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Easter Day C – April 17, 2022

St. Paul’s, Bellingham – Easter Day C – April 17, 2022

John 20:1-18 (and Acts 10:34-43)

The Rev. Rachel Endicott

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Good morning on this not so dark and not so early morning on Easter Day. It’s great to have us all gathered here (as well as those watching the stream of the service online)! I’m guessing that those of us here are here for a number of varied reasons. Some of us are here because we’re supposed to be here as we’re involved in the worship: as clergy, choir members, lectors and so on. Some of you are here because this is a Sunday and thus a day for regular worship, for coming to church week after week in the cycle of the year. Some of you, and no you don’t have to raise your hands, might be here at the behest of a family member or even friend who requested you or may I say bribed you to join them in coming for the service. Some of you may be here because it’s a family tradition, coming to hear a skilled organist, the lovely music, the prayers offered to God, and perhaps a reasonable sermon.

But I would suggest that your coming here today is no coincidence for whatever outward reason you came. I would suggest that there are two important facets to us gathering here. In no particular order, they are HOPE and WITNESS.

Let’s start with hope and see how that might even inform why we’re here today. I’m guessing one or two of you might be here because there will be coffee hour today! After two years of no coffee hour, only broken by a few weeks of outside coffee hour last summer, today we now are back to offering fellowship over coffee and cookies, and – yes – there’s some depth of blessing to that. It’s a hopefulness of normalcy, a hopefulness of an end of a world-wide pandemic and a hopefulness of food eaten together, a practice of hospitality that has been central to our religious ancestors, the Hebrews as they supported one another in harsh times in harsh climates.

And hope is also what today’s Gospel passage is about as Mary Magdalene discerns that Jesus is not dead, but alive! Early in the passage, we find her with little hope. She has been a witness to Jesus’s death. She has lost the teacher and friend who means everything to her. She is in despair. And it’s only made worse as she gets to the tomb and finds it empty. And so, midway through our reading we find Mary distraught. We find her standing, weeping. Lamenting not only death and loss, but not being able to say one last goodbye, to perhaps be able to do the final anointing of the body.

But that all changes, it turns to hope when she sees the man whom she first thinks is the gardener. But by calling her name, the most intimate of calls, Jesus makes himself known to Mary. And so, hope returns to her life. And not simply hope, but joy and wondrous thanksgiving. Life and well-being.

And so, Mary Magdalene becomes the first witness, the other significant point today. And it’s not just Mary we find today as a witness. In the reading we heard earlier from Acts, we have Peter sharing that he and others, not only just the apostles, but many who were witnesses to Jesus’ ministry talking about “all that he did both in Judea and Jerusalem”, but also witnessed to their personal stories, that they were ones “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.

And yet, both Mary and Peter are strange witnesses. Mary Magdalene is – gasp – a woman. And Peter is one without the eloquence and pedigree of Paul, yet he is the one who is sent to the Gentiles to share what he has witnessed.

So, what is the job of a witness? It is not the job of a witness to persuade others, but simply to tell the truth clearly and coherently. In our day and time, the usual time we hear about witnesses are in court cases. And – being sworn in – witnesses are to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.

But what we witness is sometimes strange and outlandish. It’s sometimes hard to share. I think particularly of things that make no sense without knowing the whole story. I remember when I first saw people doing Tai Chi in a park. If someone would have asked me what I witnessed, I would have had to say I saw people moving in sort of slow-motion, strange movements without an apparent reason for doing so. But having tried Tai Chi and now knowing something about it, I know at least a little about the reason for the slowness, the particular movements that are used, and the posture taken by the participants. More of the story is known.

I recently read something about circles on the bottom of the ocean floor. “They’ve been called the crop circles of the ocean floor—seven-foot diameter patterned circles that were first spotted in 1995 off the coast of southern Japan. But their origin was an enigma, and local divers termed them “mystery circles.” The mystery persisted until 2011 when the culprit, a male pufferfish just five inches long, was finally caught in the act ... Males spent seven to nine days building their respective circles by repeatedly swimming in and out of the circle, using their fins to dig valleys in the sandy bottom.”1

So, the first to witnesses the “mystery circles” saw something they couldn’t explain. It took much longer for others to bear accurate witness to what was there. But we work on it. We first say what we have seen. Mary Magdalene simply said, “I have seen the Lord.” But then she went on to elaborate, to witness to all that Jesus has said in his conversation and the ultimate awareness that it really was Jesus resurrected, Jesus come back from the dead, Jesus who searched out those whom he loved.

So, for whatever reason you’re here today, I realistically can’t persuade you to believe anything. What I can do, though, is to share the witness of Mary Magdalene, to say that I personally have seen the impact of what Jesus has done through the power he has had in people’s lives, and to witness to the sense of hope we have as we gather here for the first Easter celebration in three years! If that isn’t a sense of resurrection life, I don’t know what is!

I want to leave you with a true story of hope and tied to our Anglican life. An American colleague of Archbishop Desmond Tutu shared that “The former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu used to famously say, “We are prisoners of hope.” Such a statement might be taken as merely rhetorical or even eccentric if you hadn’t seen Bishop Tutu stare down the notorious South African Security Police when they broke into the Cathedral of St. George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service…Desmond Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral…to record whatever he said and thereby threatening him with consequences for any bold prophetic utterances. They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before and kept them in jail for several days to make both a statement and a point…

After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power (“You are powerful, very powerful”) but reminded them that he served a higher power greater than their political authority (“But I serve a God who cannot be mocked!”). Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny…Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and enticing warmth in his invitation.2

You, too, are invited today to join the winning side: the side of Christ risen, the side of things so amazing that the first witnesses were not immediately believed, the side of hope!

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!



2 Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Let Doesn’t Get It, San Francisco, Harper Collins, 2005, pp. 347-348.

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