“Easter Eyes Never Lie!”
John 20: 1-18 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 4, 2021
In a conversation recently, someone put out a provocative definition of faith that I share for our consideration. “Faith is a word for something which can’t be proven, yet something which people continue to believe.” And on Easter Sunday, we gather on a day that makes some very unbelievable claims. In the face of violence and hatred, the free offering of one’s life; unconditional love so deep, drawing one to willingly accept all that the cross represented; a day of such pain that even the sky turns black at noon; and a mysterious empty tomb revealing more possibilities than simply life or death. Easter is unbelievable…Yes! It is! It is ‘UNBELIEVABLE’. Thank God for that! And that is why we gather around this story to find the UNBELIEVABLE possibilities that give our life hope, the UNBELIEVABLE meaning that can add depth to our existence, the UNBELIEVABLE inspiration offering us a new life filled with God’s UNBELIEVABLE grace.
Mary’s Unbelievable Faith
Mary’s witness provides such depth for our UNBELIEVABLE faith. Yet again, her curiosity; her authenticity; her relentless faith speaks a depth of truth that continues to inform us two millennia later. What Mary teaches us on Easter Sunday is how to engage with the UNBELIEVABLE offerings of Easter. Because what Mary does is, at the start, she doesn’t believe. At first, Mary does not believe that Jesus has risen. She is there at the first Easter, and she is the first one who deals with Easter unbelief.
Unbelievable or UNBELIEVABLE?
You know the story…Mary discovers the empty tomb; she summons help to make sense of this unbelievable occurrence. Mary can see the grave clothes, which had once wrapped around Jesus’ dead body. They were now lying there on the ground. And Jesus’ body was no where to be found. And Mary kneels down, and picks them up, and begins to cry. Angels comfort her… ‘why are you weeping?’… ‘they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him’. And through her tear-soaked eyes. Through her unbelief, she cannot Jesus. Yet there he is, standing in front of her…until he speaks her name… “Mary.” And that is when the unbelievable becomes and UNBELIEVABLE faith for Mary. When she hears her name called by her Lord; when the Holy speaks to her by name; in that Holy moment Mary realizes that Christ is risen, indeed! And Mary’s UNBELIEVABLE faith is found!
Easter Eyes of faith
The challenge with that definition of faith which I began our conversation, is that it discounts the eyes of faith that are an essential part of our spiritual being. Whenever faith becomes reduced to an intellectual endeavour, it will always come up short…it will be unbelievable. It will become up short because it denies the visceral, the emotional, and the deeply personal dimensions of our being. Faith when viewed through qualitative eyes will always be viewed as ‘unbelievable.’ However, faith when viewed through Easter eyes allows us to see the UNBELIEVABLE possibilities of new life that God is transforming into the world. Unbelievable…or… UNBELIEVABLE?
What Senses Do You Use to See?
Mary first looks the Risen Christ in the eye and she cannot recognize him. Her eyes deceive her. She thinks he is the gardener. Yet when she uses her other ways of seeing, of knowing, she becomes equipped with Easter eyes to see! And this will be the eternal pitfall for all of us in modern day too, whenever we do not balance the knowing of the mind with the knowing of the heart. It is important for us, as we receive truth in scripture, to remember that the people in Biblical times held a different conception of vision than we do today. Our modern culture tends to almost privilege eyesight over all the other senses. You have heard the saying: ‘seeing is believing’ right? Physical sight is often viewed as the primary source of knowledge. We need to see to believe, as ocular vision is the ultimate form of empirical proof.
Do We Limit Our Vision?
But, the Biblical people, did not reduce vision to only physical sight. Vision for them involved more than what was seen through the eyes. Vison was also contained in other forms: intuition, imagination, the heart, the soul. People can see with more than just their eyes! Betty Nobel our scripture reader this morning demonstrated that for us a few moments ago, when she read this passage in braille. My 100 year-old grandmother held my newborn daughter with failing eyesight, yet she saw with the eyes of a mother when my daughter needed to have her head supported. We can see in so many ways! Those are the Easter eyes through which Mary saw the Risen Jesus! A truly UNBELIEVABLE sight. When we limit our vision to our eyes alone, we will not see it all! We will not see God alive around us! We will not see God alive in us! We will not see Easter! When we limit our vision to our eyes, what we see will be shaped by our presuppositions, our interpretations, our limited personal experiences. When we follow Mary’s example and open our Easter eyes, they will never lie!
A Dreadful or Delightful Easter?
This Easter holds the potential to be the most dreadful or the most delightful Easter ever. When we look through our eyes, we see exhaustion from one year of pandemic precautions; we see rising case numbers; we see concerns over what vaccine to trust; we see that we cannot go to church; we see that we cannot go to restaurants. As we look out upon it, this could be the most dreadful Easter on record. Yet, when our Easter eyes are opened, they tell a different story. We see that there IS hope ahead; we see that there are vaccines; we see people (not all) but many are making deep sacrifices; we see that we will get through the challenges of this time. Easter eyes give us the possibility to see God’s transforming power alive and at work, even amidst the struggles…(let me re-phrase that) especially amidst the struggles. As I record this service on Thursday, a joy that I am looking forward to sharing in this weekend is the wedding of Cathie Palendat to Grant Raincock. Many will recall Cathie’s mother Joan, who was a faithful member of this church, and before Northwood at Oak Avenue. I got to know Joan’s daughter, Cathie amidst Joan’s final days. I saw her comfort her mother…and also witnessed the love shared between this fine couple. And, this weekend, even amidst a pandemic…I have the honour of officiating at the next chapter of this love story. Isn’t that UNBELIEVABLE! Amidst a pandemic…with masks on…socially distanced in a part…the love that bonds together continues…UNBELIEVABLE! I guess that’s why Easter will seem unbelievable to so many who limit their vision. Isn’t it unbelievable to think that God would send His beloved Son to walk amidst us, knowing the plight that would befall him? Isn’t it unbelievable to think of a love fully poured out, a love that would give up their last breath for others? Isn’t it unbelievable to think that the darkness of humanity will be met by the wondrous love of God? Yes, it is UNBELIEVABLE …and through Easter eyes, we look out and say YES…it is UNBELIEVABLE! Christ is Risen…He is risen indeed! UNBELIEVABLE. Amen.