It is beautiful to be together this morning. It has been a Good Friday sort of season. And I admit that it feels a bit spiritually dissonant for me to muster Easter Hallelujah’s this year- in a week where the United States dropped a 21-thousand pound bomb on Afghanistan, that obliterates everything within a 1,000 yards. The Empire to which we pay taxes is financially invested in systems that cause harm and suffering for so much of life on the planet.
On Friday I thought of Jesus words on the cross, Father forgive them, they know not what they do. God, forgive us, we know not what we do.
And maybe that is part of the point of this core story of the Christian faith- that we human beings often miss what matters for the whole and we fail to see the bigger vision. In the moment, we get it wrong; we don’t fully understand what we are doing. We choose our way over God’s.
And yet Jesus’ prayer from pain is not the final chapter.
The Christian Gospels tell the Easter story differently. In all four of them, women come to the empty tomb on the first day of the week, but only in the book of John does Mary come twice and in Matthew and Luke, she comes early, but only in John does the text say she came, “while it was still dark.”
Mary showed up expecting to sit with his body, who some say might have been her love. And before the sun rose, before the sting of death could settle in, she had planned to be with what was left of him and her shattered dreams. Before light, before clarity, before answers, Mary showed up.
And amid her frantic search for Jesus’ body, we hear this question: whom are you looking for? It is similar to the question we hear earlier in the Gospel of John, where in chapter 1 Jesus is just starting to recruit people to take his teachings seriously. When the first two begin to walk behind him he asks: what are you looking for?
After it was clear that his body was not there, what did she hope to find? Was it the next step, was it answers, was it closure?
What are you looking for? Maybe she didn’t yet know.
But she showed up anyway. She showed up with more questions than answers. She showed up with suffocating sadness. She showed up without anyone to have her back.
And somehow, that day, the pain and suffering of Friday was transformed. And somehow at some point in the story as Bradley Hanson points out, Mary moves from being disillusioned and disappointed to being bold and courageous. And somehow her conviction that Jesus’ death will not be the last reason they come together, holds the place for what comes next.
Whatever science can or cannot explain about defying death or whatever we can philosophically justify about resurrection, something happened on that Sunday morning so long ago that began in the dark. Something happened where Jesus’ mediocre friends were transformed from fickle followers to people awake and aiming to live in the Way.
What are you looking for?
What do we look for when the Empire to which we pay taxes is financially invested in systems that cause harm and suffering? What do we look for when we must keep repeating, God, forgive us, we know not what we do? What do we look for when like Mary our plans have unraveled and the landscape around us has changed and the world as we knew can never be again?
After it was clear that his body was not there, what did she hope to find? What are you looking for? And this week I am wondering whether she was looking for other people- to see if anyone else would show up too?
She knew deeply that living what Jesus taught, could not happen outside of community. There’s no manner by which we can learn to love radically, to live the Great Commandment for which Jesus’ gave his life, without a context by which we learn to love people other than ourselves, and our own way.
Easter feels miraculous to me, not because the tomb was empty and there was no body to be found, but because somehow this little band of people with just a little in common, committed to keep rising together. It’s miraculous, not just because of the newly planted seeds of faith in God, but because of a newly planted seeds of faith in one another.
When we miss the point and fail to see the bigger vision, when we get it wrong and don’t get what we are doing, when we choose our way over God’s, how do we know what to look for?
We look for one another. We look for whoever is willing to keep rising. We look for the funky tribe that is okay with not knowing, we look for the ones who accept the call to show up, we look for the ones who stay convicted in love, while it is still dark, while there are more questions than answers.
Perhaps Mary lived Maya Angelou’s words, “You may write me down in history, With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt, But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” We rise…who’s with me?