Hosannas to Hallelujahs
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
What did we cry aloud last week? Hosanna!
What does it mean? Save us, please!
For 40 days now there is a word that has been missing in our church. Do you realize that? Can you recognize what that word is? (Hint: we have sung it already today!) It’s Hallelujah!
On Palm Sunday we cry Hosanna. On Friday we lose our savior, on Saturday we sit in the silence waiting. And today we discover that Jesus is risen. And so we say Hallelujah!
So, today let’s recall that story again that moves our hosannas to hallelujahs. From gospel of John (chapter 20):
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”
Next we read that Peter and the other disciple set out and go to the tomb. They get in a footrace. It’s a little silly and childish, but we can understand their eagerness to know what is going on. It’s kind of a “Me first! Me first! Me first!” moment. Like two boys pushing and shoving to get to the front of the line. We adults do this, too! We love to be the first to know and to share information. So don’t distance yourself too much from these two disciples.
The beloved disciple wins the race (John always seems to set him up as the best, most faithful disciple.) He looks in the tomb, sees linens, but doesn’t go in. Why? He is scared all of a sudden? Well, it is a tomb after all. Maybe getting there first and realizing he was alone was too much and so he stops until Peter catches up.
Peter had fallen behind. (And this may be another way of symbolizing his denial of Jesus.) But he catches up when the beloved disciples hesitates to go in the tomb. And it’s like he just blows by the other disciples who was too scared to go in by himself. Maybe Peter just wants to be the first after getting behind in the race. Maybe he barrels in because he’s angry that someone would take Jesus body. Which would be kinda ironic that now he wants to see distancing himself from Jesus just days earlier. Maybe he doesn’t stop because of some rush of emotions because of his guilt over denying Jesus. Whatever it is, Peter rushes past the other disciple and sees the linens just like the other disciple, but scripture says he also sees something else:
the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but wrapped up in a place by itself.
Now, there are lots of internet myths about this head cloth. You may have read the folded napkin story. And while it sounds lovely, that idea has been debunked by many scholars. Yes, it sounds nice, but it’s not the intended meaning. So, why? Why the detail of this head cloth wrapped up by iteslef?
Well, Mary and the disciples are worried that SOMEONE took Jesus body. But, if so, a graverobber wouldn’t take the time or attention to wrap the cloths and lay them in place. They would have taken the body with all the wrappings. That the head cloth is wrapped separately tells us that Jesus body has just disappeared and left the cloths exactly where they had been, the head cloth where his head would be, separate from the cloths around his body. The point is that the disciples should know this wasn’t robbers. No person took Jesus. He has vanished…disappeared…resurrected!
But recall what scripture says:
The beloved disciples finally goes in and scripture says: he saw and believed.
Yes! He saw and believed Jesus was resurrected, right?! Well, no, not really. Look what the story says next:
for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
So, the two disciples go home. Even with the detail of the head cloth in plain sight – proving there had been no graverobber – the disciples cannot understand or fathom what has happened.
So what is it they believe? Well, it’s not really clear. Maybe that believe Jesus was taken away by someone. Maybe they believed his body was gone as Mary had said. I mean she told them but they had to have a footrace to check what she had said as if they did not believe her at first. And, honestly, we aren’t sure Peter believed anything yet. But the beloved disciples believed something, even though he did not understand.
Next, the story is back to Mary Magdalene who was the first to see Jesus gone, went to tell the others, and is now apparently back at the tomb even though scripture says nothing about her returning with Peter and the beloved disciple. Maybe she ran back with them, too. Maybe she walked back not chasing after those silly boys and their boyish rivalry. Either way the two men leave and scripture says:
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
Mary is left alone…crying. It’s as though the men pay her no attention. They run to see for themselves as if they do not believe her. And then they leave her alone crying at the tomb. And folks, the church has done this to women far too often over the centuries! Some are still doing it believing women can’t or shouldn’t preach the gospel. But God’s Word says right here that Mary Magdalene is the preacher here. Mary is the pastor here. Peter and the other disciple surely are not being pastors, but instead are caught up in their silly male competitive races to outdo the other.
Mary stays because she is the pastor and that is what pastors do. They stay in the midst of tragedy and loss to be present. And soon she will go out to tell others the story of what happened to Jesus. That is what preachers do. (All church traditions would do well to recognize this!)
The story continues
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Wait, what? Two angels appear and Mary answers them like it’s nothing. Come on! Didn’t they look like angels…like in our window here to my right? Or did they just look like humans and so it didn’t seem odd? Had they been there the whole time? Did they appear out of nowhere? What is going on? I would have freaked out!
Well, after Mary answered these angels (who don’t surprise her), she turns around and scripture says she saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Finally, Mary turns around and does appear to be startled to see someone she doesn’t know. Jesus asks her why she is crying, but she thinks he is the Gardner, the person who watched over the area of tombs.
Maybe this guy has taken Jesus body she thinks. So, she says:
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Then Jesus calls her name: Mary! And she recognizes him, she sees him, she understands!
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Pay attention to what just happened here. Mary becomes the first preacher commissioned and ordained by Jesus to go tell the good news of his resurrection!
So, this is the story of resurrection. Three people. Three different responses: fear, lack of understanding, and failure to recognize.
When it comes to God, when it comes to faith, when it comes to Jesus…
- Some of us – like beloved disciples – run fast, but are afraid to get too close, afraid to look too deeply.
- Some of us – like Peter – believe, but don’t really understand.
- Some of us – like Mary – are so caught up in our own worries, our own life that we cannot see Jesus at work right in front of us.
And if you cannot find yourself in one of these three characters, then you are probably not seeing something honest about yourself. Look deeper. Because these three figures are designed by the story to help you see where you are in your relationship with Jesus. These are human responses with which we all struggle.
Truly seeing, understanding, and recognizing the resurrection of Jesus for the amazing divine act that it is is a lifelong task. We come today to celebrate Easter not simply because resurrection already happened long ago. No, we come today to celebrate Easter because resurrection is how God works in the world every single day. Resurrection is truth. By that I mean that resurrection is the way God works in the world, in our lives.
Whatever you wrote on the cards on the Easter tree over the course of Lent, whatever you are struggling with in the busy-ness of your life, whatever is pressing you down, sucking up your life, your spirit, your faith, you’re commitment, your time, your attention, your passion, your joy, your service to God…whatever, the truth is resurrection is right in front of you because Jesus conquered all those things.
Look inside the tomb of your struggles and see the resurrection! Open your heart and mind to understand more deeply the truth of what resurrection is in your life. Try to recognize Jesus work in your life because he is right in front of you calling your name.
What did we cry last week? Hosanna!
Today, resurrection is all around you, all around me. Look. See. Listen. Pay attention. Recognize.
For when you do, there is but one response. Our hosannas turn to what? Hallelujah!