Easter Message, April 9, 2023: "Weeping Into Dancing," John 20:1-18

Easter Message, April 9, 2023: "Weeping Into Dancing," John 20:1-18

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
April 11, 2023


“Weeping Into Dancing”
An Easter Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
John 20:1-18

            As you might imagine, over the course of my ministry I have done quite a number of funeral services. Without going into too much detail, because I certainly do not want to upset anyone or trigger any deep feelings, I will share just a bit of my process. I always meet with the family to plan the services. Part of that is to determine who they would like to have speak, what music they might like, what scripture passages, etc. I always want the services to be of their creation.

            I also ask them to tell me about their loved one. I ask them to tell me stories; not just the ones that we can share during the services, but also the ones that tell me about them as a person. Then, as I begin to create the ceremony, I try to place myself into their family. I try to feel the dynamics of their relationships. I try to feel their sorrow as if it was my own. I do that so that the service can truly reflect the love that they shared. And I will say that I am truly grateful for their willingness to share their stories with me.

            I try to use a similar process when I write my sermons. As I read and reflect on the scripture passages, I try to imagine myself in that scene. I try to imagine their lives as my life. I try to understand the cultural circumstances and place myself in that historical context. Perhaps you do the same thing when you read scripture.

            I have also shared with you the challenges that I have experienced. I TRY to imagine what it would be like to walk with Jesus, and talk with Jesus, and break bread with Jesus. I try to imagine how powerful it is, and at the same time how peaceful it is. I try to imagine how beautiful it must be and how absolutely precious one must feel when they are in his presence. And I do get a genuine sense of calm, and peace, and wonder that settles over me as I imagine.

            However, I also realize that it had to have been so much more powerful and more peaceful for those first disciples. Honestly, I think that it must have been so far beyond our own personal experiences that I cannot possibly begin to have any real understanding of what it felt like. And that is what makes today’s passage so difficult.

            How can we possibly place ourselves in this scene?

            Those first disciples spent three years with the purest expression of genuine love that the world has even seen. They walked with him and sat with him. They had the unbelievable opportunity to speak with him and listen to him. They saw the things that he did that defied the laws of natural science, things that are far beyond OUR modern understanding. Imagine what it must have been like for them! They saw him love in a way that no one had ever loved before. He told them and showed them how God intends our lives to be.

            And then this week happened. On Thursday, he spent the most incredibly intimate evening with them. He prayed with them and ate with them. According to some accounts, he washed their feet, one of the most common acts of hospitality. And then they went out to the Mount of Olives … where he was arrested and taken away.

            He was tried and denied. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He was beaten and mocked. The crowds jeered as he passed. And then he was crucified in a grotesque and horrific public display of cruelty. He died and they removed his broken body from the cross, then he was placed in a tomb. The door was sealed by the authorities.

            Hebrew culture dictated that loved ones grieve over their dead for three days. They believed that was how long their spirit lingered. However, those who loved Jesus could not go to the tomb to mourn for fear of breaking the Sabbath laws. They had to wait.

            They waited … away from the tomb.

            They mourned … away from the tomb.

            And they wept.

            Finally, on Sunday morning, the Sabbath ended at sun-up. Mary Magdalene had been one of those who witnessed the loving grace of Jesus Christ, but even more … she experienced it. She knew the power of it. She knew the peace that she felt as her guilt washed away. She knew the freedom that she experienced when her accusers walked away.

            Mary’s love for Jesus would not wait any longer. It sent her running to the tomb as soon as the sun broke the horizon. She had to get there in time. She had to get there before his spirit departed.

            Once again, I cannot even begin to imagine the depth of her emotion. I cannot begin to imagine the depth of her sorrow, the magnitude of her pain.

            And then we heard what happened. The seal had been broken; the stone had been rolled away. But Mary did not witness that with a heart filled with joy. Just the opposite. It filled her with dread. She was devastated. Mary could not even bring herself to look inside the tomb. She could not look.

            “How could anyone do that?! How could anyone be so cruel?! Had they not suffered enough?! Was it the Romans?! Was it the chief priests?! Was it just common thieves?!” She could not look. The pain was too much.

            She ran to tell Simon Peter.

            Impetuous Peter who had jumped out of a fishing boat and nearly drowned in his excitement at seeing Jesus had to run to the tomb. Peter, whose broken heart was further wounded by his own denial of Jesus, rushed to the tomb. He had to know. He had to see for himself. But … he could not bring himself to enter in.

            It was the unnamed disciple, the one whom Jesus loved … John, that was the impetuous one. He ran into the tomb. He saw the linens lying neatly upon the bench. He saw the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face on the other side. He saw, and he knew that robbers would not have taken the time to unwrap and re-fold the linens. He saw, and he knew that the Romans or the Temple authorities would not have left the linens either. He saw … he knew … he believed!! The ONLY explanation was resurrection!!

            Jesus had not been raised like Lazarus, who then stumbled out of his tomb and had to be helped with his burial wrappings. Jesus left this world by the power of God’s love! Resurrected!! The bonds of death were broken!!

            Peter and John left the tomb as quickly as they appeared. They had to tell the others!

            At some point, Mary made her way back to the tomb. No doubt her tears were still flowing freely. She had no knowledge of what John had seen or of what he they knew to be true.

            This time, Mary looked into the tomb. She must have thought that she was delirious or dreaming when she saw two angels sitting there in the place where Jesus’ body was supposed to be. And then, as if scripted as the most perfect movie scene ever written, as the two angels asked Mary why she was crying, Jesus walked up behind her.

            At this point, we should be weeping as well. Mary’s pain and confusion are unimaginable. But as we witness this moment, we begin to shed tears of joy. The Gospel tells us who it is, but Mary has not yet figured it out. Thinking that it is the gardener, the caretaker of the tomb, she asks desperately, “They have taken him … my Lord, my beloved friend!! Please tell me where he is so that I may take him!!”

            Then Jesus spoke her name. “Mary.” With the eyes and ears of our hearts, we can hear the hear the gentleness and tenderness in his voice. We can see Mary’s face light up with the realization of who it was that was standing before her. We can feel the elation that filled her heart. And we can imagine her clutching onto to him. Her fear, her sorrow, her confusion, her pain … all of it swept away in that moment when he said her name. “Mary.”

            Jesus told her to go tell “his brothers.” And now we can imagine a very different Mary. She was half running half dancing! Her heart that was breaking moments earlier was about to burst out of her chest with joy!

            God’s love could not be killed.
            God’s love could not be locked away in a tomb.
            God’s love cannot be confined by any human measure.

            Jesus Christ is alive!! God’s love is alive!!

            In this moment, we remember the very first words that we read in John’s Gospel:

            “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

            In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning IS the Word! Easter is the dawn of a new Creation!

            Yes, there are still powers that try to defeat it. Yes, there is still darkness that attempts to overcome it. But the power of God’s love cannot and will not be defeated.

            Jesus Christ is alive! God’s love is alive!! His resurrection is our resurrection. We live in a New Creation. Easter is the first day of God’s Kin-dom on earth!!

            Let us rejoice! Let us dance!! There is nothing in all the world that can defeat the power of God’s Love! It lives in Jesus Christ. It lives in us!

            Hallelujah! Amen.


Congregational Church