Sunday, April 12, 2020
"God Is Not Finished!"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
It’s Easter Sunday, by far the most sacred day of the entire church year. A day when churches are usually packed to capacity. The smell of lilies and in our case, the briny scent of the ocean fills our nostrils as waves crash on the shore nearby and birds flying overhead offer their own rendition of “hallelujah.” On Easter, our robust singing of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” almost convinces us that despite any doubt – He IS risen indeed! – As we pray together, commune together, offer our gifts together, and realize anew the importance of our ‘ohana. But not this year.
For the first time in my 40 years of ministry, I am now watching myself on a computer screen – with you – as we participate in worship together by viewing this pre-recorded service. As we “shelter-in-place” we are isolated from one another, unable to be together in worship “the way we’ve always done it before.” But, you know what? What we are experiencing today, like it or not, is FAR more similar to the story we read just moments ago – and as Danette just expressed in song. For on that first Easter Sunday – the disciples sheltered in place – out of fear – and Mary Magdalene went to the garden – ALONE.
“In the Garden,” that old song, criticized by many as too schmaltzy, (to borrow an old phrase from my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage) seems to celebrate an individualistic kind of faith. Yet, I believe, it is spot on as we experience Easter – for the most part – alone this year. Unable to gather for a triumphal service of worship, we come this year in the solitude of our homes and in the quiet of our hearts. [Pause]
I wonder what it was that drew Mary Magdalene to the tomb early that first Easter morning? I wonder what it is that draws you here today?
Revered theologian Karl Barth has been quoted as saying, “What brings people to church on Easter or any other Sunday is their desire to know whether or not what we proclaim is indeed true. Veracity is important to our own sense of integrity. We want to believe what is true and attest to the same. But I doubt that is what draws you to worship today. No, what we want to know more than anything today is, “Are we going to be okay? Will we get through this time in our lives successfully? Will I be spared of illness? My family. My friends. And, if so, how will we – and all others be different?” What most of us are looking for today is a word of hope.
Just pause for a moment and think of what we have come through in just a few weeks. What we thought unfathomable just a month ago has become our reality. When I began my ministry among you on the first Sunday in Lent, I could not have imagined we would be worshiping from our homes at its conclusion on Easter Sunday – but here we are – each, in our own way, coming to the garden – alone. [Pause]
When she saw that the stone was removed from the entrance of the tomb she ran to the “sheltered-in-place” disciples and told them. When Peter and the other disciple finished their foot-race to the garden, they ran away – back to their homes – uncertain what next to do.
Mary now looked inside for herself and, at first, saw angels who questioned why she was weeping. After explaining the reason for her grief, she turned away and encountered a man she presumed was the gardener. It took her some time to realize the one she was talking to was, indeed, Jesus. It was when he called her by name that her eyes were opened.
“Mary,” was all he said.
“Rabboni,” which means “Teacher” was her response. She reached out to him, but Jesus rebuked her saying, “Don’t cling to me for I have not yet ascended.” And then Jesus said something that was very important to Mary Magdalene – AND – to you and me. “Go to my brothers and tell them.”
Mary had come to Jesus – to the garden – ALONE. But she could not stay there. God was not finished with her. There was still work to be done. Mary left the garden and became the first apostle. She went and told the other disciples and 2,000 years later – here we are!
But you know what? God is still – not finished! [Pause]
Today – we may be sheltered in place and we really don’t know when that will shift or change. We don’t know when we can resume work, entertainment, shopping, or even worshipping together once again. We’re not even sure what our island, state, nation, or world will be like when we return to some semblance of life “as it used to be.” But of one thing we can be certain, God is not finished. There is still much more to do. Just as Mary was discouraged from clinging to Jesus so that she could go forth to serve – we will be encouraged NOT to cling to what was – or to try and return to the way life used to me. NO! We will be invited back out of our homes to restore a severely broken world – to be love, compassion, and hope to all beings and to our planet which desperately needs our care.
The same Savior that was raised from the dead will breathe new life into our mortal bodies – our spirits will be resurrected, and we will be renewed. [Pause]
In the last verse of that old schmaltzy hymn are words we often forget. It continues:
I’d stay in the garden with him, though the night around me be falling; But he bids me go; through the voice of woe his voice to me is calling.
And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.
May it be so.
This Easter, we live with hope. We ARE a resurrection people. We CAN rely on the God who created beauty out of chaos, brought life out of death, and will guide us through a season of confusion and tragedy into one of transformation and peace.
Mahalo ke Akua – Thanks be to God.