"Supposing him to be the gardener"-Sermon for Easter Sunday, John 10:1-18:
My wife introduced me to this, if not ancient, certainly very old Japanese form of pottery making, or perhaps more to the point, pottery remaking or recreating called Kintsugi. Pottery making, in general, is a form of art that takes that which already exists…clay and pigment…and shapes it, fires it, resurrects it into something new, something unrecognizable from what it was, something useful and beautiful. And what is notable and a bit different about Kintsugi is that it, likewise takes what already exists, in this case an already formed piece of pottery that has been broken, and, rather than discarding it as useless trash, these potters recreate the piece into something that is, indeed, new…by resurrecting it from the pieces left behind. And, they work this artistry by binding the broken pieces back together often using precious metals like gold, silver and platinum…and the result is something that can be quite dramatically different from the original piece of pottery…if not entirely unrecognizable…still something rightly described as new. And, further, the intention in this process is to not hide the cracks and scars and wounds left behind from the breakage…in fact they become the star of the show…as they become accentuated by the precious metals binding the pieces back together. Thus, that which could be perceived as imperfection, as broken…is what makes it an entirely lovely new creation. And if you are wondering why I am musing on the beauty of Japanese pottery making on Easter Sunday of all days…it is because I think this is wonderful metaphor, powerful even, for the hope and promise of resurrection. So, please stick with me here.
Now, we have lived through difficult days over the past year and couple of months. I was going to recite here in detail the laundry list and causes of all the suffering and brokenness we have experienced since Easter 2020…pandemic, civil unrest, reckoning with classism and racism, a failed grid, and gun violence…but, as we all know it too well and have very personally experienced it, I will just say…as we approach Easter 2021…it is reasonable to feel like we are living in the darkness…that the tomb is not empty…that we, in fact, are groping around in it…utterly blind…buried alive…with an immense rock rolled in front of the entrance that no amount of effort can role away. We may feel like Mary in the garden in our Gospel reading this morning when she first arrives at Jesus’ tomb and discovers his missing body. She is in utter despair. If Jesus’ violent and unjust death was not enough…now her beloved one’s body has been stolen…that’s even worse…no chance for closure…no place to grieve. The Gospel reads that Mary just stood there and wept.
But, of course, that is not where Mary’s story ends. John writes that she looks in the tomb perhaps for a second time…probably hoping against hope that Jesus’ body will be there…maybe she was blinded by grief and just missed him somehow. And there she sees two angels in white sitting where the body should be. I would guess her first reaction was not hope but confusion. The two ask, what for Mary must seem a question with an obvious answer, “Why are you weeping?” And, she responds something like, “Because they have taken my beloved’s body of course.” And, then through her inconsolable tears, she notices that someone else is present…that she is not alone. And, this person, who she supposes to be a gardener, asks the same question posed by the two angels, “Why are you weeping?” And, she responds again in a similar way. For, Mary does not recognize that this is no gardener but Jesus her Risen Lord. She simply does not recognize her most beloved one. Now, the good news is, of course, that eventually she does. For, when he calls her by name, Mary, her eyes are opened and she sees him standing before her…Jesus resurrected into his divine glory…death has come to its end…life and love wins for Mary…for us…for all. The Divine Surgeon…creation’s artist…has gone to work binding the pieces of her broken heart back together…not with precious metals…but something altogether more wonderful…God’s own love…that not even death can defeat.
But why did she not recognize him right away? Perhaps like me, you have wondered why she did not recognize Jesus when he first stood before her? Was she blinded by her grief…that seems reasonable? But, I don’t think that is the whole story. And this was not Mary’s experience alone. When later that day Jesus appeared to all of his disciples in the upper room, they did not recognize him at first either. Indeed, experiencing the dead raised would rightly be disorienting…confusing…make us not sure of what we are really seeing…but beyond that I think something was actually different about Jesus…that he literally looked different. The pieces of his own body had been reconstituted in the fire of resurrection…and he was, indeed, something altogether new and unexpected and glorious and breathtakingly beautiful.
Resurrection is not simply the restoration of what already is or has been in the past. It is not stepping back into some previous golden age that we believe was so much better than it is now. Resurrection is not simply restoring things like they were…like in our current situation…say pre-pandemic. Much was easier then. It was great to go to concerts and eat in our favorite restaurants and worship in church together…and by far most especially just be with all those we love…and all at once. But, again, resurrection is not simply the resuscitation or restoration of what was. Resurrection…the defeat of sin and death…is the creation of something entirely new…altogether wonderful…out of what was. Perhaps it is something we recognize when we look really hard…some of the pieces may seem familiar…like Mary and the others when they begin to recognize Jesus…but not ever entirely the same…something better than what was…something even more glorious…more whole and healthy and fair and true and diverse and complex and grand…and all resurrected from what was before…from the pieces left behind.
The poet and activist, Sonya Renee Taylor, writes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” And I believe the power to stitch, to shape, to make, and to remake our lives into the very image of love, out of all the broken pieces strewn across our world, is the very resurrection power that flows forth from the empty tomb. For, resurrection is the God of love taking into his hands what God has already created…his beloved son Jesus and along with Jesus…all that God has made…all of creation…even you, even me…and like a Kintsugi potter…stitching all those broken pieces back together with love into something entirely new…more whole and lovelier than it ever was before. That’s what we hope for…that’s what we work for…that’s the ministry that the resurrected Jesus has left us with…the resurrection of something new out of the old…no part or piece left out…and all of it…more just and safe and kind and equitable and whole and peaceful and inclusive and complex and altogether lovely than anything we have yet known…all remade and fired by God’s great kiln of resurrection fire that burst forth like an unstoppable flood from the empty tomb.
And, I don’t want us to forget that Kintsugi pottery’s most defining feature are the scars, the cracks, the imperfections that traverse the resurrected piece of pottery, not hidden but accentuated by the precious metals used to bind everything back together. In particular, when Jesus appears to his disciples on the first Easter evening the one thing that is most recognizable about the resurrected Jesus…are his wounds. The scars and lines and cracks and holes in his hands and his head and that traversed his side. They were all still there…fully visible…all a part of all that glory…among all that was new and wonderful about the resurrected Jesus who they gazed upon in awe and wonder.
Likewise, the new and more wonderful resurrected life that God is shaping even now in us and in our world…the new and wonderful life that God is inviting us to help shape with him, as God’s resurrected body on earth, which is us…the Church…all will bear the wounds of the past. But, such scars are not ugly…they are not to be hidden…for they are the story of overcoming…past wounds healed. They blessedly remind us that the past does not have to define us…with God’s help we can overcome every obstacle, even, death our ancient foe. Thus, what we have overcome, those lovely scars, become empathy for those who struggle with something similar…experience to help us walk with and care for those who have struggled with something similar. They remind us of past mistakes to avoid in the future…remind us of what was…so it will never be the same again. These cracks and scars healed and bound back together are the bold and beautiful signs of one who has been resurrected.
So, as we now look past Easter 2021, what sort of life are we remaking, recreating…putting back together…with God’s help…with the fire of resurrection burning in God’s kiln…that brings new things, new life into being…eternal and altogether lovely things. I for one don’t just want to go back to the way things were, and I certainly don’t think this is the point of the empty tomb. Instead, I think, as resurrection people, the God of love is calling us to join with God in Christ to reshape, to recreate, to resurrect this world, beginning with our own broken lives, into something as new and wonderful as our God inspired dreams can dream up…something breathtakingly beautiful…whose scars bound up by love, stand front and center, as the witness to what we have already overcome…to the very process, the divine artistry…that is resurrection itself. Amen.