John 20:1-18

(sermon note: 03-30 sermon note)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Today’s reading reminds me of the one about a third-rate magician who was doing magic shows on a second-rate cruise ship. The pay was good, the accommodation was comfortable, the food was excellent, and the two shows a day workload was easy. The mainly elderly audience seemed to enjoy his show which was unoriginal but had the polish of hundreds of repetitions. All in all, it started out as a great gig except for one glaring issue. The captain of the ship had a talking parrot that he brought to every show. The parrot had figured out how all the tricks were done and gave away the magician’s secrets to the audience after every trick. “It’s a fake water jug! Squarrrrk!” “The rabbit is under his hat! Squarrrk!” “The girl is hiding under a trap door! Squarrrk!” Now the audience found this hilarious. Instead of coming to see a magic show, the crowds were coming to see the magician humiliated by a parrot, 2 shows a day, 7 days a week. Utterly depressed and desperate, the magician struggled to find a spectacular new trick to wow the crowd and that the parrot couldn’t figure out. He eventually announced an elaborate disappearing trick involving pyrotechnics and a ring of fire. However, the first night he tried it, he accidentally ignited a nearby gas line which caused a catastrophic chain of explosions that caused the ship to break apart and sink almost immediately. The next morning the sun rose on an empty ocean except for a single piece of shattered lifeboat with the magician clinging to one end and the parrot perched at the other end out of reach. The magician glared at the parrot and the parrot stared back, but not a word was said. This went on for a day, then another day. On the third day the parrot finally broke the silence. “OK, I give up. Where’s the ship?”

I imagine it’s a hard job coming up with new tricks to continually wow the crowds. That poor magician had a hard enough job even without the parrot always spoiling his tricks. And disappearing tricks must be some of the hardest to effectively pull off. Everyone knows it’s just a bunch of smoke and mirrors that cleverly hides what the trick is trying to hide. Things can’t just disappear into thin air! That ship didn’t disappear into thin air, it simply sank beneath the surface of the water. I guess the parrot came to believe in magic after all since he couldn’t figure out where the ship was!

I appreciate our gospel reading serving as a capstone to the other five readings. We heard how Mary stumbled upon the greatest disappearing act of all time. Jesus should have been among the dead in that tomb and yet he wasn’t. And even when she spoke to him outside of the tomb, thinking he was a gardener, she didn’t realize who he was. Again, he should have been among the dead, not among the living! But there he was, hiding in plain sight, and he could have remained hidden indefinitely, but he chose to have mercy on Mary and revealed himself to her. Indeed, Jesus showed mercy to several people, his disciples included, and revealed himself in resurrected form. But we haven’t really made it to Easter morning yet, so we ought not celebrate his resurrection. Instead, I think our readings want us to reflect on the hiddenness of God throughout all of scripture.

They say that Jesus is hiding in plain sight throughout all of scripture. He’s most evident in the 4 gospels of the New Testament where we hear him teach and preach and heal people. But his presence is certainly sensed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Recall the opening lines of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Now compare these to the opening lines of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.” What was in the beginning? The WORD! LIGHT! “In the beginning was the WORD…and the life was the LIGHT of all people!” Jesus is right there, in the beginning!

In the Exodus reading, we heard Moses delivering the Israelites out of slavery. The Egyptians were hot in pursuit of the recently freed Israelites and were intending to kill them. They had Israelites trapped against the Red Sea, but God miraculously parted the sea, thus allowing the Israelites to escape. From the gospels, we hear of Jesus’ miraculous healings and teachings. We also hear how his death and resurrection miraculously delivered us from our bondage to sin and fear of death. Jesus, like Moses, is in the same business of miraculous deliveries!

We hear in the Isaiah reading how “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways.” His ways are higher than our ways. He can make the impossible possible. We ought not be surprised that Jesus can defeat death, an impossibility for the rest of us. The prophets have been telling us this for a long time!

In the reading from Daniel, we heard how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. And were they consumed by the blazing inferno? Of course not, God miraculously delivered them. And who was walking out of the flames unscathed? Not only the 3 men but a 4th man as well. Scripture doesn’t tell us who that 4th man was, but it is implied that it was Jesus.

Finally, in the Romans reading, Paul reminds us that our baptisms unite us with Jesus and his conquering of death. We, too, have eternal life because of our baptisms. Indeed, Jesus is all over scripture, hiding in plain sight! From the words of Moses to the words of the prophets to the words of Paul, Jesus is found hiding in plain sight. Of course, he’d be hiding in plain sight outside of the tomb! Naturally this begs the question: how is Jesus hiding in plain sight in our world today? If that is how he likes to present himself, then how is presenting himself today? Be assured that he is among us today, just as was so long ago. Perhaps he’s within us. Perhaps he’s within our neighbors. Perhaps he’s out there quietly building and revealing his kingdom. Like a sunken ship, perhaps he’s just beneath the surface. How is he presenting himself today? If scripture tells us anything, he’s most likely hiding in plain sight. So let us seek him out and give thanks for him. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.