This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on September 9, 2018.
Scripture Lesson: John 20:14-17
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “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.’”
Why do we not like change? There are many reasons why we don’t like change, but here are a few:
- Change is usually imposed by somebody else.
- We like habit and like certainty to know what’s going to happen one week to the next
- It’s the unknown, and so it’s uncertain
- We’re lazy, and change can be hard
- We don’t know if change is going to work
- When something changes, there is an inherent judgment that the ways things were weren’t working well, which can and often does include us if we’re a part of that change
- It requires the abandoning of old, comfortable ways
Today, we hear in the book of Lamentations in the third chapter a cry from a people who had change imposed upon them. The change that was imposed upon them was neither something that they desired or something that they sought. It was very simply this: the Babylonians had come. They had besieged Jerusalem. They had torn down the Israelites’ walls, they had burned down their temple, and had left them bereft. That is the kind of change that makes the author of Lamentations say these vivid imagery, like ‘my teeth are grinding on gravel’. The reality is that when we lament, when we give sorrow, we are saying goodbye to something that is important to us. That is the cause of lamentation. Lamentation is about saying goodbye to a friend who has moved, a spouse who has passed, and it is important for us to know that there are entire books of the Bible about giving voice to that pain and that hurt.
Now, in Lamentations, these were people who had seen everything that they knew be absolutely destroyed. As many of you know, our old sanctuary in our old building was torn down last week. I got a note saying that it was happening, and I couldn’t help myself. I felt like I needed to bear witness and watch it happen. Here’s the thing: everyone in this building sitting in these pews knows that God is not in that other building. God travels with us wherever we go. This is part of who we are. But I have to admit, as I watched this happen, I suddenly had memories of my first adult baptism. I had memories of weddings that I had done. Christmas Eve services, where I had the best view in the house. And I know that as much as I had memories like that, I know that many people here had even more memories. And it is ok, and it is good, for us to acknowledge that we lost something. There is a sadness in saying goodbye. There is a longing or a desire for other things.
One of the things that strikes me about lamentation and the book of Lamentations is that there is this heart-wrenching groan of pain and then there comes this shift in the text, where it says: My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
This passage is so powerful because of the very context it was written in. The person who is writing this is not someone who has experienced sunshine and daisies all of his life. It has not been cream and honey and bread. It has been gravel. It has been heartache. And it has been in sorrow that has formed this heart. And yet, even when looking at the ruins of Jerusalem they are still able to say and proclaim these fateful words: “the steadfast love of the lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”
I think that for many of us that is so hard for us to truly grasp. It is why when we start talking as we will over the coming weeks the idea of God doing a new thing in our midst. One of the things that we have to do is be able to acknowledge the things that have gone before, both good and not so good, both in our lives or the life of our church. We are called to continually cling to God who is out there ahead of us doing new things. We are a people who know the end of the story. We are a people that remember that Mary, whose heart could very easily be echoing the songs of lament on that eastern morning, runs into a stranger and finds herself surprised by God yet again. Because it is not a stranger. It is the risen Christ.
Mary knows he was dead. She knows that whoever is in front of her, who she recognized as Christ, is not going to be the same. And yet she falls back to that name that she always called him. Raboni. Teacher. And yet the risen Christ is much more than teacher. He is the son of God. The incarnation of God breaking into the world to make all things new. Jesus looks at her and says, “No. Don’t touch me. Don’t try to grab onto me.” Scholars often discuss what this means why Jesus would say that. For myself, when I read this passage what I see Jesus doing and saying is that you cannot hold on to me in the way that you did. There is a new thing that is going to be happening. You are going to be a part of it. So go. Proclaim the word of Christ.
That is what she is called to do . That is what we are called to do. And when we start looking to ourselves, when we start looking to God for our resurrection, for that new thing that is going to occur in our midst, it is our job not to reach out for the old but for the new that is coming.
The good news is not just given to me as a pastor. It is given to us as the body of Christ, as the people who have experienced loss but who still affirm that God’s mercies are new every morning. We affirm and know that God is not done with us yet. That we are called to be open. That we are called to go boldly forth and proclaim Christ as risen. And friends, that is the Good News. There is no news better than that. Amen.