April 21, 2019: Just another Easter by Rev. Beth Hayward (John 20: 1-18)

Come into this story with me, come close, narrow your gaze with me to one focused point. I wonder, in fact I truly hope, that in narrowing our gaze to the smallest detail, we might just uncover a glimpse of resurrection. Come with me to look at Mary, after the other disciples have come running and left running. There she stands alone, finally mustering the courage to peer inside the tomb for herself, to confirm with her own eyes what she already knows in her heart, that the tomb is empty, the body is gone; it is finished. Picture her looking into the empty tomb, a couple of angels offering a brief extension of comfort. She turns around, and this is the moment, I want to invite you all into.

She turns around and sees the gardener. And he asks why she’s crying and she begs him to tell her where the body has been placed, who took it, please tell me!

The gardener calls her by name: “Mary!” That’s when she knows that she is standing in the presence of her Lord, the moment she hears her name spill from his lips. We don’t know if she reached for him, if she was about to throw herself at his feet or pull him close in a tender embrace because before we can even see how the scene might unfold he says to her: “Do not hold on to me.” Don’t cling to me.

The thing about resurrection is that the moment you witness it, the moment you are standing face to face with it you know too that resurrection is not something you can hold on to. You can’t cling to it, you can only run with it. Resurrection is always running ahead, it’s like you see it, you feel it, you know it to be true and then it says to you sternly, no, no you can’t hold on to this, try as you will but resurrection will disintegrate in your hand it’s like catching air

For now, hold the image of Mary. There, face to face with the risen Christ and in a split second having to decide will she try to cling to him or run with it that moment when she is so wanting to cling to resurrection and there within reach is the very voice of resurrection saying go on now, run with it. Just hold that.

            Now allow me pull a thread from there to here. Just a thin glistening thread, right from that scene to this very week in the world today. As Holy Week began for Christians the world over, this past Monday, a fire broke out in the 800 year old Notre Dame Cathedral.

One skeptical journalist, writing about the fire, questioned why it was that within minutes of news breaking, social media feeds were flooded with photos of tourist visits to the great Parisian landmark. Why as this stunning incarnation of architecture and religious grandeur was still burning, did every last person who ever took a trip to Paris post a picture of their personal moment with the great cathedral?[1]

This journalist concedes that for some people there was a tangible sense of grief at the destruction of a stunning piece of gothic architecture and for others a deep sadness at the loss of a symbol of faith but for most, he says, the main significance of Notre Dame is how it was on the tourist loop. You visit Paris; you see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Cathedral, not necessarily in that order. With news that a few uber-rich families committed hundreds of millions to a yet to be established rebuilding fund, the predictable counter argument took shape. Social media feeds, at least in some circles were, flooded with other images, other calls, most notably the words “save this cathedral” pasted over images of dead coral reefs and suffering rainforests and garbage littered seas

In many ways what unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral is not dissimilar from what happened after the tragic death of Princess Diana when crowds flooded the streets, laying flowers and teddy bears at the gates of the palace, in a public display of grief unseen since perhaps the death of Kennedy; people going through the motions of a massive display of global, public grief.

It begs the question, are we playing a part? Are we really grieved at the loss of this building? Are we really going to save the coral reefs? or are we in a sense just going through the motions? I think It’s more than that, I think the reaction is real, I’m just not sure it’s sustainable.

I’m not going to be critical of those who have posted photos of their time in Paris, (goodness, knows people would only think I’m jealous because I’ve never been)

whether they visited the Cathedral as part of a spiritual pilgrimage, or to witness a stunning piece of architecture or just because it was on the tourist loop. And I understand the impulsive reaction of some to send money to rebuild a pretty old church. Just as I hear the pleas of others to put your money where it matters and save this planet.

All of it is our human longing, our innate desire to cling to the stuff that matters. to choose life. We want to be connected; in fact we need to be connected. But of course we know, if we’re honest that even this will be a fleeting moment of global mourning and unity.

I wonder if the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has endured, if it has been more impactful, enduring and sustaining than the viral response to a burning church. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Jesus didn’t persuade those first witnesses, including Mary, of their moral obligation to spread the word. No he seduced her.

Yeah, I just went there. But do let me clarify. Anyone who’s followed the story thus far will know without a doubt that Mary will run to spread the news of resurrection. Because this isn’t going through the motions for her, this isn’t about grasping for some sense of meaning and connection no, she was seduced long ago by Jesus and his movement she was seduced into trusting that there is a power of life and love at work in this world that is greater than the countless deaths we impose on each other daily, greater than the forces of fire that turn buildings to ash, greater than our daily commitment to choose comfort over conservation.

She was seduced by the way he lived this up-side down Kin-dom where the last are first and the unworthy are loved. Mary ran with resurrection because she’d spent three years being seduced to love, along with the motely crew of people who Jesus gathered around him. Resurrection embodies the truth that moral obligation or its counter, moral indignation will never be enough to sustain us, just as it will never be enough to motivate us to do anything more than stand there and cling.

No, we need love to fill us with the courage to run from the places where we hear the voice of resurrection and carry that truth of life from death, that truth of the living presence of Christ in our midst, and run and tell the others.

Yes, this Easter day let me declare that what we need in church is a whole lot more seduction. We need to get out of our heads and into our hearts because every one knows that we protect what we fall in love with. Sustainable communities require seduceable hearts: hearts that can fall in love with beauty.  Resurrection of a life, a community, a cathedral, the earth will only truly happen if it begins with seduction[2].

When have you been seduced? Holding new born life in your arms, human or animal? When have you been seduced? In the presence of one who loves not in spite of your human imperfections but because of them? When have you been seduced? In a community of people who say you’re worth loving when you mess us, when you let me down, when you’re a broken, insecure mess? And having been seduced by love, true love, real love, all you can do is release. There is no clinging in seduction. You are compelled to go and tell the others.

If you take a look at your life and you’ll know that always without fail, you give your life to what has captured your heart, to the people and places that have seduced you into loving them. That’s why resurrection matters, because it continues to say boldly that we are bigger than this, we are deeper than this, we are more together than alone

Sometimes we settle for a Tweet or an Instagram post because we get scared that there’s not enough to go round, not enough love to go round, more than anything not enough conviction in our hearts to go round. Perhaps we wonder if the apparent strength of moral obligation or indignation will be more persuasive that seduction

All of it will fall short, the rebuilding of the cathedral, the renewal of the dead coral reefs or felled forests, the fulfillment of your very life, all of it will fall short if we come to it only with moral obligation. Or if we approach it with clinging and going through the motions

We need to practice falling in love, sticking with one another long enough to see that Easter morning is not some mythical safety net but an invitation to life, to choose life, to live like this moment is all you have, not because you’re delusional but because you know in your bones that death does not have the final word.

How will we fall in love? How will we nurture seducable people within suducable communities? Start by listening for your name. Every time you hear your name,, remember it is a call to seduction, an invitation to fall in love with life again.

Those first disciples including Mary, they believed in the resurrection because they’d already lived it, they’d already built capacity to fall in love, to be seduced by the promise that we are greater than we now think possible and you are more worthy than you ever dreamed.

I wonder where resurrection might lead us if we practiced being communities of seduction like our lives depended on it? I wonder. Amen


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidalm/2019/04/17/why-do-we-post-our-vacation-photos-of-notre-dame/#57cad5037190

[2] https://www.openhorizons.org/trust-in-beauty.html