April 11, 2004

John 20:1-18
Acts 10:34-43

Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Church rejoice and sing this Easter Day! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

We’ve heard the Easter story many times before. It’s told in all the Gospels. It’s repeated in many of the letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the story that is the foundation of our faith. It’s the story that gives shape to our life as Christians.

We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We believe that Jesus was killed on a cross, but that he didn’t stay dead. God raised him on the third day. His body was not stolen. It was raised. We believe that he was the first to be raised, but that all will be raised on the last day. God is more powerful than death. Death is not the end. This is the Good News of Easter, and this is what we believe.

And so, as did the first disciples who witnessed the resurrection, we tell the story. We tell it over and over… Easter after Easter, Sunday after Sunday. After years of preaching, ministers have told me that it becomes difficult to find fresh ways of telling the story. How do we present the story again to people who have heard it so many times before? How do we present the story clearly for the person among us who is hearing it for the first time? How do we present the story so that we all hear it again for the first time?

We are fortunate, in that the story is rich. It is filled with people, and questions, and insights upon which to reflect. There’s Mary and her questions, the disciples running, the empty tomb, the linen wrappings rolled up. There are the angels, the sudden appearance of Jesus himself, and Mary not recognizing him until he calls her by name.

But today I would like to focus on what Jesus tells his follower and friend, Mary Magdalene to do. Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to me,  because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Jesus had a unique relationship with God. At least, it appeared that way to those who observed him during his life. He was a busy man once he began his ministry of preaching and healing and proclaiming that the Reign of God was here, but he kept going off (away from the crowds) to be by himself and pray.

Luke’s Gospel describes Jesus as often taking the opportunity to find a quiet place to pray. He needed to talk with God regularly, checking in and telling God about how his day had been, I imagine. Kind of like how I call my parents every week so that they can keep up with what’s going on in my life.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays and prays for his followers, both those who were with him at the time, and those who would later come to believe through their witness. He pours out his heart and all his concerns to the God that he calls “Abba” – Daddy.

One day, Luke’s Gospel tells us, that Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Perhaps there was something about the way Jesus prayed that his followers wanted to be able to share. Perhaps they could see the close relationship that Jesus had with God, the one he called Father, and they wanted that relationship too. “Teach us to pray,” they said, “Maybe then we will be able to know God as you do.”

And so he did teach them. He taught them the prayer that many Christians call the “Our Father” and we here at St. Andrew’s often call the “Family Prayer.” It’s the prayer that in its opening words, reminds us that God is as close to us as a loving parent, that our God is with us each day, providing for our daily needs, forgiving our sins, and supporting us as we strive to live in the way of God.

Jesus’ life in the world was a living witness to the fact  that God is not a distant judge or a harsh ruler over the world. Rather, God was shown to be intimately connected to his children… both to Jesus, and to each one of us when we pray.

Early on that Sunday morning, while Mary Magdalene stood stunned and confused in front of the man that she thought was dead, Jesus chose to remind her of the reality of the close relationship that she and all people could have with God. He said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The God that Jesus prayed to and called “Daddy,” is the parent of us all, and Mary was called to go and tell… to tell all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters that they are part of the Family… the Family of God.

I think that this is an important part of the Good news of Easter… that we are not orphans, that we are not lone individuals struggling through life in the world. Jesus came and showed us what it means to be in relationship with God. Jesus came and lived and died for the sake of us all, so that we would know how much God loves all his children… so that we would know that God is a parent to us all.

Most of us have had some experience of being part of a family.  For some of us, it has been a wonderful experience. We’ve had parents or guardians that have cared for and protected us. We’ve had sisters and brothers to share experiences with. We’ve had spouses to love and partner with,  to commit to and join our lives with. We’ve had extended family… aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins… who’ve joined with us at the joyous and difficult times in our lives. They’ve supported us, and we’ve supported them.

Many of us have also had the experience of being let down by our families. Promises have been broken, people have been abandoned. We’ve invested our lives in our families, and sometimes we’ve been left feeling drained and tired, receiving little in return.

I think that the Family of God has many of the dynamics of our biological families. When we join this family, as we did when we were baptized, we are welcomed into both a relationship with God, and relationships with all of God’s people… our brothers and sisters.

There are wonderful blessings that come from being a part of this family. We work together to try to live our lives in obedience to God our parent. As sisters and brothers, none of us is more important or greater than the next. We are all children of God, and we have the opportunity to learn from each other, to share experiences, and support each other through life. When our biological families are not able to help, or when we are feeling alone, we have the support and encouragement of our true family… the family of God.

But being a part of this family has its challenges as well. There is responsibility that comes with being part of a family, and we are called to care for and support our brothers and sisters, even when we don’t feel like we’re being supported ourselves. We are called to listen, when others are struggling through difficult times. We are called to help, when our siblings are hungry, or homeless, or alone. Like Mary, we are called to go and tell our brothers and sisters that Jesus has gone up ahead of us, to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God.

If we reflect honestly on the Church throughout the world, the people who claim to be the children of God…  it is immediately clear that our family is broken and dysfunctional. We separate ourselves off into groups that do things different ways, many of us not understanding or accepting the others. Though our God accepts and welcomes the lost children to come home, we find it difficult to see those people as part of our family, and we refuse to welcome them.

Part of the Good news of Easter is that we are God’s children… members of the family of God. This is both a family joy, and a family responsibility.

May we rejoice this Easter day, because the God and parent of Jesus welcomes us into the Family of God. May we also take up the challenge of being family to one another… to welcome the lost, to accept and understand our sisters and brothers, to care for and support our siblings who need our help.

May we rejoice and sing Alleluia, for Christ is risen and we are members of the family of God. Amen.