Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Easter Sunrise - "The Gardener"

Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
April 20, 2014 – Easter Sunrise Service
John 20:1-18

“The Gardener”

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

Hallelujah means “Praise God.”

The melancholy verses that Leonard Cohen composed for the song we just heard stand in contrast to his chorus of Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

In our pain, in our despair, in our apathy, we all seek to have those moments of Hallelujah -
Those moments that lift us up out of the pit we’ve fallen into and infuse us with so much joy we can’t help but praise God for the relief we’ve found.

This dramatic lifting up from despair to joy is what Easter morning is all about.
In the Easter story – the story of the discovery of the empty tomb – we find the ultimate Hallelujah moment.

We can imagine Mary approaching the tomb where Jesus’ broken body had been laid, willing herself to put one foot in front of the other when all she wanted to do was collapse in her grief.

Her rabbouni, her teacher, her friend, was gone.
Taken from her in one of the most brutal ways imaginable.
Crucified like a common criminal upon a wooden cross.

Now as she walked in the garden surrounding the tombs, feeling the cool earth beneath her feet, she may have imagined the thousands of women who had walked this way before her.
Gathering to weep for those they had lost.
The very soil made sacred by the acts of grief and love broken open upon it.

But as Mary approached Jesus’ tomb and saw the stone had been rolled away her grief quickly turned to shock and confusion.
Her first thought was that Jesus’ body had been taken.
By whom or for what reason she didn’t care to speculate, as she quickly ran and got two of the disciples and brought them to the tomb to confirm what she had seen.
Someone had taken their beloved Jesus away.

When the men looked into the empty tomb they were dumbfounded, but having no answers to give they returned home, leaving Mary alone yet again.
Alone in her grief…feeling like she had lost him all over again.

As Mary sat weeping outside the tomb, she had no idea that she was about to experience one of those Hallelujah moments.

A man approached her and said, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She assumed he was the gardener.
We know it is Jesus.
We might wonder why Mary did not recognize her dear friend when he was standing right in front of her.

We often see artistic depictions of the risen Christ ablaze in light – His body made whole, his blinding white robes looking cleaned and pressed as a golden halo hovers over his head.

But this is not what Mary saw.
Instead of her friend she saw a gardener.
Perhaps because the light was still low, or she couldn’t imagine who else would be there at the crack of dawn.
Or perhaps as he spoke he reached out his hand and she saw dirt caked beneath his fingernails.
From years of tilling soil, planting seeds, and willing them to grow.

It wasn’t until Jesus called out her name, “Mary!” – that she knew it was him.

And in that moment her spirits soared.

She recognized the timber and warmth of her teacher’s voice as he said her name….Mary.
And all those times he had told her to not despair, that even in death he would not leave her, came rushing back to her.
The seeds of resurrection had been planted within her.
And this gardener with dirt under his fingernails had nurtured new life to grow once again.

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah

As we navigate the pain and despair that befalls us, how might we bring about those Easter Hallelujah moments in our own lives?

I invite you all, as you are able, to reach down and grab a bit of dirt – a small clump or just a pinch – Just enough to feel it between your fingers, just enough so when you reach down to pick it up you get a bit lodged underneath your fingernails.
In other words, if you’re wearing gloves, take them off.

As many of you know, the dirt on this village green holds a lot of our own history.
Many people have walked this ground before us.
Hundreds years of 4th of July celebrations and farmers markets.
Thousands of morning strolls, afternoon runs, and evening walks with the dog.
There was the time that this church – this meeting house - stood on this green, before it was moved to where it is now.
The place where we’re standing now is where Easter preachers once belted out sermons, while children squirmed in the pews, and farmers gazed out the windows, their thoughts wandering to the crops they were anxious to plant, if the frozen ground would ever give way.

Before the church was built, this green served as the training field for the local militia…. and it was a favorite grazing location for cows, pigs, and sheep.   
And for generations before that, this land was home to the indigenous people who worshiped this soil and found shade beneath these trees.

If we can, imagine the ghosts of our past wandering amongst us now.
Farmers, soldiers, church goers, people of all ages and times gathering on this very soil to celebrate, to worship, to live their everyday lives.

The soil you hold in your hand is sacred ground.
It is our connection to the past and those who came before us.
And it is our connection to the future and those who will come after us.

Our Hallelujah moment is found in the understanding that although Jesus no longer walks on this earth as our Rabounni, our teacher, his teachings live on in each of us.
In the values we instill in our children.
In the love we show towards others, even those who’ve wronged us.
In the radical welcome and hospitality we offer to those who are different from us – these are the seeds the gardener has planted within us and that we continue to plant in his name.

We all have dirt underneath our fingernails.

And as you go through this Easter Sunday I encourage you to resist the urge to wash this dirt off your hands.
Keep it as a reminder of this resurrection morning.
As a reminder of empty tombs and halleluiah moments.
As a reminder that suffering, despair, and death do not have the last word.

Because, praise God, Christ has risen again.

Say it with me -  Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!


Senior High Youth Group at the Sunrise Service