March 31, 2024 - Easter Sunday

"Where Are You?”

Rev. Gary Percesepe

John 20:1-18

John’s account of the Resurrection appearances describes a number of journeys to and from Jesus’ tomb. Mary Magdalene arrives first, next comes Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple go to the tomb and then they return to their homes. Just outside the tomb, Mary meets the Risen Christ and is commissioned by Christ to bear witness to the Resurrection. She and Christ then leave the tomb behind, as they journey forth.

So: three stories of three different people coming to the tomb, and each one leaves the tomb in three different ways. Which leads me to wonder: what is your story? What will be your journey to and from the tomb be like this morning?

Mary comes fully expecting to find entombed there the dead body of Jesus. That’s not what she finds. Even then Mary does not recognize him but thinks he is a “gardener.” The one who is called the Beloved Disciple comes to the tomb then sees and believes. Simon Peter comes, sees, and sort of believes. Three close friends of Jesus, coming and going to the tomb in different ways.

Some present in this great crowd today may hear the triumphant music, listen to the scripture, hear the sermon, see the beauty of aina and kai, land and sea—you may be drawn mysteriously to this sacred space but still say, not out loud but in your heart: “I’m not sure. I’m almost persuaded, but I’m not sure.”

For many years I taught philosophy. Generations of students passed through my classes, no one of them alike. They’d signed up for a philosophy course because they were curious, perhaps, or because they sought meaning in their lives, or maybe because it was an academic requirement they couldn’t get out of, or maybe because they wanted an encounter with the truth. Many of them wanted to know more about the existentialists, Nietzsche in particular, who believed there is no absolute truth, that there is no capital T truth, only small t truths, that are glimpsed in passing through life, never the whole, only the partial, only perspectives. Multiply perspectives, Nietzsche preached.

Each of us here today comes to the mystery of the Resurrection from a different perspective. No one’s story is identical to another. For some, belief is immediate and easy. Like those who believe in love at first sight. For others, it takes time. However we come to the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus, the Risen Christ will find a way to make himself known to us, if we will hold ourselves open to the mystery, God will find a way. As one character in the bible cried out, God, I believe! Please help my unbelief!

And so, some may come to this joyful morning full of joy and happiness. Others may be in gloom rather than in light. You may have just lost someone you dearly loved. You may be oppressed by things which happened in your past that you cannot outrun.

It took Mary Magdalene a while to believe in the resurrection. It was almost too much for her, she felt overwhelmed. It was only when Jesus called her name that she was able to announce to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord!” It took the other disciples even longer to believe what they had seen with their own eyes.

Gently now, I want to ask again: Where are you in this story of the first Easter?

Because for some, it’s quite enough to come to church, see the flowers, sing the songs, and steadfastly, firmly believe, “He is Risen!”

But others come to church, see the same flowers, sing the same songs, hear the same sermon but come away saying, “I just can’t say for sure. I just don’t know what to believe.”

It is possible to see all the evidence, hear the complete testimony, but still be waiting. Perhaps this is your story. For you, faith is not so much intellectual assent, it’s not like being in a philosophy class at all, you’re not so much concerned with some kind of theological or philosophical rationale, you are just searching for a personal way to relate to it all—like Mary, you are waiting for your name to be called.

How have you come here this Easter morning? What path brought you here?

I just stopped by this morning to tell you—it doesn’t matter how you have come here. What’s important is the promise in the Easter gospel message: the Risen Christ is not here, he is not entombed in a dead, ancient past! He is Risen! He got up! And he wants to hold your hand and call your name and carry you, drag you if necessary, all the way home this morning! He got up! He rose, which means you and I will rise with him at the end of all things, when time is no more, when we saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And we see the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
they will be his people
God himself will be with them and be their God;
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the former things have passed away…

And on that day aina and kai and all the beautiful place names, Lahaina Town and Kula, Hana, Haiku and Paia, Wailuku and Kahului, Kihei Town and yes, Mākena, all rise with him! He got up from the grave, which means that all the royal places in this world that were stripped by greed or burnt to ash and left for dead, gentrified or grifted, from Harlem to Lahaina Town shall rise again. Kahu Anela Rosa herself whispered to me, Waiola Church will rise again, oh friends, believe the good news! God is on the move today, we worship a living God not the god of the dead, and this word you hear today is a living word, God is alive, moving toward you, eager for you to see what you’ve missed, though he’s been beside you all this time, waiting, not forcing himself on you, only waiting until you could hear your name called! God is eager to see you, wants to give you what you need to believe, calling your name. God is for you!

Who did Christ appear to? His own disciples. The Risen Christ seems determined to connect in any way possible, intent on giving us what we need to believe that his love and life are triumphant over the powers of death and destruction and chaos.

It doesn’t matter how you came to Easter. Christ’s promise is that you won’t go away the same. Amid your questions, your doubts, your reservations—Christ will give you the faith to be able to say to the world, in one way or another, “I have seen the Lord.” So be it! Amen.

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