The Story Continues

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
April 12, 2020 ● Easter Sunday (Year A)
Gospel: John 20:1-18

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church's Easter Mass (April 12 at 10:30 a.m.)Celebrant: The Rev. Adrienne HymesMusic: Ms. Gina SpanoCantor/Vocals: Ms. Katherine KnippelLay Reader/Camera: Mr. LeGrand Jones

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 12, 2020

The typical behavior of a movie theatre audience is predictable—people come into the theatre expecting to see the movie they desired and when it’s over, they get up and leave. That’s most audiences in most movie theatres. But the faithful audiences that gather for the mega film box office franchise—Marvel Comic’s The Avengers—are not most audiences. These are the films with the superheroes: Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain America, the Hulk, Spider Man, Thor, and on and on.

The faithful Avengers audiences know those characters by name and their unique and interrelated stories. With each movie in the franchise, the individual character storylines build upon the other and become a larger narrative, of which all of the characters are a part, across time and space. So when an Avengers movie ends, the faithful fans sit and wait. They wait because they know that the end of the movie is not the end and the closing credits give way to the brief glimpse, in the form of a mysterious preview, into what’s to come. There is more to the story; and the story continues.

Our gospel narrative today begins with a disciple of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, whom we know never left Jesus. She was with Jesus on the way to the cross; at the foot of the cross as he was crucified; and now at the tomb wherein his body had been laid. In the hour of Mary’s distress, she would soon learn that Jesus was with her.

When Mary went to the tomb she found the stone had been removed. She went to get backup from two other disciples—Peter and John. Recall that Peter had denied Jesus, and was not with him at his crucifixion.  But the other disciple whom Jesus loved, John, had been with Mary as they watched a tortured Jesus die on the cross.

Peter and John did some investigating inside the tomb, but did not connect the dots between Jesus’ fulfillment of scripture, that he must rise from the dead, and that he had indeed been raised. Here we have two of Jesus’ closest insiders—who saw what Mary saw, and at the end of their observation, departed for their homes. Insert closing credits for the two disciples. The tomb was empty and Jesus’ body was not where it was supposed to be.  We have the advantage of knowing what Peter and John don’t—that empty tomb was not the end; just wait, there is more to the story.

As the weeping Mary Magdalene stayed behind, Jesus gave her a brief glimpse, albeit initially cryptic, of the continuing story, beyond the tomb, of which she was necessarily apart. Overcome with weeping and unable to make sense of Jesus’ missing body, Mary was addressed by two angels from inside the tomb, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She told the angels why she was so distraught…and her weeping continued.

Then Jesus appeared to her, and asked her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary’s tears, frustration and her need to have the mystery solved, blinded her from recognizing Jesus standing before her, supposing him to be the gardener, and even suggested that he had carried him away.  The very thing she so desperately sought was standing before her, but her emotions blinded her. But the very sound of Jesus’ familiar voice calling her by name, “Mary,” made her turn toward the voice. In that moment, she recognized her beloved teacher—her Rabbouni—who was once again present, up close and personal, with her.

I am reminded of Jesus’ image of himself, in John’s gospel, as the good shepherd who knows his own sheep and they know him by listening to his voice (John 10:14-16).  Once Jesus had her attention, he empowered her to go and tell the other disciples the words he had spoken to her.

In the real presence of Jesus, Mary, the first witness to the risen Christ, was forever transformed from a weeping and distraught disciple into an empowered evangelist. Mary’s announcement, “I have seen the Lord,” gives way for us to glimpse what’s to come. For we know that there will be more to the story; and that the story continues.

During this time of trial, as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to globally plague humanity, people are inconsolably weeping, and they are frightened, confused and distraught. Many churches are empty right now, and as the body of Christ, the Church is not where people expect it to be. Even as people may seek Jesus, the non-stop distractions of life blind them from recognizing his real presence even as He stands before them in myriad forms.

Might we, the church, the body of Christ, get up close and personal—with all of God’s people, respecting the dignity of every human being by starting first with calling them by name.

Perhaps then, those who seek Jesus, and who have ears to hear, will turn toward him and recognize his presence through the loving voices of his 21st century disciples—empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world announcing the life-saving message of the Gospel.

Dear Easter people, on this most holy day we rejoice in the emptiness of the tomb. We rejoice that the body of Jesus, expected to be in the tomb, was NOT where it was expected to be. And that, in our great distress, Jesus, who was with his beloved disciple, Mary, is always with us.

We shout, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed—Alleluia!” But, that’s also not the end of the story. Christ has died. Christ is risen. And, we await his coming again—while God’s plan for human salvation unfolds. Just wait. There is more to the story. And, thanks be to God, the story—our story in Christ—continues.