

“Joy comes with the dawn, joy comes with the morning sun, joy springs from the tomb and scatters the night with her song, joy comes with the dawn….”!

After worship today, it is possible that some of us here may carry the lyrics our communion hymn this morning or its melody out into the sunshine as we pick up the threads of our lives.

It’s also possible that these lyrics may spring to mind for others of us here as you take part in planned or impromptu Easter egg hunts out of doors. 

For still others, the words of this lovely and evocative hymn might pop into your minds as you get together with family and friends to enjoy a walk or Easter Sunday dinner. 

Its also possible that Easter Sunday, certainly one of my favourite days in the church year, might be yours also. 

For me, Easter Sunday memories and rituals were very important elements of my faith formation as a child and for my ongoing faith formation in the living out of my adult life, which is ongoing!

Growing up in a hard-working immigrant family in the Canadian context in the mid 1950’s, introduced to the United Church of Canada since the age of 9 or so,  it has long been my spiritual “home”. 

Somehow, the good news of Easter got itself lodged in my bones at a very young age and it lives there still.

That’s not to say that I haven’t always struggled with the lead up to the good news of Easter.  And perhaps that is the case for many of you here as well. 

How does it fit together with the wanton cruelty and horror of the events of Holy Week and Jesus’ death on the cross and the hollow emptiness of Holy Saturday?

As an Easter people, I see that to be the major challenge and blessing of being the church in this time and in this place:

Finding ways of integrating all things secular and sacred that have and continue to shape us.

I also wonder: How do we integrate all that we have been about and hope to become as faithful followers in the way of Jesus?

And   

How do we integrate all this and more knowing there can be no Easter joy without the intentional letting go of all that blocks us from God and one another?

Here at Knox 40 days ago, we were able to frame that question in community on the first Sunday in Lent with an intentional ritual of letting go using palm branch ashes from a previous year.

For five Wednesdays in the season of Lent this year, a good dozen or so of had numerous conversations about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of our faith challenges us as we discovered, among other things, which stories from scripture we would be willing to bet our lives on over and against those offered by Mike Slaughter, author of our Lenten study guide, The Rebel Jesus, and the Radical Road to the Cross.

Then along came another opportunity to clarify what we believe as we set time aside to reflect on how the two parades of Palm Passion Sunday are juxtaposed as we considered what it was like to be among those who first hailed the King of the Jews with palm branches only to later find themselves among those shouting:  “Crucify him!   Crucify him!’ 

Following on from there we had two services here during Holy Week with yet more opportunities to wonder:

How do we discover Easter joy through bodily experiencing servanthood ministry?

Ask anyone who was able to wash one another’s hands in Christ’s love at our Maundy Thursday service and you will get a good idea.

And finally:

How do we discern what it means to be an Easter people unless we, too, enter into the pathos and passion of the Good Friday stories from scripture, the ones that so vividly demonstrate how quickly things can fall apart, how fear can lead to betrayal leaving isolated, desperate, dying victims in its wake?

Again, check with folks who was able to take part in our Good Friday service just a couple of days ago and you will learn a little about how that happens.

This year, I am well pleased with the varied and many ways we invited each other into experiencing the puzzle pieces of how our faith stories inform our lives and our actions this Lenten season and I take hope in remembering this:

God does promise to walk with us alone and together, no matter the circumstance. 

God does accompany us in the broken and shattered places in our lives so that healing and wholeness can happen.

Taking a step back, let’s take a little closer look at our readings from John’s gospel this morning.  Here we are privy to three different stories of witness. 

We begin with Mary Magdelene, who, having arrived at the place Jesus’ body was entombed, finds the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty.   

Running, we are told, she finds Peter and the “other disciple whom Jesus loved” and tells them this disturbing news. 

Those two must then run to the tomb to see for themselves.  Though the “other disciple” arrives first, it is Peter who enters in to see.  Only then does the “other” disciple enter in. 

Now having satisfied their own need to see for themselves what Mary Magdelene had told them was true, they then do the most ordinary of things, they go home. 

Now, as at the beginning of the story, only Mary remains at the empty tomb. 

Still shaken and seeking Jesus’ body, it is Mary, in her deep grief, who is the first disciple to experience the Risen Christ after an encounter with two angels seated where Jesus’ body would have lain in the tomb.  Here, Jesus’ himself, poses for Mary the hallmark question of discipleship.  Out of the mouth of the one she has assumed to be the gardener, Mary discovers the risen Christ as he says:  Who are you looking for?   Realizing she is talking to none other than her Lord and master, she addresses him as would any of the other disciples, exclaiming: “Teacher!”  As the story from John’s gospel concludes, just as Mary of Magdala has been the first one to come and see, Jesus directs her to go and tell the others what she has seen.    

And so it, Mary Magdelene, the first disciple does just that.  Putting aside her shock and grief, she runs to tell the others the good news:  She has been personally invited by the Risen Christ into the great cleanup of the world (as Marcus Borg would describe it) and there is no time to waste!

The good news for us sitting here today?  Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ, thought to have been disposed of by the powers and principalities of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago, somehow has got and continues to be on the loose and in the world, ready to realign himself with God and the world in a new way and to continue his ministry of healing and teaching.  

As our worship service continues, may, we, too, come to know a glimmer of God’s sacramental grace offered in our experience of the sacrament of communion this morning.

It’s also possible that this could happen for you as you may choose to renew your baptismal vows gently splash yourselves with water drops from the very same bowls we used to wash one another’s hands on Maundy Thursday,

All this and more we remember knowing that “Joy comes with the dawn, joy comes with the morning sun, joy springs from the tomb, and scatters the night with her song, joy comes with the dawn ….”  May it be so, amen.

N. B. some aspects of this sermon take their impetus from personal reflection and the following resources

  1. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book: The Last Week, What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus Final Days in Jerusalem, Harper, SanFransisco, 2006
  2. Miriam Therese Winter, WomenWord, A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter, Women of the New Testament, Crossroads, New York, 1994
  3. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, NY, 2004
  4. Harper Collins Study Bible, Harper Colllins Publisher, 1989