Nobody Ever Gets to Stay (A Sermon for for the Feast of the Resurrection — 2018)

Nobody Ever Gets to Stay
A Sermon for for the Feast of the Resurrection
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
John 20:1–18
April 1, 2018

Nobody ever gets to stay.

Like a baby bird pushed from the nest, like a baby in the womb, like a young adult graduating, like a curate coming to the end of two years. It always happens.

Nobody ever gets to stay.

This story begins in the darkness. Mary came to the tomb under the protective cover of darkness. John doesn’t tell us why she came to the tomb so early, but Jesus was condemned and killed as a criminal, so perhaps the darkness protected her from the eyes of those who mocked him, who put him to death, and who were looking for his accomplices.

And so Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark.

But that wouldn’t last; the cover of darkness would give way to light.

The light will come out and the hidden-ness will fade away. Enough light reveals the mouth of the cave, the mouth that was supposed to be covered by the stone, the stone that was supposed to divide darkness from light, the stone that was supposed to divide death from life..

And the body was gone. So she runs.

Nobody ever gets to stay.

She runs now, but she will be back. She will be back because the promise of hope never gives up.

Because God always pushes light through the cracks.

If God is up to something, despair doesn’t get to stay.

She does return. Mary returns to weep because not only has her Lord been killed, now his body is missing. And the darkness of despair has grown to the point of overwhelming. She weeps. She weeps because there is nothing left — nothing left to say, no one left to tell, nothing left in the tomb.

Just nothing. Just emptiness.

This is how the first Easter morning began for Mary.

If we are tempted to believe Easter is just pure happiness and fun and chocolate bunnies, this Gospel today reminds us that Easter is the third day after a death.

On that first Easter, Mary still weeps. On that first Easter, there was still pain.

Because Easter does not undo the past. Easter makes sense of it.

And for those of us who have lived lives, who have wept beside graves, who have lost something important…this God of resurrection is our only hope.

Mary was not left in her despair. She did not stay there.

Because nobody ever gets to stay.

Someone called her name.

There she stood, legs tired from running…cheeks stained with tears…and someone called her name.

A gardener bringing forth new life in the garden. And that new life was for her, too.

She didn’t recognize him at first, but she knew it the moment he said her name.

She knew it the moment Jesus said her name.

And so she wanted to hold onto Jesus. She wanted to hold on to that moment forever.

But nobody ever gets to stay.

Because if she stays, nobody else would have known.

So Jesus tells her to go.

Like Abram from his homeland, like the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, like the three disciples from the Mount of Transfiguration: nobody ever gets to stay.

Like Mary from the garden. No one can ever stay.

This Easter message, this Easter story, is not something we are meant to hold onto and hoard. It is not just our story. It is our story to share.

Stories of the times we have met the risen Christ in the garden. Stories of the times Jesus called our names. Stories of a God who still does resurrection, a God who still makes things new, a God who still overcomes the darkness of despair with the light of hope.

You have a story to tell. We all have a story to tell.

If you have seen Jesus, if you have experienced Christ, then you need to go.

There is a world full of people standing in the darkness, staring into the emptiness. There is a world full of people who live as if pain and sorrow and loss are the end of their story.

But you and I know the rest of the story. You and I know the story doesn’t end with pain; it doesn’t end with sorrow; it doesn’t end with loss.

And so Mary left the garden, again, because nobody ever gets to stay.

She runs to Jesus’ disciples again — just like she did when she found the tomb empty.

But this time she isn’t running scared because Jesus is missing. This time she is running with joy carrying a message of hope and salvation, a message of things made new.

She runs to tell others the Good News she has received.

Nobody ever gets to stay, and that is a good thing. Because Jesus wants us to go.

In our services this past Holy Week, there hasn’t been a dismissal. Deacon Russ hasn’t stood up and sent us out. Because all throughout this week, we knew the story wasn’t over. We knew the work wasn’t done.

But now we go out.

You can’t stay here, because nobody ever gets to stay.

So go out and share your story, share the story. Shout it into the darkness. Cry out into the emptiness.

Tell the world that you have experienced the risen Lord…

and he is alive and he has transformed your life…

and he is still making all things new.

Nobody ever gets to stay.

So go.