On the Value of Disturbance
April 4, 2021
Micah 6: 6-8
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
John 20: 1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 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.’” 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.
Today’s sermon is titled On the Value of Disturbance. On Easter mornings down south, where I grew up, children wake up and head straight for the front door of the house because they are expecting to find their Easter basket outside waiting for them. I do not remember every Easter morning of my childhood, but I am certain that if there had been a year when, say, a hungry dog had run off with my Easter basket before I woke up, I would definitely remember that Easter morning forever. That is the value of disturbance; disturbance unsettles us, disturbance changes us and we remember.
Disturbance is defined as “an interruption of a settled and peaceful condition.” In this particular year, a year where we are hard-pressed to establish and maintain a state of settled peace, disturbance is our constant companion. The word disturbance comes from the Latin disturbare. If we break it down, dis- “complete” + turba “turmoil.” Sound familiar? We can take our pick of arenas: social, political, economic, physical well-being of humanity, and we find turmoil everywhere.
We need this Easter story this year more than ever before. I invite you to come with me back to another time marked by turmoil, 2000 years ago, on a Sunday morning when a woman woke up early and in her first waking moments remembered that something terrible happened. She has that awful feeling, one that most of us have experienced, when the mercy of forgetfulness in sleep is over and we must face our loss.
Mary Magdalene awakes while it is “still dark,” the scriptures say. She had been at the foot of the cross the day before, along with Mary, Jesus’s mother, and Jesus’s aunt, his mother’s sister. Mary Magdalene was probably still in shock, still traumatized by the events the day before, the public execution of beloved teacher. Ignoring all obvious dangers of being recognized as his follower, dangers that have sent the rest of Jesus’s followers into hiding, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. Seeing the stone has been rolled away, her grief is compounded with despair…where is he? Where have they taken him?
What a state she must have been in as she went back to tell the other disciples. Two of them come back with her and, finding the tomb empty with only the linen burial shrouds left there, they return home. Mary stays. Mary weeps. How much worse can it possibly be? She is grieving, she is traumatized, she is likely in shock. Mary looks through her tears, again, into the empty tomb and she sees “two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.” And then someone speaks to her.
She does not know him at first; how could she? Can you imagine the state she must be in? Perhaps you can. Perhaps you, too, have been there. Right now, in this moment, there are countless (dare I say, millions) of our brothers and sisters living in turmoil we can barely imagine, desperate from poverty, from grief, from illness, from trauma, from fear, right now in this moment.
This is the moment when Jesus speaks. This is the Easter moment. This is the moment that changes everything. This is the moment that makes Jesus’s influence in the world absolutely indelible forever and ever until the end of time. Death is not the end. Death does not have the final say. There is life beyond death; there is a love greater than fear. This is the good news, this is the best news, this is the gospel at the heart of our tradition. This is the foundation of our church and all the New Testament writings, this is the moment that led to a radical new movement that significantly shaped the development of most European countries and this new world of ours, as well.
Friends, we could not be in a better place to consider the implications of Easter on this first Sunday morning of April in the year 2021. We are living in a time that could be quite accurately personified by Mary Magdalene standing by that empty tomb, weeping and wondering. It has been a really difficult year for all of humanity and because of the difficulties and the disturbances, because of the threats to our welfare and our future, and because of the turmoil that threatens us on so many fronts right now, we are in a place where the good news of Jesus’s resurrection could mean more to us than ever before in our lives.
Jesus’s resurrection is all about unexpected wonders that may yet arise from the turmoil of our lives and our times. Jesus’s resurrection is about possibilities that are beyond what we can now imagine. Jesus’s resurrection is, at the very heart, all about a love so big that it eclipsed fear and even death.
Sign me up. I am here, first in line. I am ready for a little bit of all of that! I’ll wear a mask in public for the rest of my days, just let me find a little peace and reassurance that I won’t make my loved ones ill. Let me find a little peace and reassurance that we have what it takes to continue this experiment of democracy at least a little while longer. Let me find a little peace and assurance this Easter. A little peace and reassurance sure would be nice.
I hear some peace and reassurance in the words of the prophet Micah, in our scripture reading from today. The people are asking, perhaps they are pleading, “What does God require of us….offerings, sacrifices, rivers of oil, our firstborn child?” I imagine the prophet Micah waits a few moments before he answers. I imagine he waits so the people can settle into the very depths of their disturbance and unease before he answers, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Mmm-mmm. I hope that as I look back on these times, and as our children look back on these times, we will all see that there was value in being in a state of global distress. I hope that in the turbulent wake of this virus and the economic and political turmoil that it has exacerbated, we will all one day see that it was necessary to get to this place before we could really figure out how to live with one another. I hope that our hearts have been disturbed deeply enough this year that we can more fully address the centuries-deep wound of social and racial inequity in this country. I use the word inequity because inequity “refers to unfair and avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption and/or cultural exclusion.” Inequity is different than inequality. By addressing inequity, we establish greater equality and that will help us all.
In closing, I offer you the peace and reassurance that I find in the life and ministry of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. I offer you the story of his resurrection in hopes that it helps us to remember that death is only the end of some things, not the end of all. Finally, I offer you the practice of communion which means, quite literally, “common union.” May we find it within ourselves, with all beings, and with the source of all goodness and love, our God, our Beloved. So be it. Amen.
Beloved God, be our companion in life and as we remember the life and example of Jesus Christ, that we may grow more secure in our hearts and secure in what we know to be of the greatest value in our lives. When the weight of the world threatens, turn our minds to this prayer that Jesus gave us so long ago…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Philipians, chapter 4:
“May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.