Date: April 9, 2023 (Easter Sunday)
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Scripture Reader: Clewis Howe
Sermon Title: “Easter Race”
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Date: April 9, 2023
Text: John 20:1-18
Title: Easter Race
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Bob Jon
My boys, Daniel and Joshua, play Nintendo games only during the weekend. One of their favorite games is called Mario Kart. It is a racing game. Daniel chooses the character of Mario and Joshua Luigi. I often jump in and play with them. I play Bowser, a dragon character with a turtle’s back. Daniel and I race against each other competitively. When I win the race first, he screams, “No!!!” I used to beat him easily, but it is getting more difficult now. Joshua does not care whether he wins or not. He is laid back and just enjoys throwing a banana at us. He is often the last. In order to quicken the race, the game often gives him a rocket booster. He flies over all the obstacles to finish the race while shouting, ‘Whee!” Meanwhile, my wife passes by us and shakes her head, sighing, “I am raising three boys in this house.”
On this beautiful morning of Easter, we also hear about a race from the Gospel of John. While it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb. Honestly, I do not know why she came to the tomb in the first place. Didn’t she know that there would be a big stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb? Besides, isn’t it ritually unclean to be near the dead body? But she still came to the tomb and saw the stone had already been rolled away. So, she started running, maybe to wake up Peter and another disciple, the Gospel of John says the one whom Jesus loved. Mary shouted, “They have taken Jesus out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!” And now, Peter and the other disciple sprang up and started running and racing each other, probably followed by Mary, who was also running behind them.
Thomas Long, professor of preaching, notices that in the Easter story in John, everyone is running and racing. The tempo is up here. Peter, the beloved disciple, and Mary all run. They all eventually arrive at the empty tomb but at different paces. Yesterday, we had the Easter Egg Hunt at the church. At first, the children under 6 came out of the building first to pick up the eggs. Five minutes later, older kids rushed out of the church, roaring and finding the easter eggs. Many of these children were born and baptized in this church. For many of them, they have been coming to this church always. Maybe it was not their choice to be here in the first place. But as God is God who gives God’s love to us first, these children have always been here learning about God, experiencing the love of God through people like you.
Maybe some of us came to the tomb a little later than others. It was not your parents who brought you to go to church. It was your conscious decision to seek God and share your life with the faith community. I had three young sisters, middle school ages, who came to my former church because they were friends with another family with young children. The mother in their friends’ family was the Sunday school teacher. When I made the announcement that I was leaving my former church, the mother, the Sunday school teacher, also made the announcement that her family was moving to the South. I was afraid that these girls would lose their connection with the church and stop coming after I left. But they asked me to baptize them before I left so they could call their church their family.
I do not know how we all came here this morning. We call came here at different paces. Some of us have been here longer. Some of us are relatively new. Some of us are here deeply troubled in our hearts. Some of us here are but not deeply convinced of what Christians confess they believe. Maybe we do not fully believe that Jesus is actually risen from the dead. Well, you are not alone. The Beloved disciple won the race against Peter and arrived at the tomb first. He bent down to see the inside of the tomb but did not go in. Only after Peter, whom he raced against, arrived and went inside, the beloved disciple also entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there and the face cloth folded up in its own place. John tells us that he believed. But John does not tell us what he believed. But he believes quickly.
I once knew Nikki. She came to help the soup kitchen with her group, which provided a program of job education and community service for whom our society calls the handicapped. Nikki had Down syndrome. She would set up the tables with other participants. While I was washing the dishes, she often came into the kitchen and said, “Can I help you with that?” She pulled up her sleeves and jumped in to help with dishwashing. I am not sure if Nikki went to the church. I do not know if she believed in God or not. But if you saw her face with such a great smile, it is hard to deny that God loved her as God’s beloved daughter. When she died prematurely, only at age 30, I went to the funeral home and told her parents, “I just wanted to share with you that Nikki was the most beautiful soul I ever met.”
After Peter and the beloved disciple left, Mary stayed alone and cried at the tomb. Just like the other disciples of Jesus, Mary bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been. One of them asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.” And she turned around and saw a man standing there. She thought that he was probably a gardener who worked around the tomb. So she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” And the man said to her, “Mary!” She turned and shouted, “Teacher!” She wanted to touch him or maybe hug him. But h says, “Don’t hold on to me, for I need to go up to my Father.” After the resurrection, Jesus is also in a race.
After encountering the risen Christ, Mary is now again racing. If she first raced to let Peter and others know the bitter news that the body of Jesus was taken away, she now races to tell the world the good news that Christ is risen from the dead. There is no time to sit idle. There is no time to contemplate the meaning of what just happened. God turns our sorrow into joy. We witness life in the midst of death.
It is said that after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, millions of people escaped Ukraine. While many more were leaving their country, escaping from shooting and bombing, there was a picture of Sister Justine, who held a little infant at the hospital in Lviv. As there are tiny infants with terminal illnesses in Ukraine who could not move out of their country, Sister Justine stayed behind to be with them as their hospice, to be with them as these little children waited for their death. As people were fleeing from the tomb and death, she boldly stayed with these babies to pray for them and sing songs of resurrection. Dr. Matilde Leonardi, director of the Besta Hospital in Milan says of her colleague this way, “She’s there tonight, during the war, filling with love the last days of tiny babies like the one she’s holding tonight.”
We might have come to the empty tomb differently this morning. Some in a hurry to make it to the choir rehearsal. Some in a hurry to make sure you’re your children combed their hair and attended breakfast. Some in grief. Some in doubt. Some in frustration. No matter how we came this morning, please know that we are all part of the Easter story of how Christ conquered death. And we are sent out to the world in a race filled with joy and excitement, not in despair or powerlessness. On this glorious day, regardless of how we came, we are all part of God’s story, a story of hope, a story of new life, and a story of redemption. And as people of the resurrection, we shout, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.”
 Paola Belletti, “In Ukraine, Sister Justine Stays with Babies at Pediatric Hospice”, https://aleteia.org/2022/03/04/in-ukraine-sister-justine-stays-with-babies-at-pediatric-hospice/