The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Easter Sunday Sermon – 11:15am Rite II Eucharist Service, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville
- Text: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118
- :1-2,14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, John 20:1-18
As I was thinking about Easter this week,
the song “White Blank Page” from Mumford and Sons
came on my Pandora.
One of our parishioners turned me onto them.
And thanks to him I can proudly say I was listening to their music before they won the Grammy.
One line in their song struck me like a light in a dark room,
“Can you kneel before the King, and say I am clean?”
While I’m not sure what they meant,
Of course you can imagine the King I was thinking of,
He is the risen King we are here to celebrate.
Only later when I looked at the lyrics to that song,
did I notice the powerful connection at the end,
to the reading we have today.
The last line is, “oh, lead me to the truth,
and I will follow you with my whole life.”
In the gospel we just heard,
we see three people who knew the Lord,
and their different ways of being lead to the truth,
a new truth,
one that they had heard of,
but really did not believe
until they experienced it for themselves.
The truth that their master and friend,
whom they had seen executed
in the most brutal manner just days before,
had really defeated death,
just as he said he would.
Mary found the tomb empty,
and went and found Peter and John.
Peter and John run to see for themselves.
Like boys in a race,
they run hard, and John outruns Peter
to get there first.
Did you notice that?
How the gospel passage points out twice
that John got there first?
There’s some kind of point that the gospel of John
is trying to make there,
but that’s not one I’m dwelling on.
Sure John got there first,
but he stopped just short of going into the empty tomb.
What caused him to stop short?
Was he afraid of what he might see?
Peter couldn’t beat John in the race there,
but runs right past him at the entrance,
and boldly, maybe even brashly
enters the tomb, to find it empty.
Well, almost empty, as the grave clothes were still there.
Why did he run right in?
What gave John pause
but did not have the same effect on Peter?
John follows Peter in,
and when he sees for himself,
he believed, even though he did not yet understand.
Whatever it was,
that lead to their different reactions
to the tomb,
Peter and John seem to leave the scene and go back home,
almost as quickly as they got there.
And then there’s Mary,
the scripture doesn’t say she ran with them,
but she was certainly there,
when they considered the empty tomb,
and after they went back home.
Mary stood there weeping by the tomb after they left.
Her weeping shows us that even though she knew
the tomb was empty,
she did not get what had happened.
By staying with the truth for a while,
maybe because she doesn’t run away from her grief,
maybe because of her patience,
she gets rewarded with the first
face to face encounter with the risen Lord.
He greets her by name,
when she at first does not recognize him.
Often we want to focus on Mary,
who meets the risen Lord on this glorious morning.
But was she the only one who was saved,
by his death and resurrection?
Certainly she has a privileged position,
in relation to the other disciples.
She becomes the apostle to the apostles,
when she is the first to say
“I have seen the Lord!”
But beyond that position,
is her salvation any more sure than theirs?
Some in this area
would say, if I haven’t personally encountered
the risen Lord Jesus,
in a specific event I can point to,
then somehow I’m not saved.
I imagine some of you have encountered that theology.
I heard it recently from a girl who was getting baptized here.
She was excited to tell her mother
about the baptism,
and this woman told her daughter,
“just because you’re doing that doesn’t mean you’re saved.”
Which sounded to me like,
“If you don’t meet the Lord the way I and my friends do, then you’re not really saved by him.”
Can you imagine if Mary had said,
“I’ve seen the Lord, so I’m saved and you’re not!”
As you can hear,
I see something totally different in this Easter Gospel.
Each of these three people pursued the truth
in different ways,
and each encountered that truth differently.
It was the same truth, of course,
that Jesus had been crucified,
died, and on the third day left the tomb empty.
The same truth we preach each and every Sunday,
for the last two thousand years.
Because we find that this truth
is always good news to someone.
But the original disciples found and engaged that truth
in different ways.
One wanted to get there fast, faster than his friend,
but stopped just short of going all the way.
He had to wait for a friend to enter the truth with him first.
One couldn’t quite keep up,
took a little more time to get there,
but once he got there dived right in to see for himself.
And one let her heart lead the way,
and stayed in her grief,
until Jesus met her right where she was waiting.
All of these people were lead to the truth,
and all of these people followed him
with their whole lives,
for the rest of their lives.
I don’t think it would be hard to say that all of them
experienced Jesus’ salvation in their own way.
Did it matter, which one came to Jesus which way?
No, the fact that they were redeemed, saved by Jesus
had nothing to do with their actions
it was something that Jesus had already done.
Which one of them could kneel before their king,
and say, “I am clean?”
At the moment they saw the empty tomb probably none of them could, but not because they did not deserve to.
Jesus had already made them clean.
The recognition and understanding
of their being free from sin
and death would come much later.
Even if they couldn’t recognize it fully,
he would stand before them, and say
“you are clean.”
He would even give them his peace,
and his own Holy Spirit,
even before they fully comprehended,
the depths of their salvation.
But you’ll have to come back over the next few weeks to hear more about that.
What matters today is that the deed was done,
the stain of sin was cleaned,
death was defeated.
And everyone is given the opportunity,
for a new life in Jesus.
Which of these disciples do you identify with?
Some come to the truth slowly, but completely,
some come to the truth fast, but take a while
before they really are willing to get into it all the way.
Some think that it’s too late for them.
And get so caught up in their grief,
that they’re about ready to give up.
But it is never too late.
On our Alpha Course we talk about this woman,
who is a missionary in Hong Kong,
Jackie Pullinger shared the Gospel mostly to drug addicts, gang members and prostitutes.
While she focussed her early efforts on young people,
and found many miraculous stories of
youth experiencing the saving truth of Jesus risen for them,
the story that strikes me most is
of an older woman,
a worn out prostitute,
72 years old, named Alfreda.
She was too old, obviously, to work her trade,
and addicted to heroin for so long, for 60 years,
that she had to inject her back every day because her arms and legs were too used up.
She would squat outside a brothel
by the drain of an open sewer during the day,
and poke it with a stick to keep the sewage flowing.
And she even at that point in her life,
when most people would say it was too late for her,
came to believe that Jesus had died
and rose from the dead for her.
And that Good News turned her life around,
She started living and worshipping
with Jackie’s community of Christians,
and even met a guy who was in his mid 70’s
named Little Wa, who had also recently come to know that he was saved by Christ.
They got married,
and Alfreda walked down the aisle dressed in white,
made clean and pure only by the grace of her Savior Jesus.
She can kneel before her king and say,
I am clean.
It was all thanks to Him,
and what he did for her,
and for you.
It’s never too late,
even if you have been hovering outside the entrance to the tomb, not sure if you want to look in.
For if you had been the only one in the world,
Jesus would have died and defeated death and the grave,
He loves you that much.
And the good news is, He already did that for you.
He already gave you his whole life,
and you can follow him with your whole life,
just as Mary, John, and Peter did.
So can you kneel before your king and say “I am clean.”
Surely you can.
Thanks to him you can.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Amen.