Sermon: Run, Return, Remain

April 17, 2022

1 Corinthians 15:19-26
John 20:1-18

by Eric Anderson

The ‘amakihi was getting impatient.

It had been nearly two weeks and the eggs beneath her were hard and uncomfortable. She’d made a few flights away from the nest to eat and drink, but she’d pretty much been stuck there the entire time. All in all, she had to admit, things weren’t so bad. She had friends and family and spouse nearby and they kept her from getting bored. They sang together, and they made sure she wasn’t too cold at night.

To be honest, her impatience wasn’t about boredom or discomfort. Her impatience was about greeting the chicks that still remained inside the eggs. She really wanted to meet them, to find out what they wee like, to find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. She looked forward to teaching them about good things to eat, and leading the flying lessons, and singing them to sleep at the end of the day.

She wanted those eggs to hatch in the worst way.

She began to murmur to them from time to time: “Hatching time, chicks. Come on. Don’t you think? Isn’t it hatching time?”

The eggs didn’t reply – they also didn’t start rocking, and she didn’t hear any of the scratching that might suggest a young bird making an effort to break through the shell. She started to casually run her feathers over the eggs; perhaps the chicks inside would take that as a clue. She “accidentally” let one of the claws on her feet scrape over an egg. “Like that,” she crooned.

When she actually began pecking on an egg one of her aunties noticed. “Honey,” she said, “what are you doing?”

“I’m, um, giving them hints,” said the expectant mother. “I’m ready for the eggs to hatch.”

“But they’re not,” said auntie. “They’ll know when they are ready. And when they are, they’ll emerge from their eggs.”

“I want to meet them so much,” said the younger one.

“You will,” said auntie. “This is a time you’ve just got to stick with it. Stay where you are, stay with all your impatience and all your love. When it’s time, you’ll be here, right here, to greet them.”

What could be more natural than for Mary Magdalene to visit the tomb of Jesus’ on that Sunday morning? She’d had to wait through the Sabbath to take the long walk, and she’d had to wait through the night. Her impatience showed, however, because she set out while it was still dark, daring the risks of shadowy city streets to go and mourn.

As Debie Thomas writes at, “’Early in the morning, while it was still dark…’ That’s where Easter began two millennia ago. It’s where Easter still begins now. In the dark.”

As John told the story, it was no more complicated than that. The other gospel writers told of the need to properly anoint Jesus’ body with aromatics, something that hadn’t been completed before he was placed in the tomb, but John apparently had heard things differently. As far as John knew, Mary went to the tomb the same way we visit the graves and the columbarium niches of our loved ones: to remember. To mourn. To grieve.

Then things started to go wrong.

The tomb, which should have been sealed by a great circular stone, was open. Where was Jesus? What had happened? What new injury had been done to someone who had died of crucifixion? She ran to get help.

I don’t know that she picked the best help, to be honest. Jesus’ closest friends had been dramatically useless when they came to arrest him, and during his trial, and during his crucifixion. The best idea might have been to find Nicodemus, who had helped bury Jesus, or Joseph of Arimathea, who had provided the tomb, but Mary Magdalene, who came from the small villages of Galilee, may not have dared approach these Jerusalem authority figures.

In any case, neither Peter nor the disciple Jesus loved were any help to Mary at all. They didn’t even help themselves very much. They, you’ll notice, hadn’t made the journey out to the grave on their own. They didn’t do much more than look around and see. What they saw told them nothing. They didn’t stay. They went home.

Mary stayed.

So far her course had been: Retire to the grave. Run for her friends. Return to the place where things were wrong. And now: She remained in the confusion, in the grief, in the anger, in the loss.

She remained when the two men gave up their quest for revelation. In remaining, she found relief.

Debie Thomas writes, “In John’s account, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus first because she chooses to remain in the holy darkness, bereft and bewildered. She doesn’t flee. She doesn’t sugarcoat her despair. She doesn’t go numb. She stays put in the place where her pain resides. She gives the grief, desolation, hopelessness, and agony of her circumstances their due. Unlike her male counterparts, Mary refuses to abandon what is real, even when what is real is unbearable. I love the way her story honors sorrow as a legitimate and faithful pathway to revelation.”

As a pastor, I don’t know if there is any phrase that frustrates me more than, “Move on,” or “Isn’t it time to move on?” – at least when addressed to someone in suffering or grief. Human feelings just don’t work like that. When we feel things, we feel them. We might wish we didn’t, but we do. “Moving on” from a feeling, from a feeling that’s really centered itself in us, takes a lot of skill and a lot of effort and generally requires actually staying with the feeling long enough for other feelings to take shape in its place.

I confess to being similarly frustrated with the impulse to “move on” from this pandemic. I entirely sympathize with the feelings behind it. We have missed a great deal these last two years. In a culture where the sharing of ha, or breath, is so critical to relationship, a breath-borne disease makes for cruel separation between us. But: These announcements of the pandemic’s end are mostly wishful thinking. New variants continue to evolve and circulate.

As a result, we’ve remained very cautious here at Church of the Holy Cross. We were simply not prepared for Easter’s celebration to become an occasion to share illness as well as joy. We will welcome a congregation next Sunday – masked, with space between household groups, and without congregational singing. We are also closely watching the infection rates for Hawai’i County. If they rise again, as they did last October and last December, we will return to streaming only. And we will continue to stream worship each Sunday when a congregation is present, so we can offer as much of the worship experience as we can to those who cannot gather.

We can’t walk away from a global pandemic just because we say so. The simple truth is that we have to be in it until it passes away. Like Mary in the garden.

Mary ran. Mary returned. Mary remained.

Because she remained, she met the risen Jesus.

Now, apparently the risen Christ was not what she expected. She expected a gardener, which makes perfect sense. She did not expect a living Jesus, which also makes perfect sense. What she got went so far beyond expectation that we celebrate it now, two thousand years later.

Mary ran. Mary returned. Mary remained. Mary rejoiced.

I do not pretend that all grief leads to rejoicing – not in the short term, anyway. It doesn’t necessary lead to revelation, though it may. What grief leads to is healing, to renewal. Mary Magdalene found it through Jesus’ resurrection. Our paths may be much more circuitous, much more rocky, but… if we just “move on” from it, how will the healing take place? How will the revelation arrive? How will the resurrection manifest?

Because Christ is risen, Christ will be with us at the beginning, in the middle, and at the close of our healing.

Mary did one more thing. As D. Mark Davis observes at LeftBehindAndLovingIt, “The command not to keep holding Jesus but to go back to the others seems necessary if one imagines oneself in this moment. How hard it must be to let go and go back, when the alternatives of staying right there or dragging Jesus along would seem much more convincing.”

I admit that the last hadn’t occurred to me. “Come on, Jesus, let’s go find the others!” I mean, brilliant. What a great idea – except that Jesus ruled it out. No, instead, Mary had to go repeat the good news. “I have seen the Lord. I have seen the Lord. I have seen the Lord.”

As Karoline Lewis writes at Working Preacher, “To be a true believer, a disciple, a follower, of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel is to then give witness to what you have experienced in encountering Jesus, not only for the sake of making it true for yourself, but also for the sake of those who would hear and have their own encounter with Jesus.”

Run. Return. Remain. Rejoice. Repeat the good news.

Next week we’ll recall the story of Thomas and the other disciples. Today, though, remember this disciple: Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, the first to declare, “I have seen the Lord.” Remember her good sense as well as her commitment to Christ.

Remember: Run. Return. Remain. Rejoice.

Repeat the good news.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video includes the entire service of April 17, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric didn’t improvise much more than usual… but noticeably more than usual? Yes. It’s about giving the sermon new life, OK?

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on April 17, 2022

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