What is awesome? We use that term so much it seems almost irrelevant doesn’t it? When we want to describe something as truly awesome what are we talking about? If you saw The Lego Movie, it was practically everything! In case you were not sure, today is Easter Sunday and we as Christians are at the point of stating emphatically that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is totally AWESOME!!!
For those of you who have been around a while, I want you to think back to a special time in our history. A time when the mission statement of a particular group of humanoids was broadcast every week. For that era, this was the definition of awesome: [Play original Star Trek clip.] For the under 30 crowd here today let me just tell you – that was AWESOME!
Clearly our definition of ‘awesome’ has changed as our perspectives have changed and adapted to the world around us. So should we consider the resurrection of Jesus as ‘awesome’ today? Is there anything left to be said about this event? Was it even true? Where’s the proof? Why would it even matter?
I would like us to consider the defining moment in this story of Jesus’ resurrection as noted in the gospel of John. The other gospels have similar accounts, but as we look at John’s account, we see Jesus’ encounters with individuals – those one-on-one sessions that for many of us can become our defining moments in life. This was the case for Mary Magdalene as she visited the tomb.
Mary of Magdala was a woman who followed Jesus’ teachings. She would have been considered a disciple – quite remarkable considering the second-class status of women in Jesus’ time. She and other women were with Jesus during his ministry, most likely doing the work of disciples alongside their male counterparts. Based on the way Mary is noted in scripture we can deduce that she was single, never married, and never bore children. The gospels note she was someone whom Jesus had driven out 7 demons. Back in Jesus’ time, the term ‘demon’ referred to anything that could not be explained by the physicians of the day. These could be physical or mental illnesses, so most likely Mary was highly undesirable as a potential wife and mother; hence her single status. She was an outcast in her society.
Yet in all her time spent with Jesus, doing the work of a disciple, she may not have truly experienced her defining moment. We find Mary at the foot of the cross, when all but one of the male disciples had fled. We find Mary at Jesus’ burial helping to hastily arrange for his body to be ‘processed’ in a way suitable for burial, knowing she would return after the Sabbath to complete the job. She did the uncomfortable task, the behind-the-scenes work not many wanted to do. It was not flashy or attention-bearing – just necessary. She would have seen herself perhaps as a follower of Jesus, but still second-class.
On Easter morning we find her and the other women returning to the tomb, wondering how to roll away the huge stone in order to anoint Jesus’ body properly. What she finds is an open doorway, yet she doesn’t even look inside but just assumes someone had taken Jesus’ body. She was left with not even the last shred of hope.
Mary goes and tells the disciples her findings, but they don’t believe her. Why? After all the time they had spent with her, why would they assume she would create such a far-fetched story? Perhaps they too still saw her as inferior; hence they have to go and see for themselves. Neither of these disciples, Peter and we assume John, had had their defining moment. They endured Friday – but Sunday was coming.
The scene at the tomb continues to unfold as Peter and John arrive at the tomb and find empty grave clothes but not Jesus’ body. They are perplexed and seem to lose hope. From what we know from scripture they return to their homes, and later go back to what they know – fishing. Only Mary remains at the tomb, lost in her hopelessness. But Sunday’s coming. Mary’s defining moment was on the horizon just as dawn was breaking across the sky.
I recently learned a great deal about this beautiful stained-glass trio of windows that we face each week. The artist is renowned for portraiture and well-known in our community. Cedric Egeli shared with me that he created this window about 40 years ago, after this congregation lost its previous building to fire in 1975. Here we see Jesus depicted in a fairly familiar role – that of the Good Shepherd. In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” Mary does not recognize Jesus by sight but by his voice. Her defining moment occurs when she hears Jesus calling her name. She matters – she is important, she is a child of God and a disciple of Jesus.
What is your defining moment? Last year our focus was placed on our overall health – physical, mental, spiritual. Some of us can look back and recall a defining moment in our physical being – that time when we did our absolute best in a sporting activity, or in our physical labor which since then has not been matched. We remember these as the ‘Glory Days!’
Our mental health may never reach a defining moment – that time when you realize that this is the most you will ever learn. I believe in life-long learning and know for a fact that gaining knowledge has no age limit. But perhaps we can look at significant milestones when it comes to our mental health. We remember getting a driver’s license, graduating from high school, finishing college (for some of us that happened multiple times.) For me it was when I received my Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. I remember this one in particular because my children attended my graduation – for me that was a truly awesome moment. My quest for knowledge did not stop there but that was definitely a marker along the way.
What about our spiritual health? What is the defining moment for us when it comes to our faith? For Mary it appears she had lost her faith for a time. Living through the horrors of Good Friday, watching Jesus be crucified and killed shattered her hope for the future. She lived in fear for what was to come. Yet while she was weeping, hope was rekindled. While she was steeped in darkness, the light had already dawned. Sunday was here – but she hadn’t experienced it yet until Jesus called her by name. “We may cry through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In that moment, Jesus restored her faith and drove away her fear of death. She was able to fully embrace the promise of eternal life. Mary, the outcast, became the first evangelist to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection – “I have seen the Lord!”
Has your hope been kindled this day? Perhaps you lost your faith in God somewhere along the way. I did. It was after my father died. I was 22 years old and had watched my Dad drift away for 7 years. He was a devout man of God and I was truly angry at God for a long time after his death. Yet somewhere in my darkness I realized that God did not will my father to suffer. It was not part of God’s plan for my father to die at the age of 47. I realized that we are made in God’s image, but we are fragile beings subject to illness. God stood with my father throughout his illness and ultimately welcomed him to his eternal home. I can look back and see that God brought good out of this heartache. I am a pastor today partly because my father served as a minister as well. Wielding good out of bad situations is truly awesome.
I encourage each of us to look to the empty cross, the empty grave clothes, the empty tomb and find our defining moment – that realization that death does not have the final say. I encourage each of us to see just how awesome Jesus’ resurrection truly is for us today. I encourage each of us to embrace the “…hope that is built on nothing less, then Jesus’ blood and righteousness. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Listen to the words of this song from Matt Maher called ‘Because He Lives.’ [Play video]
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! That is truly awesome!! Amen.