THE WORD    John 20:1-18       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 toward 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus 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.” 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.

MESSAGE     “Supposing”     Rev. Jim Renfrew

      What do you suppose happened that Easter morning long ago?  There is a lot of supposing in the Easter story, all of the main characters supposing that they knew what would happen next after the Cross. But when we reach Easter morning the story takes all of those suppositions and tosses them out the window!  What people thought could, would or should happen, had very little to do with what did happen. 

     I looked up the meaning of the word “suppose”.  To suppose is to “assume that something is the case on the basis of evidence or probability but without certain proof or knowledge”.  Suppose, assume, presume, intend, expect.  To suppose is always speculative and tentative, but those people long ago are a lot like us today, we, too, are quick to jump from supposition to fact. 

     It’s only April, but in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, on Saturday, one of the sportswriters confidently shared his supposition that the Buffalo Bills will finish the season next December with a record of 9 and 7 and most likely squeak into the playoffs.  He even predicted exactly which games the Bills would win and lose next season. I don’t care if you love the Bills or hate them, but it’s a fairly fantastic supposition to share in the pages of the newspaper at this early date.  College players haven’t even been drafted yet, and there have been no practices.  In spite of the writer’s suppositions, the Bills have to actually play sixteen games. What a writer supposes in April doesn’t guarantee anything.  In fact, I will go way out on a limb and share my view that the supposed record of nine and seven is the least likely outcome, if anything they’ll win more or less than that.  But even that is just more supposing, I suppose.    

      So here’s what was supposed to happen.  James and John could hardly wait for Jesus to give them the best seats next to his heavenly throne.  They were assuming that Jesus would make it happen when the time was right.  And they supposed that they would be the ones chosen. But by the end of the day we find James and John hiding behind locked doors wondering what had gone so terribly wrong. 

      So here’s what was supposed to happen.  Peter assumed that he was the most faithful and most important of the disciples and that he would be first in line to share in Jesus’ glory.  How did that turn out?  Before they even get to the Cross, Peter was completely crushed to discover that his betrayal was even worse than Judas’ betrayal. 

     So here’s what was supposed to happen. At the service we had on Maundy Thursday, Judas, laments his betrayal, “it wasn’t supposed to happen this way”.  More than a few have speculated that Judas’ betrayal, was not simply out of greed for thirty pieces of silver, but because he was trying to provoke Jesus to take action. Jesus was supposed to be the mighty warrior who would drive the Romans out of Israel.  When Jesus died, everything that Judas supposed turned out to be wrong.  Jesus was not supposed to die. 

   So here’s what was supposed to happen after Cross.  Pontius Pilate, and the high priests of the temple supposed that the Cross would put an end to Jesus and everything that he ever said or taught.  When he dies his followers will scatter in fear and we’ll never hear from them again.  That’s what was supposed to have happened, and if their suppositions were correct we would not be here this morning, this church wouldn’t be here, we would know nothing about Jesus.  His name and cause would have disappeared a long time ago. Yet here we are, their suppositions were completely wrong!

     So here’s what was supposed to happen after the Cross.  Even the most faithful of Jesus’ followers thought that their only recourse was to give Jesus a proper burial.  Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, offered up his tomb for them to use, supposing that this was the only thing left to do.  And the women arrived early in the morning with spices to anoint Jesus’ body.  And they were serious about this – one of the accounts describes how they brought one hundred pounds of spices and herbs.  One hundred pounds!  We could put all of the spices and herbs from our pantry in a bag and it might weigh a half a pound at most, so just imagine 100 pounds of the stuff.  The women weren’t hoping Jesus might be alive, they supposed that he was dead and gone, and the only thing left for them was to give Jesus a dignified burial.  The fact that the tomb was empty meant that their suppositions were wrong.   

     And now we reach our reading from John’s Gospel, a scene from the garden.  Mary is outside of the tomb weeping, because she has discovered that the tomb is empty.  And she immediately supposes that the body of Jesus has been stolen, a final, crushing indignity.  While she weeps, a stranger approaches her.  We, of course, know that the stranger was Jesus.  But Mary is still supposing things, just like all of the rest of the characters in the story.  At this moment she supposes that the stranger is the gardener. And why not suppose this?  Who else would be there so early in the morning?

      Of all the four Gospel stories about Easter I have always found John’s version to be the most striking.  At the key moment Jesus says “Mary”, and with that one word, all of the suppositions melt away, and the characters in the story have entered a new world, that is no longer hindering by supposition, but by an unforgettable experience of the holy transforming and transcending everything that they had previously known.

      This is, of course, the moment in the story when the resurrection escapes its historical context, and connects directly with each one of us at the present moment. Their suppositions lost all of their power in that moment of resurrection, in the garden, in the locked room, on the road to Emmaus, on the mountaintop in Galilee, and on the shores of the sea.  Everything they thought they know was upended.

      But the story has a timeless quality that affects us this very day.  We, too, suppose many things about Jesus.  We think that we know all that there is to know about him, but there is so much more to discover.  This is the best part of being a Christian, Jesus keeps surprising us.  We think we know everything about him, but he knows so much more about us, and he keeps finding new ways to reach out and get our attention.  The empty tomb erases our suppositions and opens our eyes to a new world, a new world no longer defeated by violence and war, no longer overwhelmed by sickness or poverty, no longer crushed by injustice and greed.  These things that defeat us gain their power and momentum mostly because we suppose that they are inherent in the human condition, but the empty tomb shatters our suppositions. 

      Our Cross covered with flowers represents the scattering of our old suppositions and the new Spirit that is growing in our hearts, in our church and in our community. 

     The Apostles Creed, is a traditional expression of the truth and power of Easter, but please consider that everything about it shatters the suppositions of the world.  Don’t fear this on Easter. Welcome it!