Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, Easter, April 16, 2017
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.It was dark, according to John’s gospel, when Mary arose, unable to sleep in her deep grief over the torturous death of her Rabbi on the cross. She went to his tomb alone to keep vigil and pour out her heart’s deep grief. When she arrived at the small cave, she was confused. The stone covering was not there and the cave appeared empty. At first she thought that she had lost her way in the darkness—she did not often come to this garden of death, and especially not at night. But when she retraced her steps, she knew that Jesus’ body was not there.
She ran to tell Simon Peter and another disciple, who both raced to the tomb and confirmed Mary’s discovery. They returned home, unsure what to make of it, while Mary remained in the garden, again alone in her grief. The first light of dawn brought others to this sad place, including the gardener. She begged the gardener to tell her where they had laid Jesus’ body. It was not until she heard him say her name that she recognized him as her Rabbi and Lord.
Only in the Gospel of John does Mary arrive at Jesus’ tomb in the dark. And only in John’s Gospel does Mary mistake the risen Christ for the gardener. Or was it a mistake? Scholar Lucy Lind Hogan reminds us that the beginning of John’s gospel is also set in the darkness, before the creation of the world. The Gospel of John equates Jesus with the eternal Christ who existed in the beginning with God, co-creating and tending the world as a Cosmic Gardener. Most of us have missed this parallelism, which teaches us a crucial part of the resurrection story.
The good news of resurrection extends beyond Jesus to his followers. We are given the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus. The church has long celebrated this good news. But the Gospel of John suggests even more.
Jesus’ crucified arms stretched out on the cross have embraced not just his followers, but Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Jesus embraces the whole world—not to convert others, but rather to call all of us, in each of our own faiths, to reconciliation and healing. The beginning of John’s gospel tells us that Christ Jesus was the light that dispelled the darkness of the earth and became the light for all people—indeed for all of Creation. As our Cosmic Gardener, Jesus sows love and peace for the entire earth. And here’s the kicker. As Christ’s body, as Christ’s hands and feet, we are asked to be Christ’s light in the world and do our part for the healing and reconciliation of our wounded earth with all of its creatures.
Parker Palmer writes, “None of us can provide all of the light the world needs, but every day, all of us can ask, ‘What kind of light can I be today?”’
During the past five weeks, we have held an interfaith Lenten Study on Jewish-Christian dialogue. We have learned that “tikkun olam” is one of the key Jewish principles by which they interpret scripture and find guidance in their daily lives. Tikkun olam literally means “mending the world” and is defined by acts of kindness performed to repair our world. Rabbi Heschel explains this concept by telling us a story. When God, the Holy One, gets up in the morning, God gathers the angels of heaven around and asks them this simple question: “Where does my creation need mending today?” Rabbi Heschel then tells us that, as believers in God, we are to worry about what God worries about when God gets up in the morning.
When we are faced with almost daily news of violence and terrorism in the world, I feel like responding, “What doesn’t need healing in the world today?” I must admit that it all seems rather overwhelming. What can we possibly do? Where do we even begin?
Poet R. S. Thomas was an Anglican priest whose poems are described “as bleak as the Welsh landscape where he ministered”. But in his poem, “The Answer,” he finds a glimmer of resurrected hope, in the midst of difficult questions.
There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.
Easter hope is not based on soft-nosed bunnies and fuzzy chicks. It takes root in the dark, in death, in the places most in need of mending. The snow drops and the crocuses—our first brave little flowers of spring—may offer a more accurate picture of resurrected hope and of our calling to be Christ’s light in the world. Jo Sorley writes,
It takes courage to be crocus-minded.
God, I would rather wait till June, like wise roses,
when the hazards of winter are safely behind,
and I am expected and everything is ready for roses.
But crocuses? Highly irregular.
Knifing through hard-frozen ground and snow,
sticking their necks out, because they believe in Spring
and have something personal and emphatic to say about it.
We are an Easter people, who must be emphatic about our message of resurrected hope in a world that knows so little of it. We know that love’s risen body can carry us through suffering and tragedy, bearing death-defying blossoms that insist on bursting through frozen fear to weave a purple thread of mending hope.
 Prof. Lucy Lind Hogan, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2807
 Mending the World: An Ecumenical Vision for Healing and Reconciliation. United Church of Canada, 1997: 2.
 Prof. Barbara Lundblad, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2807