John 20:1-20; 1Corinthians 1:18-25
When I was about six years old, I gave my Mom a great scare. We had been grocery shopping in Jerry’s Supermarket and I got thirsty and probably a little bored. So when it was time to bag up the groceries, I asked my Mom if I could go right outside the entrance of the store and get a drink from the drinking fountain in the mall. She agreed, after much begging, and I went. Only, I don’t remember stopping for a drink. What I remember is finding myself right in front of the bookstore. I walked to the back, where I knew the kids’ books were, picked a few off the shelves, and sat down to read. The next thing I knew, a man in a grocery store uniform appeared in my aisle calling my name. Surprised to hear a stranger call my name, I looked up and then realized that I had been gone a long time. I followed him to my Mom, who was now nowhere near the grocery store, and I remember being puzzled to see my Pastor and his family standing there with her, and even more stunned to see a police officer standing near them. I wanted to say, “Mom, why were you so worried?” But even at 6 years old, I knew better; and kept my mouth shut.
Apparently the angels in our story this morning didn’t know any better.
Jesus had been crucified two days earlier. He hadn’t disappeared— his disciples had seen him suffer and die. They had opportunities not only to witness the whole horrid event, but also to deny they knew him, in their fear and terror of what was happening. So on the third day, while it’s still dark, Mary goes to the tomb. The crowds have long gone. It is quiet. She knows what she is expecting to see— there is no question for her whether he is alive or dead— she has seen him die a gruesome death. And so to see the stone rolled away from the tomb... this is not good news. This just means that the empire has continued terrorizing her community by taking his body. Her first response isn’t one of faith, it’s one of fear. And Peter, the one who denied knowing Jesus, when he gets to the tomb, along with the other disciple, they too look in, but they are not filled with joy. They are confused at best, and then they go home. But Mary stays. And this time, when she looks in the tomb, she doesn’t see emptiness, she sees angels; angels who say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” But apparently she’s weeping too hard to notice that they are angels. And then she turns around and there’s someone else there— someone she thinks is the gardener and he too says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” And you can just imagine that she is getting tired of this question; tired of these people who do not know the kind of despair she is facing; so very tired. And then the one whom she has assumed is the gardener says, “Mary.” Jesus— Jesus, who is very much alive, announces his resurrection, by saying her name. And in that moment, the whole story of what has happened, gets rewritten. What they had assumed was the end, is just the beginning.
In “The Book of Forgiving” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tutu states that offering forgiveness to others doesn’t necessarily change them at all; but it does change the story of what has happened. When we are able to find it within ourselves to forgive those who have harmed us, those who have betrayed us, those who have caused us pain, then that story in our lives changes. The story of pain loses its power to hold us in cycles of shame and violence, and instead we are able to tell the story from a perspective of strength and power and maybe even humor.
The story of our shopping mall excursion eventually became a humorous story in my family. I remember getting lovingly teased about the time I scared my Mom half to death. And as a mother myself now, I understand a lot better how much I must’ve scared her. But because she is my Mom, she forgave me. She didn’t look for ways to get me back for the fear and pain I had caused. She didn’t shame me for doing the wrong thing or even hold it over me for years to come. She just opened her arms wide and embraced me.
Resurrection and forgiveness go hand in hand in the Easter story. Think about it for a moment. When you hear about someone coming back to life, say in a Hollywood blockbuster, our first response is generally not that they came back to offer peace to the world. If forgiveness wasn’t a part of this story, if Jesus hadn’t already forgiven those who had killed him and his friends who betrayed him, then his resurrection would be like something out of a horror movie— Arnold Schwarzenegger’s saying “I’ll be back;” or Voldemort saving himself so that he could be pieced back together and rule death. It would be a story more like a Greek god who was not to be crossed; or a zombie movie with Jesus coming back for blood. But that’s not the resurrection story we have. Jesus is resurrected and it is bad news for the authorities, but not because he comes to seek revenge— instead, it’s because he’s made them look silly. They thought they there were definite things in life that were certain, things they could control— like death— and God is showing them that there’s something even more certain— God’s love and forgiveness. And when Jesus appears to his disciples, he’s not there to shame them. He doesn’t tell them all of the ways they failed him. He doesn’t point out that he had been telling them his whole ministry that this would happen. He doesn’t even tell them he was right— which, is, perhaps, the best proof that he is God. His resurrection isn’t about shame— theirs or ours. Jesus doesn’t come back to shame his friends who failed him, to tell them they’re not worthy. Instead, Jesus repeatedly tells them not to be afraid, and speaks to them words of peace, encouragement, and love.
The Gospel doesn’t end on the cross, because God is telling a different story— one that doesn’t end in the grave. God is telling the story of life— and life abundant— and love that goes on forever. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection tells us that there is one thing that is absolutely certain in this life and that is God’s love for us.
In Corinthians Paul calls this the foolishness of the cross— after all, what is more vulnerable than love? If we rely on the world’s wisdom, then it seems utterly foolish for Jesus to suffer and die rather than to seek retribution; rather than to continue the cycle of violence and despair. Jesus chooses the path of suffering so that God can bring life and salvation rather than continuing the death that is all around him. He chooses not to pick up arms and take an eye for an eye as Scripture has given permission to do. Instead Jesus chooses to fulfill the Scriptures another way— to become the peace the world needs; to demonstrate what it means to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; to commit to an authentic way of breaking the cycles of violence we often feed because we don’t trust that God’s love is strong enough to bring life when all we can see is death. But Jesus trusted fully in God’s love. Jesus never lost sight of his enemy’s humanity. Even from the cross, Jesus was already forgiving them; and we have no evidence that his forgiveness changed them at all. But it does change the story entirely because Jesus isn’t just another victim. Through resurrection, through forgiveness, Jesus claims God’s love for himself and claims God’s love for us.
Tutu says, “We can’t create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but we can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that allows us to heal from those losses and pain and repair our relationships.”
Is it foolish to put our trust in the risen Christ? Some would say yes. I say Christ is the only one worthy of my trust. Call me a fool, but at least I’m a fool who is trying to learn how to forgive so that new life can come in places of hurt and pain. Call me a fool, but at least I’m a fool that is trying to learn what it means to love in our world that is so very polarized. Call me a fool, but call me God’s fool as I seek to trust in God’s foolishness rather than human wisdom.
We can rely on the love of God to do what we cannot do— to bring resurrection in places of death— and we can choose to be the fools who keep our ears open to hear Jesus call our name and then go out to tell the good news of God’s love.
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu For All Saints and Sinners podcast with Nadia Bolz Weber Working preaching.org Interpreter’s Commentary on John Interpreter’s Commentary on 1Corinthians