Sunday always comes: Christ is with us and way ahead of us

“After the Sabbath, early in the morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at Jesus’ tomb.” They brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body and wondered who would break the seal and roll back the stone. Mark clarifies that the “other Mary” was Mary the mother of James and adds Salome as an Easter witness. Luke adds Joanna and other women.  Rev. Mary Magdalene, Pastor Mary, Pastor Joanna, and Sister Salome are our Easter witnesses, who become an entirely female ordination class, commissioned by Jesus to “go tell the brothers”

That same Easter day, Cleopas and another disciple walk home to Emmaus feeling heartsick about statehouse injustice, deeply dejected they encounter Jesus who comes to them as a stranger, they talk about the Scriptures and Jesus’ crucifixion, but it is only when the two extend hospitality, breaking bread together, the Risen Lord appears. (Luke 24) Easter is not over, there is room for your story of the Risen Christ. Years later, Acts 9 tells us how the Apostle Paul encountered the Risen Christ inside a blinding light along the Damascus road. Paul will write large parts of the New Testament, start churches all around the Mediterranean basin, and champion radical grace and inclusion. We do not even know the stories of how Andronicus and Junia experienced the risen Christ, but Paul names them as outstanding among the apostles. (Romans 16) John’s Gospel ends with an intriguing author’s note: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.” (John 21) I imagine if we took a few minutes to tell how we have seen the risen Christ, we would be here all day. 

Hear Easter’s Good News: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. Christ is not here; Christ has risen, just as Jesus said. Come and see the place where Jesus lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples: ‘Christ has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Christ.” Christ is not just here with us, Christ is risen and going on ahead of us.   

In some ways maybe it is easier to follow a Christ who has nothing to say to our world today- to a faith bound up in ancient stories. Hear the Good News,  Christ is not locked up inside the Bible: Christ is with us, Christ is in us, Christ gives us voice, and Christ is way ahead of us.  The Risen Christ leads us from death into life, from injustice into wholeness, from alienation into unity, from fear into empowerment, from disillusionment into hope.  

 Maybe you will hear Christ’s voice as you stand and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, or feel Christ’s presence as you find the courage to forgive from your heart, or maybe you will see Christ as you serve a meal, welcome a stranger, or stand up for justice. After Communion on Maundy Thursday, I listened to Memphis Representative Justin Pearson preach on the Statehouse before becoming one of two black legislators expelled for leading a protest. I will confess tearfully replaying his sermon until I found myself repeating it with hope.  “I remember that on Friday, the government decided that my savior Jesus, a man that was innocent of all crimes except for fighting for the poor, the marginalized, the LGBTQIA, single mothers, and those pushed to the periphery. My savior, my black Jesus, was lynched by the government on Friday, and they thought that all hope had been lost. How can we have hope? We hope because we don’t quit- from the bottom of slave ships to cotton fields, we do not quit. Now, I don’t know how long this Saturday in the state of Tennessee will last, but I’ve got good news: Sunday always comes, resurrection always comes. Resurrection is a promise and a prophecy!  We are still here and we will never quit.” (adapted from Tennessee -house -expels -rep -Justin -Pearson) Oh friends, hear the risen Lord calling you to never quit- to keep on waging peace, widening the circle, lifting up every voice and proclaiming an alternative vision of what life can and should be!   

Matthew’s Easter includes an earthquake. Maybe the rocks just had to cry out and the ground shook and shimmied in celebration of life defeating death. The Apostle Paul tells us the whole universe is groaning along with us on unholy Friday, long Saturdays, but always knows that Sunday is coming, “Yes, we are suffering but glory will be revealed in us, For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed, clothed in freedom, liberation, and glory! There are hard setbacks and struggles, but the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, just as we groan awaiting adoption, our redemption, and God’s glory.  If God is for us, who can be against us! The very Spirit of God groans with us and intercedes for us with wordless sighs… until that day when nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (adapted Romans 8) Of course there is injustice, evil, and oppression, but God is not done with us yet… Christ is risen and going ahead of us. 

During the earthquake, an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat down on it. The angel appeared like lightning, their clothes white like snow. Upon seeing the angel, the earthly guardians of systemic oppression shake with fear and fall down like they were dead. Seeing God, they drop their spears and swords. Do not gloss over that image, it may mean more to people who personally know injustice than we who enjoy so much privilege. The actual agents of Jesus’ injustice drop their weapons, shake with fear, and fall down as if dead. Isaiah 2, Joel 3, and Micah 4 tells us that when we deeply encounter God, we just know to beat our swords into plows and transform our spears into pruning hooks. Peacemakers and freedom riders shall be called the Children of God. One day when we feast at Christ’s heavenly banquet, all our squabbling and violence will end, and many who smugly sat in privileged seats will get moved to the foot of the table (maybe by their embarrassment alone), and Jesus will embrace those we treated as less than beloved and exalt them. (Matthew 19-20)

Remember, how during the Last Supper, Jesus was already looking ahead to reconciliation and restoration, “This very night you will all fall away and scatter. But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you (back home) into Galilee.” Even before we fall down, God is already thinking about how to raise us back up. Christ is out there ahead of us. 

So realizing the Risen Christ was not lingering at the places of death, the female clergy headed out to bring a message of Christ ahead of us. They were afraid yet filled with joy, and they ran. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” Christ said. They came to Jesus, clasped his feet, and worshiped him when Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell! Keep moving for you will see me on the journey.”  Go and Tell! God has given us words of life to speak into the world! The Risen Christ gives us agency and voice! 

Decades later, while lounging by the Mediterranean sea, Peter dreams of a new church full of welcome where we “do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 9-15) Easter is out there in front of us, Christ is still speaking! Will we follow Christ and build something new? We Methodists needed until 1956 to ordain women and maintained an official race- based appointment system until 1967. Individually, it is easy to get stuck, to quit, to give in before Sunday can come.  But “Resurrection is a promise and a prophecy”! Yes, we have taken too long, gone too slowly; sometimes it feels like we are moving backwards and Lord knows we have a long way to go, but hear the Good News, Jesus is not stuck right here in these death dealing days!  Yes, Jesus is with us, but Jesus is already way out ahead of us calling us to lift every voice, wage peace, flip over unjust tables, forgive and create God’s blessed community.  Go and Tell- Christ is not stuck right here- Christ is out ahead us leading us into God’s boundless love.   

Easter is always just a little bit in front of us, pulling us from grief into hope, from bitterness into change, from death into liberation, from indifference into community, from oppression into equity, from fear into love. Hear Easter’s good news: God is not done with us yet. Christ is here with us, Christ is in us, but maybe more than that, Christ is already way ahead of us beckoning us to follow. Amen.

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