4-17-22 — Race to the Finish — John 20:1-18 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

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Race to the Finish

John 20:1-18

Rev. Joshua D. Gill


“Marie Kondo famously told us to pick up a possession, and if it sparks joy for you, keep it. If it does not, let it go. She also said … “you know it’s joy when you feel your body-soul lift up, even if only slightly. Not joy and your body-soul slouches within itself just a touch.” This idea made Cole Arthur Riley wonder “if we were to lift our own selves up, how many of us would end up throwing ourselves out along with bread ties and the jeans that don’t fit us?.. Thankfully, we can assume Kondo would discourage applying her method to people.

She goes on in her book This Here Flesh writing…. “I was the child who would sit in closets or bathrooms while everyone else laughed together in the kitchen. Every now and again, someone would knock and whisper through to me, Well, you gonna join us, hunny? But I’d stay tucked away under Goosebumps books and shadows, knowing I was never going to laugh like them. It took time for me to realize that it was not that my family wanted me happy; it was that they wanted me close. They didn’t want for me the kind of sadness that alienates you. In time, I learned how to be in the kitchen, and it didn’t seem to matter if I was laughing. My sister pulls me close and feeds me a bite of spinach dip. Depression may contain a joylessness, but it doesn’t have to. When we reimagine joy as more than mere happiness, we make space for a sorrowful joy… joy that is born not of laughter but a joy that is born of peace.”

The Scholar and theologian Willie James Jennings said, “ ‘joy is an act of resistance against despair and its forces.’ Despair does not want to see us reach the promised land. It does not want us to find belonging…Our liberation depends on our willingness to resist it.”[1] We do this by allowing joy, in whatever form” it may be.. This is what Mary Magdalene will discover.

The resurrection story in John is different than the other gospels — those resurrection stories have earthquakes, thunder, a curtain in the temple ripping. But John’s gospel starts while it is still dark. Echoing those themes in John of light and darkness reminds us of the darkness before the story of creation, where chaos reigned. The darkness reminds us of the hopelessness and hurt that many people feel.

Joy Moore, Professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, writes that “Darkness is not merely a time of day; it can also be the absence of light. And the absence of light would mean those times in our life when we feel that God is not present.”[2] Mary is likely feeling not only the absence of light but the overwhelming grief at the death of her teacher.

Mary is perplexed in her grief at finding the stone removed from the tomb. So, she runs to tell the others. Peter and another disciple run back to confirm her discovery. One of the intriguing things about the Jesus of John is that he does not seek to modify the role women played within this culture. Instead, Jesus completely blows up the model and ignores the cultural pattern even as men voice opposition to it. The first sign Jesus performs is prompted at the request of his mother. A community learns that Jesus is Messiah through the testimony of a woman in John 4.

Peter and the other disciple discover the ordinary, linen grave clothes folded in the tomb. The text tells us they believed but did not understand. What exactly do they believe? Is it hope? That they felt a glimmer of hope, that he wasn’t dead? Did they feel a glimmer of hope that whoever stole his body was at least respectful, and the folded grave clothes are a sign of that respect? Believing in something and not understanding, they depart the scene, and the focus is returned to Mary.  She remains there only to see someone she mistakes as a servant. Eventually, he calls her by name, and Mary suddenly understands. Where there was death, there is now life. Where there was sadness, there is now joy. Where there was darkness now, there is light.  This moment sparked an act of resistance,  a joy, where Mary could tell the world what she had experienced. The call is to live this resurrection like Mary, like Cole Riley Arthur, and Chris Hoke.

Chris understands this resurrection is not a moment in time, but resurrection is a movement. Writing in the Presbyterian Outlook, he shares the following. “ I never really liked Easter — the tired imagery of an emptied tomb, the hollow cheers of ‘He is risen,’ until I had friends buried away in prisons. It wasn’t until I spent time in jail as a volunteer with people awaiting actual trials that Holy Week became troubling and electric for me.”  Think about it: the passion narrative that we read and rehash… year after year… is a story of an arrest, a standoff with police, a betrayal against the accused, a junk trial, a community’s fears and politics, public protests, prosecution and sentencing without a defense, a public execution…. He writes that we have “the world’s largest criminal punishment system of police, jails, courts, charges… an industry across every state where bodies are stuffed tight. Many are finally waking up to our societal sickness of mass incarceration… 2.2 million people.. In a sense, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are every day in America. The tombs are full, and our communities grieve.”[3] What does it mean for the church to practice resurrection amid this seemingly impossible problem?

For Chris, practicing resurrection means long drives, navigating bureaucracy, descending into hades to pray with men in tan pants and white Velcro sneakers.  For Cole Riley Arthur, practicing resurrection, it means understanding acceptance in the face of despair, that Joy is not happiness. For Mary Magdalene, practicing resurrection, telling the world what she saw and experienced to be commissioned by Jesus for this purpose. The only question left is what will it mean for you?


[1] Arthur Riley, Cole. This Here Flesh (pp. 167-168). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/resurrection-of-our-lord-3/commentary-on-john-201-18-14

[3] https://presoutlook.uberflip.com/i/1462940-practicing-resurrection/15?