Good morning and welcome to the Greenbrier Church online. Today I have to admit that today I am a little off, because I have had a really difficult time with all of this. I have written and rewritten this sermon over and over. I wanted to talk about Easter and the resurrection. I poured over 1 Corinthians 15 and what Paul has to say about the resurrection of Christ. I wanted to talk about the hope that we have in the face of all of this. But I hated what I wrote, and hated even more what I had re-written.

It’s not supposed to be this way. If you would have asked me back in January what we were going to do for Easter I would have talked about egg hunts for the kids, setting up our backdrop for family pictures, and spending some extra time with our church family around the table taking communion.

I miss the table. Last year when the Shepherds and I started talking about redeeming our practice of Communion with one another, I was excited that were going to start meeting together around tables. I was excited that we were going to take time with one another, no rush, just broken sinners talking about forgiveness and mercy. But I was really looking forward to the chance to sit with you on Easter and celebrate the resurrection. I wanted to hear you talk about how the resurrection of Jesus gives you hope. I wanted to share my hope with you. But apparently that’s not what we are doing today.

Instead, we find ourself in a very different place. The building is empty, there are no families gathered in front of the backdrop or out by the trees taking pictures, there are no little kids running in the gym, no babies dressed in their first Easter gowns, no joyful voices standing around in the foyer drinking coffee. No easter chocolate wrappers on the floor. And the tables are empty. This is not what I would have imagined at all.

No one is here. No one is wearing their new dresses, or sporting a new tie. Actually I would imagine that this is the first Easter Sunday service many of you have ever attended in your pajamas.

But maybe this is how it is supposed to be. Because honestly what I was planning, what I was expecting has very little to do with the actual gospel story because the gospel story is not fancy. I mean I try to scrub it and clean it up so that God fearing, proper people will be okay with it. But, it’s like God is reminding me that the Gospel story is not clean, it's downright messy.

Don’t get me wrong, the Easter story may be the greatest story ever told. It's just might not be the story we usually choose to tell. The real Easter Story, the one found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is not a story about new dresses and baskets and flowers and candy and family meals around the table. Really, it's a story about flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion, and it's about the way God never seems to follow to our expectations. Actually, God never has.

I am pretty sure that the first Easter morning was not what the disciples had expected either. They were still confused about what Jesus was doing. They had thought that He was going to start a revolution, that they would overthrow the Roman government and the Israelites would once again be a world power. They though that the Kingdom Christ had come to establish was going to be like every other empire the world had ever seen. They were looking for a palace, but Jesus was looking for a cross.

On Friday they saw their world, their plans, and dreams all come crashing down. This was not what they expected. That’s why on the first Easter only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Salome, and Joanna went to the garden. That’s why the two disciples headed home to Emmaus, That’s why Peter, James, John, Thomas, Nathanael, and two other disciples went fishing. Things are not working out like they hoped it would.

Today I particularly think about Mary Magdalene as she stood there at the empty tomb that morning. When the women arrived at the tomb, the stone had been rolled away. Mary looks in and discovers the body of Jesus is missing. She naturally assumes that someone has stolen His body, and runs to tell Peter and John who go and see for themselves. When they got to the tomb all the found was pieces of linen cloth lying there, with cloth that had covered Jesus’ head off to the side neatly folded. We are told that they believed, but what did they believe?

John describes what happens next: Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Mary is looking for Jesus, but she doesn’t expect Him. If Jesus had appeared like one of the angels, well that’s a good story. That’s like the story we tell. Jesus is resurrected and He is dressed in white flowing robes, with a glowing face and a little halo over His head. Honestly, that’s the Jesus I am looking for. That’s the Easter outfit, little chocolate egg, go to church Jesus that we like to present on Easter when we spruce up the building, pull out the lilies, and have church show off day.   

But that’s not the Jesus that we get. Jesus couldn't have been wearing His Easter best if Mary mistook Him for a gardener. I mean the man that stood in front of Mary that morning, probably had a little dirt under His fingernails. He might not have been the Jesus that she was looking for, but He was the perfect Jesus for what she needed.

Maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons that we are not gathered together this morning celebrating Easter as normal, is because we needed to be reminded that there is nothing normal about Easter. Maybe I have been guilty of trying to get the dirt out from under Jesus’ fingernails and trying to clean Him up so we can have this impressive Easter Celebration. And in the process we tend to forget all of the messy important parts, specifically what Jesus taught, how Jesus lived, and how Jesus died.

The Real Jesus of Nazareth calls some pretty sketchy folks to not only follow Him, but to take part in telling the world the Good news. Jesus called fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, homeless women with no teeth, murders, drug addicts, alcoholics. I mean it’s right there if we are just willing to read it.

Mark chapter 5, Jesus meets a man who has been living among the tombs and graves. He spends his days and nights roaming through the cemetery screaming and cutting himself with sharp stones. Jesus not only casts out the demons that have been possessing this man, when the people living in the town come out to see what has happened, they find the man clothed and in his right mind, sitting at Jesus’ feet. Jesus didn’t just heal the man, He invited him to take a part of the work of the Kingdom by telling his story, how Jesus showed him mercy.

Or what about the woman Jesus meets as He is traveling through Samaria. In John 4 we find that Jesus is resting near a well, when this woman, who is an outcast from her community shows up. This woman who has been divorced 5 times and is now living with some guy she’s not married to is surprised when Jesus speaks to her, and flabbergasted that He asks her for a drink of water. They have this lengthy conversation, which eventually leads to her being involved in the work of the Kingdom and leading others to Christ.

You see the Jesus of Easter has a special place in His heart for the widows, the orphans, the lepers, the blind, the prisoners, those living alone on the margins of society. Jesus was always surrounded by a little band of misfits, He was always eating with all the wrong people which angered the religious establishment. Jesus actually touched the unclean, and used spit and dirt to heal the blind. He had the audacity to say crazy things like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

My fear, is that one of the reasons I have felt the need to scrub Jesus clean is not because I am worried that Jesus is like God, but deep down I am afraid that God is like Jesus. What if God is not who we thought? What if God never wanted to reveal Himself through a pattern of worship, or some kind of sin and punishment program. What if God really wants His children to get messy and love people that are unloveable. I mean we might not say they are unloveable out loud, but we have thought it.

Because, if that’s true, then that changes everything. What if we are really supposed to throw open the doors of our building and our lives and be ridiculously indiscriminate about welcoming and loving people.

What if the whole point of Easter is that we have a God who would rather die than be in the sin counting business.

What if God is not afraid to get His hands dirty so that He can love people who are unloveable.

What if one of the reasons we are not able to have our Easter Service today is because God doesn’t need us to try and clean up Jesus so the visitors will be impressed.

What if God isn't satisfied with just making us good or nice people. What if He doesn’t want us to get back to normal. What if Easter is really about God inviting us to join Him in the mess and disfunction  that floods our community and telling our story of how Jesus showed us mercy. What if we are supposed to redeem the story of Easter and tell the story of redemption. 

While it’ true this is not a normal Easter, I am thankful that our risen Savior doesn’t need the traditional type of Easter in order to be present in our lives. Jesus is with us in our loneliness, our tears, our fear, our anxiety, and our mess. And if we will listen, we can hear Him lovingly whisper, Peace be with you!

As we move to the tables this morning I am reminded that the Easter Story is a world-redeeming, self-emptying, life-giving, faith-creating, people-loving God story. While we are comfortable dividing ourselves into an in-group and an out-group, the table reminds us that we are all invited to be a part of the in group. I don’t get to decide who can share in the communion, the table doesn’t belong to me or you. It belongs to our Savior who was mistaken for a gardener on that first Easter morning. It belongs to our Messiah who gave His body and Blood so that we can all come to Him and be a part of the in-group.

Easter reminds us that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:15-17)

We may not be together in one place this Easter morning, but church we are not alone. We can still gather at the table and join with others who share our hope today. I know it’s a bit weird having this time together through YouTube and Facebook. But maybe we can still find a way to encourage and support one another. Let me invite you to write a comment on the Facebook live feed, or on our private Greenbrier page and sharing why you have hope this Easter. I think that might be a good way to touch base and remind one another this Easter that the tomb is still empty.

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