From Mourning Into Dancing

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Today, all around the world, people have gathered, are gathering, or will gather in worship to proclaim together the good news of this day:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Let’s join in this together… with you responding…

“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed”

I want you to know I can hear you… and I can hear your individual voices… Your answering assures me and nurtures me… it is your witness… it is our witness… it is our way of saying with Mary today… “We have seen the Lord!”

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Today, to borrow a line from the song that will be heard at the end of the championship game tomorrow night, today, is our shining moment… I’m so grateful for this day… and look forward to it… to seeing you here…dressed up…flowers around us… the music… the whole thing!

Of course, when I read the text, I realize that this is not the way the day begins on Easter morning. Did you notice that?

It is not like the Christmas story with a chorus of heavenly angels appearing in the sky to shepherds, ready to sing their announcement.  Unlike the witnesses there at the stable to see him born, no one is there at the tomb to see him rise.

Instead, John begins the Easter story with these words, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark… “

Easter begins in darkness. It begins with what I call the 6 “d’s” –  Darkness, dismay, despair, doubt, disillusionment and death… as our story opens up not to find Mary looking into an empty tomb and shouting, “he is alive!”… but looking into an empty tomb, tears welling up once again in her eyes…  crying (tears of dismay and despair) … as she has been crying for days having watched what happened to her dear, close friend, teacher, mentor and Lord…  Today she is crying because she fears someone has stolen the body of Jesus. That’s what an empty tomb means to her. Adding insult to injury, someone has taken him away.

Through most of this text we find Mary crying .It is not until the end she is able to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!”. I wonder…is that a hint from John to us that faith comes slowly through our tears?

Easter day begins in  darkness, dismay, despair, doubt, disillusionment and death.

John seems to know that our understanding of Easter begins there…even today:  For the world on this day still seems to live in darkness even as Easter dawns… I can’t help but think about our fellow Christians in Kenya this morning as Easter dawns after a savage attack…On this Easter Sunday, Christians across Kenya gathered mourning the loss of 148 people killed in Garissa… they died because they were Kenyans and Christians… an attack designed to destroy their nation and faith… Events like these remind us what it was like for the disciples on Easter morning… after Jesus was crucified, their world was falling apart… they were hiding in fear for THEIR lives now… they were worried that they would be next to be executed.

Across the world, Easter will begin in darkness for many of our fellow Christians… It may also be that way for many of you or those you love… You know this…at a deeply personal level, you have likely felt this as well… if you have paid attention to your tears…

Many of the realities of life are a source of deep sadness… you miss a loved one who was with you last Easter… now gone… some of us have friends and family fighting cancer or another chronic disease… some people bear scars of abuse from childhood or as adults…Some children are more rebellious than others, causing heartbreak…

Tears flow when you hear of the loss of a job… or a dream… separation and divorce… invasion of thieves… loss of innocence… loss of freedom and health with advancing age… loss of loved ones to the casket and the grave… there is so much loss in living.

Who of us here have not shed a few tears…

And even in what are supposed to be the good moments of life… many people shed tears when their children grow up and leave—watching their child drive off in a car after college… leaving your home for the last time… … or when they marry.. Some greet retirement with joy… and yet… there is loss there as well.  Tears of joy—yes… but most would tell you, some tears of sorrow as well…

No one  is ever exempt from sorrow. No one.

But you know an interesting thing? The cause of the sorrow  is always the same.
According to Walter Wangerin, the cause of all of our pain and sadness is always the same … the source of our tears is Death. He says,
“Death doesn’t wait till the ends of our lives to meet us…we die a hundred times before we die, (life is filled with little deaths) and all the little endings on the way are like a slowly growing echo of the final BANG! Before the bang talks place… [i]

“Woman, why are your weeping?”

I know why and so do you. Easter begins there for Mary… and for us… A grief so deep that she doesn’t even recognize the risen Lord standing before her very eyes…

But as you know, Easter day does not end there… Hallelujah!- God will turn Mary’s mourning into joy through resurrection of Jesus from the dead… Jesus breaks through her tears when he speaks her name:

He calls her by name… and she recognized the voice (HIS VOICE)–  hears that voice that she had heard so many times before (the voice of her friend… her Lord) … and the light dawns… breaking through her darkness…  What a tender, quiet moment… “ as the whisper of her name…  turns her mourning into joy. This rush of recognition is one of the most beautiful scenes in the Gospels. It is the moment her life is turned around.

John wants us to know that God has stepped into the tragedy of life, raised Jesus, and said that the cause of Jesus and our relationship with Jesus continues.  God has said that what Jesus was saying and doing was good and acceptable… God has said that death will not be an end to the life-giving- hope giving relationship with Jesus… He is still alive after all-  Death does not have the last word- Life does! God does!

And that is what turns our mourning into dancing. Knowing that death is done… once and for all! Jesus is still alive and with us on our journeys!

Sometimes I wonder if we know enough first hand of Easter joy and power. Or do we still live in fear death is the final word? Some days, the way some Christians act and live—you’d never know we were living on this side of Easter…so much fear.  Do we know enough from our own lives of the hope and healing power that Easter holds?

We all know the darkness… but do we know the dawn that is ours… I pray we do… Because this is a message many of us need personally and the world needs today as much as ever. This is the message that can change you – replace your sorrow and your fears… with faith, hope and joy…if you are open to it… open to realizing the living Christ is among us here, now…

Into the middle of our lives Mary Magdelene offers a tiny , little, sermon—the shortest, the fullest Easter sermon ever… She runs from her garden encounter and says to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”…  And it changed her and her life forever! Sorrow turned to joy!

In the end, that’s what John wants us to experience… for that is the entire point of Easter… that every one of us, in his or her own particular way might be able to say with Mary, “ I have seen the Lord.”  (Say it with me?)—

I have seen the Lord

Lord knows  our broken and busted up world needs us to say, “We have seen the Lord”… Where?

We have seen him in the eyes and hearts of those whom we love; we have come to know him in the life of the church that bears his name; we have seen him where we saw him in his earthly life: among the least, the last, the lonely, the left out and the lost… we have heard him in the proclamation of the unconditional love of God; the very love that was more powerful than death… We have seen the Lord!

And if you have not seen the Lord, that’s okay. There are 50 days of Easter… and not everyone in the Gospels immediately believed either… It was days and weeks before message of Easter broke through to them. If it is the case that you have not seen the Lord, let us invite you to look around in the faces and lives and love of those who share with you this community of faith called the church… They will show the living Lord to you…

This is at least where I have experienced the living Christ… among you and in the community of faith— the Body of Christ…

One of my friends remembers sharing with his Sunday School class that his daughter was admitted to a psych ward… and one of the members of the class came up to him, and prayed with him.. My friend says, it sounded like the voice of Jesus to him…

Melinda, another friend, whose teenage daughter committed suicide… (talk about darkness)… Melinda tells about one of her close, long term friends who saved her life. How? This is what Melinda said, “When confusion and fear blurred my thinking, worry and pain restricted my heart, and exhaustion and panic hindered my motion forward, (my friend) Marty invited me to Starbucks. I was meeting depression for the first time; it was destroying my (other) daughter and overpowering me. Unselfishly putting her own agenda on hold, disregarding the late hour, Marty could call me with a cheerful, “Meet me at Starbucks. I can be right here.”… (I sometimes went reluctantly) but I would always find the meeting with my friend revitalizing and renewing (hear the language).”[ii]

Hear her language: re-vitalize means to give new life.

Mary might have described her personal encounter with Jesus the same way… it revitalized her… renewed her… changed her…  Mary, who earlier was lost in her tears… leaves filled with tears of joy… almost ready to dance… wanting the disciples and all of us to know “I have seen the Lord”… and I want you to know he is alive…

It is so important that we keep sharing that message beyond this one day… for Easter is meant to be more than one shining moment… it is meant to be THE shining moment that transforms all of life for all time… Easter is not about giving you comfort at the end of your life… though it does… It is meant to give us courage (as it gave Mary courage and later the others courage) to live now… in these days with courage and faith and backbone– … to be able to stare death in the face and say, you will not get the best of me.

I heard the story of a doctor in New York City named Joyce Wilkins. She lives a resurrecting life now. She drives a van around the city looking for prostitutes.  She has developed relationships, won on trust and respect, and offers them blood tests and medical care as well as a needed word of hope now and again.

A New York Times newspaper reporter interviewed her and said, “Even though you give them medical care, many of them die. You lose a lot of your patients. It must be very discouraging.” She responded, “Well, that’s one way to look at it, but my mother taught me to look at it another way. My mother was a teacher of brain-damaged children and taught me when you look at people you don’t look at the damage. You look for the image of God in them beneath the damage and all.

I realized that most forcefully one evening when my mother had her class do a performance of My Fair Lady for parents’ night. And it never occurred to my mother (or the girl’s parents) not to let a brain-damaged girl in a wheelchair roll across the stage singing, “I could have danced all nght; I could have spread my wings.”[iii]

Friends, God would have us dance all night and spread our wings… The living Lord would turn our mourning into dancing… because we have been given a new life in Christ. Life in the face of dying…no longer under the power of Death… A new life, a resurrected life. Life lived through whatever comes our way with the Christ who has walked with us into his new day.

Easter may begin in darkness… but what Mary wants you to know is this… it doesn’t have to end there… for he is calling you by name… “Mary… Jody… Teresa, Fred,  Ann… George… Martha, John, Matthew, Andrew…” He is calling you by name… (Do you hear him?) ready to offer us new life…

Do you hear him? I do, I hear him speaking through you… especially today when I hear you say,

Christ is risen!
   He is risen indeed!

Would you say it with me again?

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!


[i] P26  From Mourning into Dancing

[ii] P 45-46 “Letting Go by Holding Tight” by Melinda Kramer

[iii] From sermon from Roland P Perdue