The old rule is that a preacher should end a sermon with an inspirational poem. I hope you won't mind me breaking that rule, and beginning with the ending. Specifically, I've had the ending of a poem by Wendell Berry on my mind lately:
As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind,
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
"As soon as they can predict the motion of your mind..." Do you know what's predicatble? Tragedy is predictable. Tragedy is the way that our minds make meaning out of things that are meaningless. When we cannot make it good, we try to make it beautiful, because we need to know that there is beauty even in our failures. it is predictable that "Romeo and Juliet" will always draw a bigger crowd than "Twelfthy Night" and the Alamo will always be more famous than San Jacinto. Tragedy is our worship for the lost cause, the noble sacrifice, and the bittersweet solace of what might have been. Tragedy is the past we cling to in the desperate hope that even what is lost will not be forgotten. This is the predictable motion of our minds.
But there is no tragedy if there is no body. Our memories are frail and fickle and we fear them, so we build our tragedies around things that are tangible and visible. We gather what we can of what is lost, and we preserve the artifacts and enshrine them, and we give them regular honor. In this way, tragedy is a form of worship
Mary came that morning with every intention to preserve the tragic story of her beloved teacher. Two men, Joseph and Nicodemus had rescued the body of Jesus from being thrown away; they had placed him in a newly cut tomb. And now, on the third day, Mary comes to offer further honor to the one who might have been. He might have been a savior, he might have been a king, he might have been so many things. But now, Mary knew, he would never be any of those things - he could only be memory, and a sacrifice, a tragic, beautiful disaster. She came to the tomb knowing this, resigned to this, and she came to make the best she could of what was left.
And that is how we came to discover that God is not predictable. God is totally over tragedy. When Mary heard her name, it wasn't the echo what had been or what could have been, it was the voice of the one who is and is to come. When she finally saw Jesus, she saw that God had made a victor of the victim, God had ceased the system of sacrifice and God had let loose the limitless power of grace. God has no use for resignation - God is here for the resurrection.
They must have thought she had lost her mind - the disciples I mean, when Mary came to tell them. Clearly, they thought she had lost her mind that first time she showed up, and told her that Jesus' body had been taken. Those two disciples ran to see whatever she was talking about and we are told that it was only when they saw the grave linens that "they believed." As if this was some great act of faith on their part – to believe what Mary had told them. The gospel goes out of its way to say they still did not understand that those empty grave clothes were the answer to everything they had been looking for all along. They still did not understand that Jesus was risen from the dead. The only thing they believed at that point was that Mary had seen an empty tomb, and they only believed it after seeing for themselves. But maybe this was in its own way an act of faith. In Mary’s day and time, women were not allowed to serve as a witness in Jewish courts of law – one Jewish writer from that day and time would say that women are too “unserious and bold” to be acceptatble witnesses. About a hundred years after that first Easter, one critic of the upstart Christians, a man named Celsus, would mock them for believing “a hysterical female, deluded by sorcery.”
If the disciples had trouble believing Mary when she came to say “Jesus’ body is taken,” what must she have been thinking as she ran to tell them – “I have seen him! He’s alive and he said ‘Tell them I am going to the Father, to my God and to your God”?
She must have wondered – will they get it?
Will they be able to see that everything is changed?
She must have wondered what they would say, what they would think – but she ran anyway. She ran to their door and announced “I’ve seen the Lord!”
She had gone to the tomb to weep, but she left it as a witness.She became the apostle to the apostles, the messenger to the messengers.
And that, my friends is how your practice resurrection.
When God takes the same body, the same mind, the same voice that you have always had to become a sign of something completely different – that is when new life begins. That is the start of eternal life, of boundless life, that is life that may endure trial but will never be reduced to tragedy. When you know that your name is on the lips of the risen Lord and when you find that the voice calling your name will outlast every tear, every doubt, every dismissal and defeat then can’t live as if fear is your master, and you cannot live as if life is a lost cause, as if noble and tragic are the best we dare hope for. You may, in fact, live as if you’ve lost your mind.
You will, in fact, experience all the losses and wounds and possibly many more than the next person. You may come to bear all the wounds that Jesus does. But you won’t have to worship them.
You don’t have to cling to what could have been when you know that a resurrection is bringing everything that should be, when you know that God will remember for you. You can leave the garden and the tomb behind. Your beloved teacher is not back there – he’s alive, and he’s running on ahead. Go tell the world.
Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!