March 16, 2017; Easter Sunday, Year A
Sermon preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, O.A., Rector
It has always struck me as so interesting, that Mary Magdalene thinks Jesus is the gardener. Save that. We’ll come back to it.
The story starts when a Galilean peasant, working with his hands, transforms and begins the teaching ministry of a rabbi. But Jesus is a rabbi of a completely different ilk. He speaks to God with the intimacy of a little child, calling God “Abba” – the sound of the baby saying “Dada, Mama.” He describes his relationship with God in terms of pure love, a love that empowered him and made him free. When you compare Jesus to conventional rabbis, he was radically free.
He willingly broke the Sabbath in order to do good. He violated the purity laws in order to reach out to the unclean, to sinners, and even to the notorious. He served foreigners and nonbelievers in the same way he served his own people. His table fellowship was scandalous; he welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes as generously as he welcomed Pharisees. He overturned the business tables in the Jerusalem Temple where the conventional religion held a monopoly over forgiveness. Jesus declared that God’s forgiveness was free for the asking. Free for everyone.
His essential message was this:
“Behold!” Wake up! Become conscious! The Kingdom of God, is among us; the Reign of God is within us. (Luke 17:21). He told his listeners that all they had to do was to open their hearts and become conscious of God’s divine presence, here and now. Then Jesus proceeded to behold the Kingdom of God everywhere.
He looked at some peasant fishermen, hard at their labor, cleaning equipment. Behold! Jesus saw God’s presence in them and said, “Come! Follow me.” He saw a peasant woman sweeping her cottage to find a lost coin, and Behold!, he saw the Kingdom of God in her. He saw God’s presence in children, and told his friends to be like them. Jesus saw the Reign of God throughout nature, as he spoke of the trust of birds and flowers, the growth of seeds and plants, the pruning of fig trees and vineyards, the promise of a mustard seed, and the wonders of the divine presence in desert, the lake, and the river.
Jesus saw God’s presence also in the unexpected person or place. His model for neighborliness was a kind Samaritan, a controversial illustration in a culture that hated those Samaritan heretics. He saw God’s presence in an officer of the occupying Roman army; Jesus befriended him and said the pagan officer had more faith than anyone he knew in Israel. Jesus saw the presence of God in a Canaanite mother, in an insane man living among the tombs, in a child believed to be possessed of demons, in an impertinent woman who imposed herself uninvited upon a formal dinner and washed his feet with her hair; and Jesus was compassionate to all of them. Jesus was especially compassionate toward anyone who suffered – lepers, the hungry, the poor, the sick, the widowed and orphan. He saw God in all of them, and he loved them.
Here’s the thing. Jesus experienced no separation between himself and God. Jesus experienced no separation between himself and others. Jesus said it is all one: “I am in my Father, and you and me, and I you.” (John 14:20) Jesus prayed for his disciples that they would receive the same glory that God has given him, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one.” (John 20:22) He called his disciples to behold a transformed life of equality and inclusivity where tax collectors, sinners, women, children, lawyers, housewives and rabbis are one, united in compassion, justice and peace.
His message was too much for the religious and political leaders to take. He threatened their authority to enforce their control and their boundaries and their power. So they did away with him. And he took it. He died with the same compassionate love that he lived. And everyone thought it was over.
But it wasn’t. God was present in the unjust torture and execution of an innocent man. Jesus lived. Freed from the particularity of flesh and blood, Jesus became present everywhere in the same way that he had experienced God’s presence everywhere.
And so on Easter morning, a weeping Mary Magdalene grieving at the empty tomb asked a gardener, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” It must’ve been the way the gardener said her name, “Mary.” She knew instantly; it was her teacher.
Later that evening some disciples on the road to Emmaus were talking together about everything that had happened, when a stranger joined the conversation. They listened as the stranger gave them a new way to think about things they had long known in the scriptures. He was about to leave when they invited him to dinner. At dinner, the stranger took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then they realized; the stranger was Jesus.
Some weeks later, the fishermen were back at their work. They had labored all night and caught nothing. Some know-it-all stranger standing on the beach shouted advice to them. “Throw the net again!” As tired as they were they followed the stranger’s advice, and the net filled with an abundant catch. One of the disciples suddenly realized, “It is the Lord!”
In the resurrection, the Spirit of Jesus has expanded universally. Just like Jesus saw God’s presence everywhere, now his disciples can see Jesus everywhere. Behold! Wake up and see! Become conscious. Jesus is in God and Jesus is in you and in me and in everyone in all creation. We are all one. Can you see the Kingdom of God among us and within us?
Behold! The gardener putting his seeds in the newly warming earth, and the Delta farmer on his tractor. A woman sweeping her kitchen; a child running in the park. A nurse tending to a dying man; a junkie getting a hit to kill the pain. Laborers cleaning their equipment after a hard night in the chicken plant; an accountant finishing tax returns before midnight. A man on death row waking for his last day; the Dalai Lama waking at 3 a.m. to pray for five hours. A faithful Muslim chanting on his prayer rug; an Episcopalian reading Morning Prayer. God’s living Spirit is in everyone and everything that lives. The resurrection makes us whole. We are all one.
Christians express that oneness in the Eucharist. We experience Jesus present in the gifts he gave us at his Last Supper, in the bread and wine. The grain of wheat that was buried in the soil rises again to produce a hundredfold which we grind into flour; the oil and heat combine and it all rises into bread. An immigrant picks the grapes that are crushed, and they rot and ferment into wine. Behold! The Body and Blood Christ. Whoever you are and wherever you are in your pilgrimage of faith you are welcome.
The eternal cycle of birth, growth, community, death and resurrection is all one cycle. Behold as we raise the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of the resurrected Jesus. We bring the whole world with us as we come to communion. At this table we become one. Then we go out to behold Christ’s presence in everything and everyone.
Behold! Christ is risen, and God has raised all things with him into the unity of divine love. Alleluia!Download the Sermon PDF