Day 34: Sermon Reflection on Marriage on Resurrection Day 2013

John 20:1-18
“20Early 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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. “

We gathered in this Sanctuary on Friday – Black Friday or Good Friday – to remember the death of Jesus. We heard once again the last earthly words that Jesus spoke. We heard “it is finished.” And then yesterday, holy Saturday, we went outside to hunt Easter eggs and do some fun Art Center projects with the children. Holy Saturday is actually a “hole” in time. Saturday is the 7th day of the creation week. It remembers the 7th day of creation when God and all creation is re-created by taking a break from work. In divine time, Holy Saturday is a Sabbath day, but it is much deeper than a normal “day off” for God and for all creation because it is haunted by that dreadful phrase “it is finished” from the day before. Is it over? Is creation done? Is it “stick a fork in it . . . it’s done!” for God’s creation? Is creation toast? Has God’s creation and creativity reached its outer limits and is it finished with a capital F and a final period?

Today is Resurrection Day. In liturgical time or divine time it is called the 8th day of creation. In six days God created the world and then took a day off. Today is the 8th day of creation.

This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
• early on the first day of the week . . . the 8th day of creation.
• while it was still dark . . . on the 8th day of creation.
• Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb . . . it all happened on the 8th day of creation.

Death is dead. The triumph of evil has been trumped by the power of love. By his Friday bruises were we healed on the 8th day of Creation.

We had one whole course in seminary titled The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Black Friday and Easter Sunday. We figured it would be 8 weeks on the cross and 8 weeks on the resurrection. Instead, this deep reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul examined the ways in which the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ depend upon each other. Two moments of one divine movement; two inseparable moments that cannot be understood alone. You cannot have the one without the other. There is no resurrection without a crucifixion. And in God’s plan of things there will be no crucifixion of Jesus without a resurrection.

Remember bicycle riders: the only way you can balance on a two-wheeled bicycle is by moving forward – balance is inseparable from forward motion. Forward motion is fleeting and likely to end in pain if there is no balance. But balance cannot be established if the bicycle is not moving. Like the old song “Love and Marriage” you can’t have the one without the other. There is no resurrection without the cross and there is no cross without the resurrection. There is no Easter without Good Friday, but there is no Good in that Friday without Resurrection Day.

The Prophet Isaiah hangs above the whole balancing thing between cross and resurrection.

By his bruises we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Today is the 8th day of creation. We are upright and moving forward like a bicyclist. To a nonplussed, in-an-apoplexy Mary, who came out early on the first day of the week, Jesus says “go to my brothers and say. . . .” Jesus instructs us 8th day of Creation people to “go to the others . . . and say I am ascending to my Father.” “Go tell them, Mary, that I will be reunited with my Father and with their Father.” “Go and say, ‘everything is OK.’” By his Good Friday bruises, we have been healed on the 8th day of creation. There is nothing to fear. Death itself has been conquered.

The wound between us and God has been healed – the skin that was broken and bloodied has mended; the bruises and broken bones have mended. By his bruises we have been healed. The God who created us has restored us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This resurrection and the instruction “go tell the others” have to do with the healing of relationships. That which has been severed, pierced and bleeding on Friday has been mended on the 8th day of creation. This broken relationship between sinful humanity and the creator who made us has been mended. This relationship was bruised; it was broken; it was sliced; it was destroyed on Friday. But by his bruises we have been healed. On the 8th day of Creation we have been brought back into relationship with the God who made us and redeemed us in the death and resurrection – the bruising and the healing.

This has been quite a Holy Week. There has been a lot of eyebrow-raising and tsk-tsking in the news this week. Pope Francis went to an Italian prison and washed the feet of 12 prisoners – breaking with the tradition of washing the feet of 12 bishops on Maundy Thursday. The liturgical police cried “foul.” I wasn’t sure what rule he had actually broken. Was it because they were prisoners? Non-Christian? No, Pope Francis broke the rules of canon law by washing the feet of a woman. Now, he’s the Pope, so if he breaks the rule, there’s no penalty. He makes the rules and no one is going to arrest him. He expanded the circle beyond men. There was a lot of tsk tsking and a lot of cheers.

There has also been much tsk tsking and cheering this week as the Supreme Court of the United States has considered the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. In the background are the new laws of several states which have expanded that definition to provide legal sanction to the marriage of two men or two women in addition to marriage between a man and a woman. There has been some tsk tsking, and there have been some hearts encouraged by the possibility that the Supreme Court might rule against the prohibition of marriage between two people of the same gender.

For some, this re-definition of marriage is somewhere near heresy and travesty. It is regarded as a smirch on Christianity and an assault on traditional family values. I want to suggest to you this morning that instead of thinking of this as a win-lose proposition or as a re-definition of marriage or the negation of marriage that it can be seen as expansion of the definition of marriage. Rather than a denial of marriage, it is an extension of marriage that moves beyond the existing definition to include others who have been previously excluded.

I do not wear the robes a Pope or the robes of member of the Supreme Court of the United States. I wear the robes of a Pastor. And as a pastor I am happy to leave the complexities and the niceties of how this all works out to people who are far more brilliant in matters of the law. I speak to you as a pastor when I ask that we redefine marriage by expanding the definition instead of negating it. I am going to ask that we do not look at this as a win-lose decision. Whether you feel like your views are being championed or trampled upon, as your Pastor I am going to ask that you be generous toward others.

The Supreme Court isn’t going to get back to us on this until June, so we have some time to practice this. Let us start now. If we are going to be losers, let us be gracious losers. If we are going to be winners, let us be gracious winners. If the Supreme Court clears the way to allow the rest of the 50 states who have not already expanded the definition of marriage and if that debate comes here to Florida, let us be gracious. We are 8th day of creation people. We know something about what has been bruised and what has been healed. We know the experience of Christ’s pain and we know that by his bruises we have been whole. We are healed. We know something about relationships and we know something about broken and strained relationships and we know something about the value of reconciliation. We know something about forgiveness. That reconciliation and forgiveness is how and why we need to be gracious whether winners or losers in the decisions that are made.

Some of you have attended weddings at which I have officiated. I am nearly always asked to include the traditional question to the father of the bride, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I try to update this ancient and non-liberated question by including the other members of the bride’s family and the groom’s family with an expanded question. Will you continue to offer your love and encouragement and wisdom? Please respond by saying “I will.” Now I never know exactly what individual family members are thinking when I ask them to affirm the decisions that have already been made by the couple about to marry each other.

And then I ask all of the friends if they will continue to offer their love and encouragement. You may have first been friend with one or the other of this bride or groom, but now it is your duty to see two where there used to be one. If you will continue to be a friend to this couple, please respond by saying “we will.” I also don’t know what’s going on in the minds of all the friends at the wedding. But, I do know that it is important to the bride and groom making promises to each other that they are in the context of family and friends who are helping them live out their vows. It is the language of forsaking all others and defending them from all enemies of their love. They need the help even of those people who are looking at that groom and saying to themselves, “I don’t know how she ever picked him!”

Several decades ago when Jan and I got married, we raised a few eyebrows at our wedding. It was at the height of the women’s movement and the traditional wedding and the vestige of feudalism and men owning women was being given up. The question “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” was in decline. So was the requirement that the bride and groom not lay eyes on each other before the ceremony. Instead of coming in from two different directions, Jan and I met in the narthex of my little home church, First Christian Church, Girard, Kansas, before the ceremony began. And when it was time for the processional, we walked down the aisle side by side. We made promises and exchanged rings and walked out side by side.

The ring is still important to me. But the “side by side” part matters the more. Side by side – for better/worse, richer/poorer, in sickness/in health, ‘til death — one of us will be at the side of the other to close their eyes in death. I walked beside Jan twice going out of the hospital by pushing her wheelchair. She had a baby in her arms both times. She has walked beside me out of the hospital twice when I was being dismissed. I didn’t bring anything with me. In both cases I left stuff inside the hospital.

And even though some of them that evening were tsking “I can’t believe she’s marrying him!” it has also been important that our two families and two churches have always been behind us where we have walked to help us live out our promises.

Now here is the bottom line for me. I am speaking to you as a Pastor and not as a maker of law or policy. I want that same mutual loving support of family and friends and church and neighborhood and community for others. I want the laws of the state of Florida to make it possible for people who make public promises to each other whether of the same gender or not to have the support of their communities to help them live out their vows.

Being married is not some kind of requirement to lay on everyone. But, if a man and a woman want to promise each other to walk side by side through thick and thin, the rest of us are there to encourage them to live out their vows – not to tsk tsk and raise eyebrows. I want the same thing if my brother wants to marry another brother or my sister wants to marry another sister. I know that troubles many, but no matter how this thing works out – no matter who wins or loses, let us be gracious. Let the church offer the same to all who desire to make a life’s promise to another. Let us continue to offer our love, our encouragement and our wisdom.

My marriage to Jan was not just about her and me. The community was also invested in our relationship. The community could also invest itself in the choices and the living out of promises between people of the same gender. Society has an investment in creating stable, committed relationships regardless of sexual orientation.

We are all about relationships and the restoration of relationships after they have been broken. By his bruises, we have been made whole. We are 8th day of Creation people. The relationship between us and God has been healed. Let us bring healing and health to the wounds and brokenness of this world.

In the breaking of bread we hear once again God’s divine chiming in – it is the 8th day of creation and we are healed. Come, let us break bread and drink wine together.

Why do YOU think the church should care about marriage?