Boot Camp for the Soul: Deployed! Believe, Go and Serve!
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 16, 2017
For the past 40 days, we have been knee-deep in our own Spiritual Bootcamp for the soul. I am pleased to let you all know that you have graduated and today the celebration begins! This last week you may have thought that there was no way you could finish the intense training. We had to get through Christ’s last days in Jerusalem, his last supper, the awful trial and torture, ending in his death.
But here we are, on the day of resurrection, with bright smiling faces, thankful that the hard work is done. Now, don’t get too comfortable though; just as a soldier is prepared and then deployed, we will be deployed before this day is over.
Throughout our Bootcamp for the Soul, I have encouraged you to prepare for our own spiritual resurrection – our own recommitment to Christ. Before we can recommit ourselves, we must remember the story, we must relive the experience. So, this morning we turn to the greatest story in the bible, Mary’s discovery of the empty tomb.
After Jesus was crucified, he was placed into the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, the Pharisee who was secretly following Jesus. Nicodemous was also there, another Pharisee who saw Jesus for who he really was. Several women, including Mary were there with them, watching as they prepared the body. That evening, when they were finished, Joseph sealed the tomb by rolling a large stone across the opening, and the women returned to the place where the disciples were hiding.
There, they shared the details of Jesus’ horrific death and burial. Only one of the twelve was at the cross when Jesus was crucified, there with Jesus’ mother and the other women who were witness to the death sentence. The others learned the awful details from the women. It was a story not to be believed.
I imagine that hearing the gruesome details, they grieved severely, not only for the loss of a dear friend and Jesus was their friend; but also, they grieved the loss of a dream. They believed Jesus was the Messiah. God’s Son! God Himself! God, Herself! Surely, they hadn’t been wrong. Jesus, who they thought was their Savior, was dead and buried. Their journey was finished. The anguish was palpable as they sat together, crying, praying and asking those unanswerable questions, “why did this happen?” “What do we do now?”
I must tell you, I always thought that the men were cowards, hiding away, sending the women out to get news about Jesus. But what I realize is that they were in fact frightened for their lives. Their leader, their master, their messiah had been brutally murdered. If the authorities would kill Jesus, then they would likely be coming after his followers, so intent were the Pharisees in ending this religious uprising.
The women on the other hand, were at the cross, they were at the tomb and it was Mary in fact who came face to face with Jesus, that first day of the week. This part of the story doesn’t really make sense, because women were insignificant in first century culture. “Women were considered second-class citizens, akin to slaves. ” The very fact that women were known to be followers of Jesus and written about in the gospels, demonstrates first hand that Jesus saw women differently. He accepted them as disciples and knew they would play a vital role in the days to come.
But perhaps because of their lowly status, the women were not being watched like the men were, they could move freely without detection or suspicion. No one paid any attention to them, they were after all, just women. And so, while it was still dark and the others slept, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. As she approached the spot, she could see that something was different, something was wrong. The stone that had been rolled into place just days before, had been moved aside. The entrance stood wide open. How could this be so?
Immediately she ran back to where the men were sleeping and told them that the Lord was missing, he was not in the tomb and she couldn’t find him. Thinking Mary was mistaken, or simply telling stories, Peter and John ran out toward the tomb with Mary trailing behind.
By the time Mary reached the tomb, Peter had already gone inside and had seen the burial clothes, laid out, as if Jesus’ body has vanished into thin air. He was gone, not gone as in, “someone stole the body.” But G-O-N-E, gone! Disappeared. For you Harry Potter fans, he was Dis-aperated! But not gone for long.
The disciples approach the tomb like detectives, sure they will find a clue or two to solve this mystery. “They relegated the extraordinary – the stone rolled and the tomb empty – to the ordinary. They sought to explain it all with a sensible supposition – the body has been taken. All the while they confronted massive evidence pointing to the truth. Christ has been raised from the dead. Death and sin are conquered. Belief dawns slowly with the light. The Bible says, “For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
“This also is our struggle. Small signs of this colossal victory are all around us. Mary and the two disciples of that first Easter morning would teach us to look for signs of the extraordinary among the ordinary. Ordinary things like, love shared, care given, with hope amid despair, and laughter in the place of grief, there comes the dawning of belief. John 20, verse 8 says, “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” Let that be us. Let us begin to see the extraordinary—God in resurrection action—amid the ordinary. Let us believe!
“In a scene that could be taken from any cemetery, Mary encounters the triumphant Jesus. It is so ordinary that she, at first, doesn’t recognize him. She thinks Jesus is the gardener.
“It is important for both proclaimer and listener to pause and catch the full impact of what is being said. Jesus is first encountered near the tomb! Angels are inside the tomb, at the very epicenter of defeat, proclaiming the triumph. We encounter Jesus first, often best, at the very place of our own defeat, despair, and deepest grief. Where we struggle to believe, God is most present. Where we have come to the end of our resources, there God breaks through in triumph.
“Focused on her grief, Mary teeters on the edge of faith. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then the full impact of the gospel hits. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” In the utterance of her name, she is claimed by the Lord. Christ’s triumph becomes her destiny! Our morning begins in a graveyard. It ends in a shout. “I have seen the Lord.”
“Our path of faith is similar. Near the tombs of our life, be they physical or symbolic, ” we meet Christ face to face. Some worshiping today are here seeking a new beginning, a time to recommit themselves to their faith, to their love of Jesus Christ and to stop thinking they can manage this world without Him. It is a time to resurrect our faith and turn our hearts toward Jesus Christ.
Easter is a time of new beginnings. As the flowers begin to bloom, the baby chicks (or baby giraffe’s) are born; we see new growth and new beginnings all around us. Easter is our own opportunity to be renewed. Easter is a time of pure hope. Hope that Christ’s death was not in vain, but in fact to proclaim his Divinity to the world.
That is the point of Easter, a horrible death, not in vain, used to draw his own to himself. We remember the empty tomb and to this day we struggle to truly understand the implications. Jesus has raised to be with the Father and we know that in doing so we are all restored to favor, we are forgiven of our sin, but there is more to this story, you see the empty tomb is only the beginning.
The message this Easter is one of hope, hope that the story doesn’t end with the resurrection. This is the beginning of our story, of our story as Christians. John 20 verse 21-22 says, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father as sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Christ has gone ahead and has left us to continue the work he started. We are to be his hands and feet, serving our neighbors right here in Boulder City and supporting the transformation of our world. Matthew 28:18, sometimes called the Great Commission says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Christ says,) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This story’s ending is our beginning, these are our marching orders – Believe, Go, and Serve. We have completed our Bootcamp for the Soul and are ready to be deployed. We are called to love God and to love one another. We are the workers sent out into the field to make a lasting difference – feeding homeless families, cleaning up trash at the lake, offering grief and divorce support, traveling to flood ravaged parts of the country to help homeowners to get back into their homes. These are the things that Christ requires of us.
Will we be transformed by the Easter story and accept our deployment into the world?
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we thank you for this Easter morning and the new hope that is felt as we remember Christ’s resurrection. We are thankful for the empty tomb and the promise that we will one day be with you. Give us courage to believe in you as the disciples did, allow us to be used mightily to transform your world and empower us for service. We pray all of this in Jesus name. Amen.
 http://www.jesuscentral.com/ji/historical-jesus/jesus-firstcenturycontext.php Accessed April 15, 2017.