United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Finding Resurrection”


Rev. Rebecca Migliore


 April 21, 2019


       This year as I looked at the story of Easter told in the gospel of John, I wondered, where do we find Resurrection?  Is it in the story about women going to anoint Jesus’ body in the early hours of the day?  Is it in the story of an empty tomb?  Is it in the angels’ greeting?  Finding Resurrection in the gospel of John is curious.  In fact, there is no one who “speaks” the news—no one who yells “Jesus is risen.”  And yet, at its conclusion, Mary can proclaim, “I have seen the Lord.”

       This is Easter Sunday.  This is the day of Resurrection.  And I find myself strangely curious about this story we tell of Jesus as a Jack-in-the-box.  Push him down into the grave, wind the clock a little, and pop, the box opens, and Jesus is alive again.  Is that Resurrection?

       I don’t find any comfort in the fact that the people who experienced it didn’t get it either.  They were boots on the ground.  They had the evidence in hand.  They could touch and feel and smell and sense what was going on.  If they couldn’t be sure—what chance do we have?  Yet, amid my skepticism, I was pulled into the story.  It seemed like something we might experience; it seemed like real life. 

I was fascinated by the motions in the story.  Beginning with Mary plodding, wearily, sadly, inching her way towards the grave of Jesus, towards the inevitable truth of death, of the horrible marks of cruelty on his body, of the death of more than her Lord—the death of her dreams, the death of her world. 

       And then the explosion of the frantic energy of shock—the stone rolled away, the body gone, the flight back to the house where they were staying, the shaking of Peter and John awake, of trying to tell them, amid gasps and tears, “They…taken…out of the tomb… Don’t know where… Don’t know where… where?”

       And the pell mell running back, she jogging as fast as she can go, because she has already made the journey once today, outpaced by her brothers in grief.  And they aren’t any help.  When she arrives at the tomb for the second time, they have been in and are turned toward home.  Peter with this confused look on his face.  John with radiant excitement.

       And Mary is left alone, stationary, moving only in her grief.  Body racked with sobs.  Mind numbed—wasn’t it enough to humiliate him, torture him, kill him?  They have to take even his body away?  And she stoops to look again into the tomb, and there are … angels.

       Is that resurrection?  But they say nothing of Jesus, only ask her “Woman, why are you weeping?”  And then there is this turning between angels and the one who she supposes is the gardener who also asks her “Why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?”  Turning, whirling,  “They have taken my Lord.” Turn to the angels.  “I don’t know where he is.” Turn back to the “gardener”.  “If you know, tell me.”  Turn to the angels “I will go and get him, please.”    “Mary.”

       And this time the turn is sharp, and fast, and before she can stop herself, she knows “Rabbouni”—Teacher--Jesus—LORD.  And she moves to touch him, hug him, hold onto him, like never before.  But no, resurrection is not a jack-in-the-box, not the same body, sprung from the ground, TADA.  There are new rules for a new reality.  You can’t hold onto this moment, you can’t wash away pain, and sorrow, and death.  Resurrection isn’t a wiping away, it is a sending out, it is a new start, it is a renewed direction, it is a mission, “Go, find.  Go, tell.  Go, so you too may be resurrected.  Go.”

       And this time the path seems easy, the miles light, her feet barely touch the earth as she joyously races to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord.”

       So what part of this was resurrection?  Was it only the exact second that whatever happened in that tomb happened?  Was it when Mary, Peter, John, looked in and saw the emptiness, the grave cloths without a body?  Was it when angels appeared?  Was it Jesus’ voice sounding in the garden?  Was it Mary’s eyes having the cloud of grief lift and being able to see the gardener as Jesus?  Was it the joy of belief whether you have seen or not?  Was it all of those, or none of those?  And how do we find resurrection?

       Because if Easter is just about Jesus, just about a one-time incident, that’s breaking news for sure, but why do we need to keep telling the story?  And two thousand years later we know that wasn’t all that happened.  Easter was, in Churchill’s words, as you may have heard this week, “not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.”

       Easter was the earthquake that created the tidal wave of courage and eloquence and fortitude and faith and love that birthed the Christian church and is still radiating out today.  Finding Resurrection, for our own lives, for our world here and now, seems to have been the bedrock God envisioned for us all.  Finding Resurrection isn’t an end in itself, but a part of the movement—a prodding, a jolt of God-energy, intended to clear the smoke, rearrange our priorities, and allow us to take a deep breath and GO ON with what needs to be done.

       I notice that Finding Resurrection in this story isn’t easy.  It requires effort—whether that be running the distance, being willing to stoop to look inside the tomb, standing still in your grief, turning everywhere in your desire to just make things right again, holding on in joy but knowing when to let go, hearing/obeying the challenge to take one step, and another step, and another step towards a new life.

       And I am sure that even in our cynical, seemingly Godless world, we crave the possibility of resurrection.  Just take the top sports story of the week—Tiger Woods, after being pronounced washed-out, finished, gone, coming back (after 11 years), at the ripe old age of 43, to win his 15th major golf tournament.  Now I’m not suggesting that this was the second coming of Christ.  But I do see parallels to what we are talking about today. 

       Tiger’s win didn’t just drop from the sky.  It wasn’t handed to him because of his past, or in pity for his difficulties, or as a gift.  He made mistakes (galore) in his personal life choices.  He ran into the frustration and grief of having your body turn on you.  He had to risk having operations, putting himself in rehab for addiction, retraining his body not sure of the result, and stepping out on the course again possibly to fail in front of the whole world.

       Tiger’s story (amid so many others) touches us because we want to believe in another chance, in finding our way back, or in religious terms, in resurrection.  But did you notice?  This win wasn’t quite like the others.  Tiger wasn’t the stoic machine—but the man who couldn’t suppress a primal yell of joy when the last putt went in.  And hugging became the act of the day, hugging his caddy/friend, his son, his daughter, his mother, the golfers lining his way to the clubhouse.  Tiger is back, but Tiger is changed.  That’s a glimpse of resurrection.

       It’s Easter Sunday.  Let’s shout our “Alleluia”s!  Let’s enjoy the pretty flowers and the wonderful music and all that makes Easter Sunday special.  But the message of Easter isn’t about forgetting the sins and griefs and challenges of our lives or our world.  The message of Easter is about Finding Resurrection.  And that requires stepping back into Holy Week again, and again, and again.  Because our world, in all its grime and glitz, in all its greed and goodness, in all its worldiness, is where people are.  And so, our world is where Jesus sends us.  Because there are still malevolent empires and soul-sickness and powerful forces that try to beat down, and beat away, and beat off, any chance of resurrection.

       We are here today because we want to believe that world will not ultimately win.  We are here today because we hope, we haltingly trust, and we are willing to work toward Finding Resurrection. 

We are here today because Jesus shows up in our worst moments and speaks our name.  We are here today because Jesus has called us out of our darkened tombs and into the clear light of God’s love. 

We are here today in faith, that against all reason, Resurrection is real.  And We are here today to promise again to follow Jesus wherever he may lead.   

       Alleluia, Amen.