Easter Sunday, Year A

“Be on the lookout for God and Angels

An Easter Sunday sermon by Pastor Jane

Today in our scripture we find Mary Magdelene, one of Jesus’ closest friends going to Jesus’ tomb to pay her respects. As she approaches Jesus’ tomb, she sees that the stone that had covered his tomb had been rolled away and Jesus’ body is not in the tomb. Jesus had been killed because many of the rulers of the day were against him and his teaching. They thought he was a threat to their society and refused to hear his message, so Mary’s mind immediately goes to the most logical explanation – someone had stolen Jesus body. She runs to tell Simon Peter and another disciple. She says: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Upon hearing this the two disciples get up and run to the tomb. The only thing they see in the tomb are the linens that Jesus had been buried in, neatly folded in a corner, so they turn away from the tomb and go back to tell the other disciples that someone has taken Jesus’ body.

As the disciples leave, Mary Magdalene remains at the entrance of the tomb. I imagine her standing in front of the tomb completely in shock, listless, stuck not knowing what to do next. Her hand held to her mouth staring at the tomb in the quiet and stillness of this awful morning when suddenly the grief wells up in her again and she begins to weep. John tells us that “as she wept, she bent down 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?”

Mary did not realize that these were angels speaking to her. Thinking they were gardeners or cemetery workers, she says to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

She backs out of the tombs and turns around to see Jesus standing outside the tomb, but she does not recognize him at all and thinks he is also just another gardener. Jesus says to her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

Mary saw angels and did not know that they were angels. She saw Jesus and did not know that it was Jesus. She saw divine beings from Heaven and had no idea who they were. She thought these heavenly beings were just average human beings like you and me.

If Mary Magdelene did not recognize Angels and the resurrected Jesus, could it be possible that you and I see Angels and Jesus all the time without even knowing it?

In her book To Heaven and Back, Dr. Mary Neal recounts how she was saved from a serious kayaking accident in Chile. There were a series of incredible miracles that took place to pull her body out of the water. Once her kayaking buddies got her to land, they had no idea how they would get her the medical care that she needed. They were in a part of the riverbank that was only accessible by boat, with no cell phone service, no hospitals and no ambulances. They were in complete despair. Then suddenly, out of nowhere they saw two Chilean men standing in front of them. One man had a machete. Neither man said a word. They helped put Dr. Neal’s body in a kayak. The man with the machete lead them by clearing the very thick bamboo forest in front of them while the other man helped carry the kayak. They walked like this for hours hoping to find a dirt road so that they could get Dr. Neal’s body back to her family. When they finally made their way out of the forest onto a dirt road, an ambulance was parked on the side of the road right where they emerged. The ambulance took Dr. Neal’s body to a nearby clinic where she regained consciousness and miraculously survived.

Some of her kayaking friends had run to a nearby village. When they described what had happened, the people in the village thought they were crazy Americans to think that there was an ambulance anywhere nearby and although everyone knew everyone in these small villages they said that no one they knew in their village or nearby villages fit the descriptions of the two men who suddenly appeared out of nowhere on the riverbank with a machete.

Could these Chilean men and this ambulance have been Angels or even Jesus?

Today in our scripture Mary Magdelene saw Angels and the resurrected Jesus, and she thought they were just human beings. Later in our scripture we hear that the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples time and time again, yet they do not recognize him. They interact with him as if he is just another human being in the world, they do not recognize him as the Jesus whom they know and love.

Can you imagine a friend of yours approaching you and having no idea that it is your friend? Perhaps there is something in the grief and shock of these encounters with angels and the Lord that caused Mary and the disciples and Dr. Neal to see mere human mortals rather than divine beings. Perhaps it is our own stuff, our own lens that causes us not to see, not to notice Angels and even Jesus in our midst.

So what can we learn from this Easter morning scripture that will help open our eyes to the divine in our own lives and in the world?

In the Ancient Roman Empire and ancient Israel, women and in particular women like Mary Magdelene were considered the lowest part of society. Mary Magdelene had led a very lowly life and was so disregarded by society that she would have been spat on, shunned, and disregarded by most people. She was truly the least likely person to have such a profound encounter with angels at Jesus’ tomb and be the first person to encounter the resurrected Jesus.

Whether we come to church every week or haven’t come to church in years, we might all think of ourselves as the least likely people to have a profound spiritual experience, but in fact you are the most likely individuals. If you have had a supernatural experience, you are not crazy, nor are you alone. These encounters are far more common than we realize. That experience you had was not just a coincidence. It was not a trick of the eye. Angels and Jesus still appear to people all the time and they often appear to the least likely individuals.

So what should we look for when we are looking for Angels and our Lord in our daily lives? There are several common characteristics of Angels that we find in the Bible, but the one we hear about today on this Easter morning is that these encounters with the divine are full of God’s compassion.

Notice the first thing that both the angels and Jesus do is extend compassion to Mary. They both first ask her, “Why are you weeping?” This makes me think of a school teacher finding a crying student and asking, “oh dear little one why are you crying? Are you okay? What happened?” Both the Angels and Jesus first tend to Mary’s distress offering her love and sympathy. The angels who came after Dr. Neal’s kayaking accident offered compassion to her and her friends by helping her get the medical care she needed. These encounters with the divine are marked by compassion, practical support, and love. But you do not need to be near Jesus’ tomb or near death on a riverbank to have an encounter with God.

One woman recently told me of a vision she had while offering reiki, a kind of energy healing, to a friend. Her friend was laying down on a massage table while she was doing the energy work when suddenly a large angel appeared floating in the ceiling. She gasped so her friend rolled over and looked up and saw the angel as well. They were both so amazed. They felt a deep peace like they had never felt before. Both of them felt that they had done nothing to deserve this divine encounter. They had not fasted or prayed all day. It just happened out of the blue to the least likely folks and it gave them the peace and strength that they needed to face difficult challenges that came up for each of them later in their lives.

Today Jesus shows us that there is more to life than just this linear embodied life that we live here on earth. There is a whole heavenly realm with countless throngs of angels and archangels and a whole company of heaven who reach out to us.

Early on Easter morning, Jesus came to Mary, the least likely person to show her and all of us least likely individuals that we have an eternal soul that lives beyond this world and that heaven and heavenly beings are for us, they are with us, and they are here to extend God’s love to you and to all of God’s creation.

So be on the look out for God and be prepared to be amazed by God’s abundant, far reaching compassion in your life and in the world.

Let us pray….