Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20
Has church ever made you depressed?
Have you ever prepared for a meeting, or a Bible study,
Ordered materials, organized your notes, made lunch for a whole group,
Promoted it in the bulletin and told all your friends,
Then sat and waited only…
To have no one show up?
Has that ever happened to you?
Have you ever sung a hymn with the congregation and been saddened by how quiet God's praise sounded?
Have you ever looked through the church directory and gotten depressed about how many people have, well, joined the heavenly choir?
Even in the medium-sized and big churches, it's hard sometimes,
Because you might have a lot of folks on the rolls, but that doesn't mean there are a lot of folks in the pews.
Church is just plain becoming less popular.
About one in five Americans attends a religious service on a weekly basis.
Among millennials, that is, teens and twentysomethings,
The number is more like one in ten.
I'm not really convinced that even the megachurches are growing at the rates they once were.
It's not just a Presbyterian problem, it's a church problem, a church illness.
A grave illness, so to speak.
Churches are closing.
Churches are dying.
This is something I've seen and you've seen,
Among family members whom we love and friends who we love
Who don't understand why we keep coming to church.
Who would never themselves show up, Sunday after Sunday.
The people who might come to help out at the soup kitchen but would never show up in worship.
There are fewer and fewer of us doing the work of keeping the church alive.
So, why do we show up?
Why do we plan the Bible study?
Why do we sing the lackluster-sounding hymn?
Why do we bake cookies for twenty and have two show up?
Why do we give so much of our time and money and energy to something that can be so depressing?
Well, why did Mary show up?
What was the point of going to the tomb?
She knows what she's going to find there.
And it won't be pretty.
It won't smell pretty.
That's why she has to bring some spices.
She's going to anoint Jesus's body,
But it's something of a fool's errand, because there is a hugs stone in front of Jesus's tomb,
Between her and Jesus.
Why did she think she could still get to Jesus?
She couldn't have thought the guards would let her in,
Would roll the stone away,
It weighed about two thousand pounds.
Not something an armed Roman guard was likely to do for an ordinary Jewish woman.
So why is this woman here?
Why is she clinging to a dead hope?
In the Gospel of John, she shows up alone,
In the other gospels, there are a couple of women with her,
But not more than a handful
Not enough to hold a worship service
A couple of women, clinging to a dead Savior.
Mary, and maybe a couple of her friends.
That's who showed up for the Resurrection.
When she saw the stone rolled away,
She didn't believe it then.
She assumed as any sensible, rational person would,
That someone had taken Jesus's body away.
So she ran to tell the disciples of this terrible tragedy.
There had been twelve of them,
Seventy at one point,
But who came to the empty tomb?
Peter and John.
They looked in the tomb and saw that the body was gone,
The linens laid aside in an odd way,
But still they didn't get it.
Some people interpret verse 8 as belief in the resurrection.
Verse 8 says, "the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went in, and he saw and believed."
Some interpreters think that what the other disciple, who is John himself being humble,
Believed was the resurrection.
But the rest of the sentence is "for they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead."
If they didn't understand it, they wouldn't have believed it.
So I think what he believed, what all of them believed, was that the body had been stolen,
Likely by the Romans and collaborators among the Jewish elites who had Jesus executed in the first place.
What seals it for me is that they don't seem to tell anybody about it.
Now that would have been pretty strange.
To have your religious leader die a terrible public death, realize he had come back to life, and tell no one.
If you lost your keys and thought they were gone for three days and then you found them unexpectedly in a kitchen cabinet of all places, would you tell anybody about it?
If one of your azaleas looked totally brown and dead in the spring and you thought you would have to replace it, but then it unexpectedly perked up and went into full bloom, would you tell people about it?
If you swatted a really annoying mosquito and saw it all dead and yucky and then it came back to life, would you tell anybody about it?
So if your rabbi, your teacher, your pastor, your friend, your Messiah had died and you believed he had come back to life, would you tell anybody about it?
Well, have you told anybody about it lately?
Peter didn't. John didn't. If they believed, they must not have believed much.
Not enough to share the news.
Not enough to change their lives.
Not enough to stay and see what happened next.
But Mary did.
Mary in her sadness clung to her king.
Mary clung to the little she had left of her Savior.
Mary, depressed, weeping, held on to all she had of Jesus, even if it was only his dead body.
Mary, the last believer.
And as she stood there, weeping, a man came up to her.
She assumed he was a caretaker, a cemetery gardener.
But then he said, "Mary." And she knew.
She believed so much she told everyone she knew.
And that's why we're sitting here today.
Because of an ordinary woman, probably not a prostitute, but likely something of a misfit
Because of a ragtag little group of weirdoes called disciples
Because we believe their story
We believe something happened in that tomb
We believe the stone was rolled away
We believe love is stronger than death
We believe this life, this planet, this universe, this church never had to exist
It's here because there is a God whose love beats through this universe like a heartbeat
Called it into life and calls it into resurrection.
And that's why we show up on a Sunday morning.
All it takes is for one person to believe.
All it takes is for one person to cling to hope, to love, to life.
I was reminded of that recently.
If you haven't seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy I recommend it.
For the music alone, but also for the message.
You see, there's this little ragtag group of outlaws, misfits, weirdoes generally
Who meet up in prison and figure out that they're in charge of saving the world.
Or worlds, in this case.
And among them is a talking raccoon named Rocket, who travels with this creature that's described as his sidekick, muscle, and walking houseplant.
The creature is known as Groot.
We know because this thing, who is, in essence, a walking tree, says only three words: I. Am. Groot.
We think of Groot as Rocket's sidekick, but things may actually be the other way around,
Because…major spoiler alert….
When the spaceship is crashing to the ground,
Groot grows all around it, strengthening it, saving it, at the cost of his own life.
And as he dies, he explains why:
His last words: We are Groot.
It's difficult for someone who goes to seminary not to watch this and think of another strange wanderer,
Who said "I Am" a whole heck of a lot and who may not have been made of wood, but he was a carpenter,
And who gave his life for the community, so that we could become a part of his life.
Sometimes we in the church forget that Christ died not only for us personally, but for us communally.
He wanted us to have new life as the body of Christ.
The church not a building, not an institution, not a club.
The church is Christ's body on earth.
We are part of him. We are Groot.
After Groot dies, Rocket is destroyed.
He searches through the rubble of the spaceship and finds only a little twig.
And through the rest of the film, the strange, depressed raccoon carries this twig in a little pot.
I was wondering why he would do such a thing,
Why won't you give it up?
Why do you keep clinging to threads? Grasping at straws?
Why won't you bury what is dead and move on?
Then, in the closing moments of the film, with Rocket still mourning, the twig wakes up.
And begins to dance.
To Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."
All it takes is one person to believe.
All it takes is one person to cling to hope, to love, to life.
We are the people who hold on to the little branch
We are the faithful remnant
We are the people who show up to an empty church
We are the people who show up to an empty tomb
We are the people who expect miracles.
Even when it's tough.
Last fall about this time, we started a little Bible study at Oakland University.
Other than the Roman Catholics, we were the only church sponsored group on campus.
Our meetings never had more than five or six kids.
Sometimes I wondered, why am I doing this?
Why am I baking cookies for twelve just in case extra people show up?
Why when we can't even rent space on campus are we going ahead and having a Bible study?
Why do I come here on a Friday and spend twenty minutes finding a place to park at Oakland just so I can hang out with two or three college kids?
When one of them ended up in the ICU and I was among that student's first phone calls, I knew why.
When one of them told me, before this year, "I didn't know what I was. Now I can tell people I'm a Christian and a Presbyterian." Then I knew why.
When I received a text message that read, "I want to be baptized,"
I knew why.
When we hold on to that little twig,
When we cling to our Savior,
When we keep looking for God despite all reason, despite all logic, despite all it costs,
God finds us.
Why am I preaching about Easter right now? I'm aware it's September.
Well, because I know right now it's hard sometimes.
Right now you and I can get discouraged by church. Even depressed.
But you see, we aren't in this on our own.
We're part of something bigger.
We've got muscle. We've got a sidekick. You've got a friend who would die for you and did.
Who is, in fact, one with you.
You are Groot.
We are Groot.
We are one with Christ.
We may look weak, but we are in truth united to a resurrection power.
Since we are Christ's body on earth,
Since we believe,
Since we cling to this truth like a little twig we won't give up on,
I believe we will see resurrection.
We will see miracles.
We will meet again the God of lost hopes, of second chances,
Of new life.
Our God is a strong God.
Our God is stronger
Stronger than all those stones,
Those two thousand pound stones,
Sitting on people's hearts, keeping them from Jesus
Our God who will roll those stones away
Our God is tougher than the stones
Our God is actually stronger than anything this world can dish out.
This we believe.
This is our message to the world.
He is risen indeed.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.