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The Shortest Easter Sermon Ever 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
04/24/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
EASTER DAY, APRIL 24, 2011

The Shortest Easter Sermon Ever
Jeremiah 31:1-5
John 20:1-18


There was this proper Presbyterian woman who had a parrot as a pet, and the parrot's name was Polly. A nicer parrot you would never want; prim, polite, proper and pretty. There was only one problem; Polly had an awful habit: Whenever she met anyone, she would screech, "Whoopie, Charlie, I'm a good time girl!" She kept embarrassing her very proper owner, until one day, the Presbyterian parson called, old Reverend Weems. Sure enough, as he entered the apartment, Polly shouted, "Whoopie, Charlie, I'm a good time girl!" The reverend was shocked and so was Polly's proper Presbyterian owner. "I'm so sorry, sir!" she said. "I think I can help you," said the parson, "My dear friend, Reverend Wilson at First Baptist, keeps two parrots in his study at the church. They are very pious, upstanding parrots. In fact, all they do all day is pray!"

So she agreed, and old Parson Weems took poor misbehaving Polly to the Baptist Church. When he entered Reverend Wilson's study, sure enough, the two parrots were deep in prayer. And sure enough, Polly screeched, "Whoopie, Charlie, I'm a good time girl!" Upon which the parson's proper, pious parrots stirred, and one, with his wing, nudged the other energetically. "Hey, Luke, wake up; we finally got what we've been praying for!"

Which is one way of asking you on the morning of another Easter: What is it you are praying for in your life? What are the deepest, most passionate, the most heartfelt prayers you have this Easter? I ask this not just because it is one of the most important questions one person can ask another, but also because Easter is an event, a day more apt than any other to elicit from us our greatest hopes, our deepest dreams, our most ardent prayers.

Yet I wonder if we know enough first-hand of Easter joy and power. Do we know enough from our own lives of the hope and healing power that Easter holds?

I am convinced we all know enough of how hard and heartbreaking life can be. But do we know enough about Easter? Really, truly, the message of Easter is the one we really need, and it can rush in upon you and take hold of you, if you are open to it. Into the middle of our lives comes today this tiny, little sermon from Mary Magdalene – the first, the shortest, the fullest Easter sermon ever. It was really that simple. Mary ran from her garden encounter and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." It is all you need to know about Easter, if you can catch Mary's message at its heart.

First off, Mary said something she knew firsthand. "I have seen the Lord." You can always tell if someone who is speaking has experienced whatever that one is talking of firsthand. The pulpit is always a place where more than words are seen. You cannot speak with any authority or force about something that has never happened to you. Mary was simply sharing what she had experienced. "I have seen the Lord." All the highfalutin' arguments cannot change the power of that simple truth. Desmond Tutu once said, "A simple truth is more powerful than all the armies of the world."

This is the first thing I want you to know today: The truth of God and the reality of the resurrection can belong to you. Indeed, if this is truly to be Easter, it must belong to you! You cannot live on another's faith.

William Gibson's novel, A Mass for the Dead, tells of a time when a man picked up his late mother's gold-rimmed glasses and her dog-eared Bible. He sat down in what had been her favorite chair and put on her glasses and tried to see what she must have seen in the book. He reached in desperation for some slender thread of her faith. But at this point, the man realizes he cannot recapture it. He feels silly wearing his mother's glasses and realizes her faith cannot serve as a substitute for his own that he must find. Each one of us has to find our own faith. That is the way it shall always be. We cannot live on a borrowed creed, but must make faith our own. Easter has to be something real to us, something in the first-person – personal. We must see the reality of the Resurrected Christ just as Mary did – for ourselves. Bishop Pike once said that a Jew is someone who takes the Exodus personally, while a Christian is one who takes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus personally. Jesus called Mary by name. I pray Easter calls you by name today.

Secondly, let us shift the accent on Mary's sermon: "I have seen the Lord." Teilhard de Chardin, the French paleontologist and philosopher, said, "To see, we might say that the whole of life lies in that one verb. To see or to perish – this is the very condition laid upon everything in the universe." It was true that first Easter morning for Mary. Her heart was broken. Only John among the Gospels tells us that "Mary stood weeping." He says this twice. Her dreams were shattered. Mary needed the ability to see beyond the moment. It is not what you look at in life; it is what you see.

This is one of three places in the Gospels where the Risen Christ appears but is not at first recognized. Apparently it was possible to be looking at the Risen Jesus and yet not to see what God had done. I think this is still quite true. We can get so caught up in all the ordinary events of life, or so overwhelmed by our complaints that life is not happening the way we want it to, or so burdened by our losses, that we can miss the Risen Son, too, as Mary did at first. The truth is that we have missed Jesus again and again.

Emerson said, "Things are sometimes in the saddle and ride us." That is the way it was for Mary Magdalene as she came to the tomb that morning. They came with only death and grief on their minds. How sad and hopeless it must have looked as they walked to the tomb, spices in hand. Luke tells us that the women who came to the tomb with Mary Magdalene all bowed their faces to the ground at first, and missed completely what had happened.

And here in the garden, the Risen Jesus is right before Mary, and she supposes Him to be the gardener. Where you stand often determines what you see, and Mary could only see tombstones and death from where she is standing. A miracle was right before her eyes, and she missed it at first. How much like us! Mary was so sure of her grief, so wound up in her heartache, so afraid and troubled, so angry over what had happened, so limited in her view of what God could do, that weeping, she did not see it. The Son had risen, the eternal dawn had come, and Mary Magdalene looked, but she did not see.

But Mary kept attuned. Note that it was the Word of Jesus that enabled her to see. "Mary!" One word from Jesus and she recognized Him. One word from Jesus and Easter happened for Mary. "Her eyes were opened and she recognized Him," to borrow language from Luke's Gospel and the Emmaus Road encounter. Mary saw that Jesus was alive, that God is more powerful than whatever haunts you, and that nothing can separate us from His loving presence. You can see all of this as well, but you do have to open your eyes. The only dawn you will ever see is the one you are awake and alert for, and some will always choose to be blindly cynical. I think of people who can look at the miracle of life and conclude that it comes by accident or chance. Life coming by accident is the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary resulting from an explosion in the print shop. Yet some choose not to see the Living God's presence and power all around us. And into all the world's blindness and weary cynicism comes Mary's little sermon, "I have seen the Lord." Nothing else will be the same once you have seen Him. Just ask Paul, who saw Him on the Damascus Road. Just ask countless Christians in this place today. They know. They have seen the Risen Jesus. John, we are told, "saw and believed." I pray you do, too!

So allow me to shift the emphasis one more time in this shortest Easter sermon ever. "I have seen the Lord." Let us shift the emphasis in closing to the One Mary saw. It was the Lord. Mary now recognized who it was she had been with for the last three years. The crucified One who was Jesus was also the Lord of Hosts, King of Kings, Lord of all history. This is the best news of all on Easter, and whether you have sixty days left or sixty years to live, you need to know this. Jesus is Lord. Christ is Risen. Mary saw Him, and I am here today to say that I have seen Him, too. I know that He lives, and that death has no power over Him. And because He lives, I can face tomorrow, for life is not at the whim and wish of the accidents of time. Life belongs to the Lord Jesus. This is what Easter proclaims and I believe it is true. Christ is Risen and Ruling, and you can trust in the goodness of God. George Buttrick said, "The Resurrection rock rises up out of history more impregnable than any Gibraltar up out of the sea." 

It is none other than the crucified Jesus, the One who suffered and bled and died; the One with the wounds to show it, whom God raised from the grave to newness of life. I know God has the power to do this because I have seen and experienced how Jesus' resurrection presence brings hope to the ruins of our lives. I know Jesus is Lord, and in my daily living and working, I see the Living Christ. I know that He lives.

In John Masefield's Trial of Jesus, there is a marvelous passage where Longinus, the centurion at the cross, comes back at the end of the day to give Pilate his report. Pilate's wife begs the centurion to tell her more about how Jesus died. When he tells the whole story over, she suddenly asks, "Longinus, do you think He is dead?" "No, ma'am," he says, "I don't." "Then where is He?" she asks. "Let loose in the world where neither Roman nor Jew will ever stop His truth."

So there she was on that first Easter, a young woman we have come to know by name, on the move on that hillside up the slopes of the Mount of Olives, bounding as fast as her feet will take her, heading home to tell the others of her news. Can you see her? Listen to her offer the shortest, sweetest, most powerful Easter sermon ever: "I have seen the Lord."

AMEN.
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