Dare to Dance Again; John 20:1-18
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; April 4, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
It’s a familiar story that we read from out of one of the Gospels each year. We hear it from different perspectives; different details that don’t exactly fit together like pieces of a puzzle—and yet somehow they all tell us the mysterious story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We don’t know how the resurrection happens; that’s a detail we’re never privy to. An angel—or two—are present in each of the gospel stories to offer an explanation of what has happened. Matthew speaks of an earthquake—surely the act of resurrection would generate the kind of energy that would cause the earth to shake. Then in the gospel of John, Mary comes to the tomb while it’s still dark, as God has already, quietly worked while everyone was sleeping.
She sees the stone is rolled away and knows something has happened, but doesn’t stay to investigate on her own. She runs to Simon Peter and to the disciple who Jesus loved and tells them that the body of Jesus is gone. The two men engage in a foot race, and though the disciple whom Jesus loves arrives first, Simon Peter is the first to enter the tomb. They both see the linen wrappings. Scripture says the first disciple to arrive is also the first one to believe, but at this point I’m not sure what it is he believes (that the body of Jesus is truly gone?), because in that same sentence we’re told that they didn’t yet understand scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.
It seems that neither of these men were terribly troubled, or were at least too puzzled to know what to do next other than to go back to their homes. They shrug their shoulders and leave.
But Mary remains at the tomb. We can only guess that she came early, while it was still dark, to be able to grieve by herself. As bad as she had felt before, now she’s even more troubled. Who would take his body? Why would someone do this? We’re told in Matthew (27:62-66) that the chief priests and the Pharisees had gone to Pilate because they expected something like this might happen. They asked him to secure the tomb so none of the disciples could steal the body and then claim that Jesus was risen. Pilate agreed to do this. Tomb sealed. Guards posted. Body still gone.
As Mary weeps, she looks inside the tomb and sees the angels. She’s so lost in her grief that she doesn’t know they’re angels—these stories at the empty tomb may be the only angel appearances in scripture that don’t cause fear. I always think that angel appearances accompany angel words of comfort: “Do not be afraid.” But these angels instead, ask Mary a question: “Why are you weeping?”
Mary tells them that her Lord is missing; she doesn’t know where he is. Really, all she wants to do is find his body and make sure he is properly buried. Then, she can properly grieve. She knows he died; she doesn’t question that fact. She was a witness to the awful event. Afterwards, she and the other women watched Joseph of Arimathea remove his body from the cross and wrap it in linens. They had followed when Joseph took his body and placed it in the tomb. She had seen all these things with her own eyes. And now this? His body is gone. It was all hard enough without this happening, too.
Mary turns around, sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him. Thinking he is the gardener, she asks him if he has taken Jesus’ body. “Just tell me where he is, and I will take him away. I can take care of this, just tell me where he is.”
Jesus calls her by name and she recognizes him. She hears his voice and knows it’s him. And with that, everything changes.
After that, I’ve had in my head that Mary reaches out to Jesus, which seems like a natural thing to do. I went through each of the Gospel writers in the NRSV, and it isn’t there. It seems that Mary couldn’t see what she didn’t expect to see, and I had to add a little detail of my own to make this piece of the story make sense to me. Maybe you can find where it says she reached out to touch him in another translation. (That’s your assignment for today!) But it’s still a little confusing. I can’t understand why Mary can’t touch Jesus because he hasn’t yet ascended, though in just a little while Jesus will encourage Thomas to touch his wounds. Maybe it’s because Thomas needs to do that in order to believe that Jesus is standing right there in front of him. Mary believes when Jesus calls her by name. Maybe what Jesus is telling Mary is to not hold on to the man she knew, but to let him go—to set him loose. He won’t be around in the same way anymore. Things have changed.
Mary responds to all of this by announcing to the disciples that she has seen Jesus. She must have gone back to their houses, woke them up again and told them everything has happened. What they’d missed. Sure, it had been a rough few days. They deserved some sleep. But if they’d stuck around, they might have discovered more than a missing body…they might have found their resurrected Lord!
We read the story and celebrate the resurrection every year. And every year it reminds me of something important. It teaches me something new. I read somewhere this week: Easter isn’t a one-time event that happened sometime in history, but it is God’s future showing itself in our present. We need to be reminded of that: that God is working today. Easter is a celebration of life, of our life together in Christ, and God’s continued work in our world today.
This year the message of Easter is particularly important for us to hear. It’s been a rough couple of years. I thought two years ago was rough with the loss of the use of our sanctuary, but then a year later we were introduced to Covid. I’m wondering if perhaps this year, we—like Mary, are being asked to see Christ’s Body—the church, our church, in a new way: to see—in ourselves, in one another, in our gifts and graces, in our community—what God sees. Let’s open our eyes to new possibilities. Let’s not let our old stories hold us back from seeing and living out new stories…stories that embody Easter. Stories that point to new life.
I think of how God is working in us to grow a relationship with the United Church of Christ. I didn’t expect that. Our building and Covid led us here. I can’t help but wonder what possibilities a relationship with these friends might create for us and for them? They have welcomed us with open arms: let’s think about how we can be guests that will bless them back. We’re good people. I think we can do that.
I think of how God is working in us to grow a relationship with Trinity. How might we strengthen our ministries, share our gifts and graces back and forth and make a greater impact in this community that we all love so much? I spent some time getting acquainted with their new pastor this past week. I’m looking forward to seeing what we/what our churches can do together for God. Who knows?
Today we’re beginning a new series, entitled “Dare to Dance Again: Dances of Hope. Dances of Justice. Dances of Love.” Despite the fact that Scott and I have taken dance lessons in years past, I have not been successful in translating the music I hear into graceful movement of my feet and body. I mostly start giggling, which isn’t helpful. I do like to dance in the kitchen when I’m cooking with only Scott and grandchildren around, but that’s it. And yet the image of dancing with God is such a compelling one. I feel called to dance to God’s rhythm, following God’s lead. When I do that, when I listen, when I follow, things go pretty well. And I’ve also discovered that when I need to, when I’m kind of lost and lose my step, God allows me to place my feet on top of his, and he carries me through, until I’m ready to put my feet down again. My grandpa used to do that when I was little, and God still does it for me now, when I need it.
It’s been a rough year, but we are an Easter people. I’m hoping and praying that despite the challenges we’ve encountered, that we will each dare to dance again.