Come Creator God, to fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. By the light of your holy spirit instruct us and guide us in your wisdom, so that we may be about the work of justice, of peace, and of love. Amen.
As far as church internships go, I’ve had a pretty unique one. For those of you who don’t know me, or don’t know me well, for the past two years I have had the immense pleasure of serving as the intern of an emerging church in Vienna, Virginia called Church of the Common Table. Our little community of about 30 regulars gathers at least once a week to worship in a coffee shop and music venue called Jammin Java. And contrary to what you might be picturing, the church does not primarily consist of V-neck wearing-twenty-something hipsters. In fact, most of Common Table is over 30, married with children, and decidedly against revealing chest hair.
We are a congregation of teachers, writers, bureaucrats, gamers, Episcopalians, Agnostics, atheists, disenchanted Evangelicals, cranky Methodists, and Kevin — who really defies categorization.
At our gatherings I am often reminded of Lutheran Pastor Nadia-Bolz Weber, who upon realizing her congregation consisted of everyone from transgender runaways to suburban soccer moms, thought to herself: “I am unclear what all these people have in common.” For us, what we have in common is as simple and profound as a table.
It’s hard to believe, but this Sunday will be my second to last week as the intern. And while I am sad it’s ending, I’m excited that I still have a chance to attend our monthly Barn Raising — I should probably explain: Once a month we forgo our regular worship service at Jammin Java, to gather at the home of someone from the community, who has asked for help with a specific project.
The term “Barn Raising” comes from the 19th century practice of a community coming together to build a barn for one of its members — think the Amish, or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, depending on your knowledge of playfully sexist musicals…
Past projects have involved laying mulch, painting, pulling weeds, assembling Ikea furniture, and raking leaves. Of course, there are times when the tasks have gotten a little more intense. For instance, when we dug up a chain link fence held in the ground by giant blocks of cement. Or, the time it took four of us to cut a fossilized dog crate out of a giant bush that had swallowed it whole. On the very first day of my internship, I drove 45 minutes into Virginia to help a family I’d never met install wood laminate flooring.
Now I love these gatherings, but I confess to you that I haven’t always felt that way. Because, basically, these events are pretty chaotic — especially when our work is outside; clearing yards full of trash, hacking away at overgrown bushes, mining the dirt for glass and rusty nails before the one of the kids inevitably pick them with their bare hands. It can be a hot, sweaty, chaotic mess. And while I thought about writing an Earth Day sermon on something like “the revelation of God in nature,” lately I’ve been thinking a whole lot more about the role of chaos in creation.
In the first creation story of Genesis, the writer tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep. The Hebrew word for this pre-existent dark matter is the word tehom, and because of its connection to the Babylonian creation epic, where the world is formed out a sea of primordial chaos, there is growing support that the biblical authors understood Yahweh’s creation of the world in much the same way. And, if you ask our Hebrew Bible professor, Denise Hopkins, she would say there are still pockets of chaos wreaking havoc in creation, a darkness that persists in spite of our best efforts to dispel it.
In the Christian tradition, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a woman acquainted with darkness. We know from Luke 18 that seven demons were driven out of her, which Mark attributes to Jesus’ healing ministry. In John’s gospel, the first mention of Mary Magdalene is at the cross and in our passage tonight the text says she goes to the tomb while it is still dark.
John sets the scene this way: its three days after the crucifixion, Jesus, whose followers believed was the messiah, is dead, murdered by the Roman Empire. The disciples are hiding out in someone’s home, mourning, afraid they might be next. But Mary, apparently by herself, goes to the tomb. And I’ve always wondered: why Mary? Why is she —and not one the disciples— the one who shows up? t can’t be that she has more faith. The text says when she discovers the empty tomb she freaks out and runs to get help. And it can’t be that she has a better grasp of the scriptures, because even if she did, the crucifixion was an unprecedented event. No one could have seen this coming. Which I think is good profoundly good news for us, because if resurrection depended on our ability to figure it all out, or muster up an unbreakable faith, its likely Jesus would be in that tomb a long time.
In one of the icon’s we’ve set up on this side table, taken from a 14th century Psalter, there is a picture of Mary Magdalene telling the disciples what she’s seen. It’s a great picture, because almost all of them are pointing at scrolls, looking confused, while Mary has her finger up as if to say: shut up and listen!
All I can work out is that Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, because when she was broken, Jesus showed up and loved her back to life. Mary doesn’t anticipate the resurrection; she just wants to be near him; to pay her respect for the extravagant grace and friendship that shown to her. Love draws her to the tomb. Which means even when she thinks he is dead in grave; there is still something about love that transcends death. Mary is the patron saint of just showing up.
I actually Googled this to see if she is already the patron saint of anything, and I’m not kidding, apparently Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of: sinners, converts, hairstylists, perfumeries and perfumers, pharmacists, and women — which would make for an interesting resume…But I digress... Mary doesn’t spilt when the you-know-what hits the fan. She shows up.
You’ll notice in another icon she’s not standing next to the tomb, she’s standing in it. And I can't help but think that — in its purest form — this is what ministry looks like: showing up for our people in their darkest hour, when the light has been gone for weeks, or even years.
Helping each other see the dark for what it is. Announcing that there is a love that goes before us, a God who makes a way when there is no way, and that the light of Christ cannot, and will not, and shall not be overcome!
The first time Mary sees the resurrected Jesus she mistakes him for the gardener — a subtle reference to creation stories of Genesis, where God tends to the Garden of Eden. The text also notes that Mary discovers the empty tomb on the first day of the week, a clue that this is the first day of a new creation.
When Mary finally recognizes Jesus, he asks her to witness to the resurrection. To announce that a whole new world is bursting forth, right here in the midst of this one. That the cosmos are being healed and every thing restored and renewed to the place we know it is meant to be. So we show up:
To pull weeds.
To plant bulbs in Jenny’s garden.
To catch up with each other and test run Stav’s new grill.
To help Sarah and Chris clear the leaves out of their neighbors yard, on the anniversary of his wife’s death.
Each month it’s something different, but we always start with communion.
A few years ago, one of our members wrote a liturgy just for these occasions: A Liturgy for the Metaphorical Raising of Barns. In it he describes the paradox of creation: that our world is both beautiful and broken, that the church is a messy place but it is — if nowhere else— a place where we experience connection, acceptance, and love, and that the work of showing up is a backbreaking enterprise. It is not for the faint of heart. But there is no other way. We are compelled to respond to the love we have been shown. And as we show up for one another, we are gradually loved back to life. Made new again, and again, and again, and again: Our hearts slowly shaped in such a way that we become witnesses to a new creation, made visible as we gather around a common table.
Emptier of tombs, we stand in awe of your resurrection. Of the way you pull us of out the graves we dig for ourselves and turn chaos into raw material of a new creation. Be with us now, as you were with Mary in the garden, restoring us to the wholeness that has been ours from the very beginning. May we be filled with your light, so that as we feel our way through this suffering world, sparks of praise will splinter in the dark like hope.
 Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Tattoos, Tradition, and Grace” OnBeing, Interview with Krista Tippett, retried from: http://www.onbeing.org/program/nadia-bolz-weber-seeing-the-underside-and-seeing-god-tattoos-tradition-and-grace/5896
 Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sermon about Mary Magdalene, the masacre in our town, and defiant alleluias