Calling All Losers: God Wins!

Easter Sunday 2010
John 20:1-18

With the warmer temperatures, sunshine and budding flowers, we just had to be there.

The park.

From the moment the seatbelts were unbuckled; my girl’s feet hit the ground running. They raced to the top of the twisty slide, up the monkey bars and across rope ladders. From one part of the playground to another, I could hear Lily scream out to her little sister “I’ll race you.”

Fits of giggles and excitement erupt as they dashed around. The funny thing is, it doesn’t matter who wins. They both get there. They both play. They both win. Sure it is always Lily who gets there first, but normally Norah is the braver one and will go down the slide first.

Watching them I can’t help but get caught up in their enthusiasm, so it is not surprising that when working on my Easter sermon for this morning, I was first struck by how this same kind of child-like excitement is displayed by the two disciples. They seem more like children than grown men as they set out in a race, when they hear the body of the Lord has been taken from the tomb.

Though they both respond by dashing off, the motivation that compels their excited movement is quite different.

The “other disciple” also referred to in John’s Gospel as the “beloved disciple” was with Jesus through the events leading up to his crucifixion and is the same disciple Jesus entrusted with his mother’s care.

This beloved disciple serves as the faithful witness in what he has seen and how he promises to live his life, loving Jesus mother as his own.

So now given this word that the tomb is empty, he must go see it for himself. And he takes off. His arms pumping, legs racing out from underneath him, on his way to see the empty tomb.

The “beloved disciple” is energetic and optimistic, but a little tentative once he arrives. He doesn’t seem quite ready to commit what it might mean. He’s trying to understand what he is seeing. The scriptures tell us that he doesn’t wait to figure it all out. His hopeful nature overwhelms him. He sees the linen clothes lying there, and he believes.

Peter, on the other hand, is not that kind of person.

Peter may not have been the fastest runner, but didn’t hesitate at the tomb. That shouldn’t surprise us since Peter is the guy who throughout the gospels has been ambitious, excitable and says or does whatever come to mind without thinking. This, after all, is the man who jumped out of the boat to walk on water.

But it was also Peter who spent the last week running away from Jesus. Three times he runs away with the words “I am not” when asked if he was a disciple.

We can only guess what is motivating Peter to run. Whether it is his uncontrollable excitement or his guilt about his own actions from the past week, he sets out on the race of his life time to see for himself the empty tomb.

There is however, one more person at the tomb on the first Easter morning. She does not go unnoticed in the story, even though her status as a woman would have relegated her as extremely insignificant. All four of the Gospel narratives place her as the essential witness to the resurrection.

Before the two disciples even start out on their race toward the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene arrives early in the morning, while it was still dark.

She comes not with energy, optimism or guilt, but in grief.

The weight of pain and death hangs on her shoulders.

She can’t shake the image of Jesus suffering upon the cross and breathing his last.

The burden of her sadness delivers her to the tomb. She is not interested in running any race.

She does not have any pretense that things are going to be okay, no hope as she approaches the tomb. She simply comes to touch the body, to be near it, to say her goodbyes.

She exists in this cloud of suffering and grief, overcome by sadness. She can’t even recognize the risen Jesus when he is standing right in front of her. The only words she shares until this point are “they have taken away my Lord” and “where have you laid him?”

So here we have the juxtaposition of these three characters, in one gospel.

The Gospel of John places these three very different approaches to the tomb that Easter morning—knowing we all come here this day from our different places, for different reasons and motivations, and with our own unique faith journey.

Most of us did not race to get here. There may have been some fighting or wrangling of kids, or ties or hosiery. There may have been a race against time, trying to walk in the door before the bells rang at 10:00am. But I didn’t see anyone sprint through the doors. Even if anyone had, there wouldn’t have been a clear winner, just as there was no clear winner among the three at the tomb.

There is no winner named, because in the Resurrection story, God wins.

When it appears that pain, suffering, sin and death have the last word, God is the one who is raised from the dead so that we have the gift of new life. God wins.

God wins when you are the person comes to the tomb with cautious yet relentless optimism in your heart.

God wins when you are the person who comes to the tomb with a myriad of emotions ranging from excitement to guilt but you don’t let those stop you from seeing the possibilities of what the resurrection might mean.

God wins when you are the person who comes with Good Friday in your heart and though Easter doesn’t make that all magically disappear; the possibility of hope finds its way in.

God wins when we leave the empty tomb transformed. Believing that death has not overcome.

Suffering did not have the last word. Hatred, injustice, and sin did not win. Love did. God wins.

God’s love for us is so great and so strong that it over came death even, even in the most horrid of circumstance. We don’t have to know how it works, understand the facts and details, or even be able to explain it to other people in a way that makes sense. The disciples couldn’t, it simply says “they believed.” Believing that resurrection and new life are brought forth, hope reigns, and we live lives transformed by God’s love. God wins.

And of course, in turn, we all win. For when God wins, we too are brought to new life. Jesus was not the only one resurrected that day, we too are renewed. Mary was not the only one given hope; we too find hope in the future. The disciples lives aren’t the only one’s transformed and called to be the body of Christ in the world, we are.

Because God wins, this morning we too can come to the tomb with our mixed emotions and shortcomings, like Peter, and God loves us still.

We can come to the tomb like the beloved disciple with our overwhelming optimism that still hesitates, and God will still be waiting for us when we are ready to engage this miracle of miracles.

We can come to the tomb with our grief and burdens and God will meet us where we are with the promise that God’s love always wins.

Friends, whether or not we race to get there, the race itself has been won for us all—God wins it for each and every one of us.

God’s love wins and so we all win and turn from the empty tomb to face the world renewed, living into the hope and love we experienced here.

Transformed by the love of God, we go out to share it with everyone, proclaiming with our lives the miracle: “We have seen the Lord.” Helping others to know that they too have won in life, no matter what junction of life they stand on, no matter their personality or where they are on the road of faith.

God has won new life for each of us.

May it be so for you and for me.


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