What Are We Holding On To?
By Sarah Pomerantz
July 5, 2009
John 20: 1-2, 11-18
(mp3, 4.3Mb) ]
neteen-eighty-nine was a hard year for my family. We had just moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Springfield, Virginia and the move had caused some major tension. We had left behind close friends and family, and consistently nice weather to move to a place that snowed too much and had way too much humidity in the summer. My parents had taken a major risk, my father in particular. This move was either going to help my father’s business or it would end being a major mistake. They did the best they could to make this move easy, but for me and my sister, it was a difficult transition. I was seven years old and can still remember feeling unsure and scared about what was next. It took a while for our family to adjust and to find a good faith community. We were “church shopping” and in Springfield, there are only two major Catholic churches in the area, so on that Easter morning we took a gamble and went to the early service at Nativity Church. Sitting in the pews at what had to be the earliest I had been up on a Sunday, I remember the priest being a very firm and stern man, with a bald head. I think I remember the bald head the most because my father was going bald at the time too and at 7 years old, these are the details that stick out in your mind. When he began his Easter sermon, he looked down at all of us and said, “I don’t care if this gets me in trouble later, I’m going to ask this question: IS YOUR TOMB EMPTY”? That phrase scared me so bad that I had no idea how to respond, so I did the only thing I thought to do. I turned to my mother, and as she tells this story, with my eyes opened really wide (behind huge glasses) and asked her with fear, “mom… is my tomb empty”? She had no idea what to do but to respond with an “Of course” and then give me a big hug. Yet, I was not so sure.
of the unknown, fear of whether or not you will survive, fear of an empty tomb
permeates through our text today. This text leaps out at us, evoking drama and
emotion. We can imagine that the Christ community is
already in a state of fear after seeing their leader die at the hands of the
Roman Empire. The cross
was a punishment for two types of individuals: rebels against the state and
slaves rebelling against their masters. Today, I ask you to place yourselves in Mary’s position, view the text
through this lens, and feel her uncertainty, her panic, and her fear as to what
would happen next. And what happens next
is something miraculous.
Mary finds herself
early in the morning after Jesus’ death at his tomb only to find that the tomb
is empty, and her friend and teacher’s body has mysteriously disappeared. She stands weeping outside of a tomb and is asked twice why she is
weeping—once by an angel and then once by Jesus who she mistakes for a
gardener. We can’t fault her for tears
but rather we can relate to her sadness and pain. She had a close relationship with Jesus. He was her teacher and friend and now he has
died and seemingly, the dream of the Jesus Movement hangs in the balance. What would happen now? Would all of the promises and teachings,
healings and miracles that Jesus both spoke and performed disappear with
him? What about the promises of the coming
of the Kin-dome of God? All seemed lost.
So through her tears, Mary mistakes
Jesus. She “admits her fear that she
does not know where Jesus has gone”.  Finally it takes Jesus calling her by her
name for her to see him standing right in front of her. As anyone would who has
seen a loved one who has died standing right in front of them, she clings to
him. She grabs on to him—all hope is not
lost! He is here! Yet, Jesus replies 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
What a shocking reply! Here is her friend standing her in front of
her telling her to let go—to not hold onto him and instead proclaim something
much more important, that Jesus has been transformed. Although church tradition
faults Mary for misunderstanding what Jesus tells her, I ask you today to
rather see this as a moment for us to examine ourselves and wrestle the
resurrection; and ask ourselves what it is that we are holding on to that might
stop us from seeing the bigger picture—that the resurrection of Jesus, the
moment that the human Jesus became Jesus the Christ is a justice moment—a
moment where God says Yes to the Human No.
When we think and wrestle with the
resurrection we may find that our own fears and notions get in our way. It brings up our own worries about where it
is we will end up after we die. Are sins really forgiven? Will we in fact be rise again? Will be it be
a bodily or spiritual resurrection? Will our tomb really be empty? Maybe we are holding on to the fears of
having to do Christ’s work in the world? When we hold on to things that get in the way of this realization—we
miss something so profound about the resurrection. We focus too much on what is to come and miss
the chance to do what Christ has asked us to do—which is to pick up the cross
and follow in his example.
would ask you to think of the resurrection not as an event yet to come, think
of it as event that happens every day. The moment that you said yes, you become
bearers of the Gospel message. When we
believe in the power of the Gospel Message and go out into the world and
proclaim it, the old self dies and a new self rises up.
rises out of that our own “death” is that we become part of a community. This community, this collective witness is
meant to be the sign of God’s left behind. We become not a people of empire, but Jesus’ people. We say Yes to becoming part of the Jesus
movement and seeing the way the world would be/might be/could be and thus
functions to resist, and envision alternatives to the way the world too often
was and is”. (157)
miracle in the text my friends, is that God is with us! God says Yes to what we are doing! We see
that Yes in the fact that God raised Jesus from death and transformed him into
something different—something profoundly spectacular. God confirms that Jesus’ sacrifice—that the rebellion
against the empire and against a human constructed system of punishment is
worth it! That no sacrifice is in
vain—no matter how difficult it is and what it may cost us. God is on our side.
see this grace when we come together as a community to finish what Jesus
started on earth. When we help those
around us who are in need, who are suffering from being downtrodden. When small groups come together to fight
against systems of tyranny and oppression and change the world—God’s grace is
with us. God is with us always.
think that if I could encounter that priest again, I would respond back to him
with a yes—my tomb is most definitely empty. Through the resurrection I have
become transformed to do pick up where Christ started. The moment I said Yes to the Gospel message I
became a different person. Like Mary, I have hung on to things that have kept
me from being resurrected—but like her, I have a prophetic voice that cannot be
silenced. When I started let go of all
of the things that I held on to that stopped me from seeing, I saw
clearly. And I think I’d have to ask him
if his tomb is empty? And is he out
there doing Christ’s work in the world?
you leave this place, I ask you to ponder what it is that you are holding on to
that keeps you from being resurrected? What stops you from going further on a journey that will no doubt be
filled with hardships and pain? But I’d
also leave you with these words of encouragement: Take comfort that you are in a community that
is yearning to see God’s kin dom realized, and who is proclaiming the
resurrection at the top of our lungs. And while this journey will be difficult, while we will face hardships
at every turn; we have the comfort because we know Love of God.
that we live in a
world transformed by one man standing up and saying “Yes” to God “Yes”. We find strength in all of those who have come before us, who have
fought the good fight, who stood up and changed the world.
We have courage because of the Sacrifice of
Jesus our Brother made for us, and we have the strength of the Holy Spirit,
which will be with us from now until the end.
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