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Meg Peery McLaughlin
April 4, 2021
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. 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 towards 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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

This week, while it was still dark, I was awake,
I was looking for something, some Tylenol.
I wasn’t keen on being awake in the moments where the lack of birdsong was eerie, but could explain why I was up: vaccine side effects (of which I will not complain).

This year being up while it is still dark,
has been a common occurrence.
Insomnia has increased in this pandemic.[1]

The docs tell us that for some it’s the broken routine and lack of stimulation,
for parents of young ones, it’s the only time to get work done,
for some it’s too much wine, others too many screens,
for all of us, it’s too much anxiety, too much grief.

John’s telling of this day
begins with Mary also finding sleep elusive.
While it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb.
While it was still dark, she was awake, restless,
Mary was looking for something.
But there was no pain reliever for this.

She went to the tomb. But the stone was rolled away.
It was Easter.
She didn’t know yet. She wouldn’t until Jesus would say her name.

While it was still dark, she was looking for someone who had died.
She was seeking a second look— at everything that was lost and gone forever.
So when the Risen Christ was standing in front of her, she could not see him.

I know a number of you in this congregation are science nerds,
which I love about you,
so perhaps you’ve read the book by a father/daughter duo, Jack and Sara Gorman, one a public-health specialist, and one a psychiatrist,
it’s called Why we Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us[1].

The Gormans tackle confirmation bias.
They study persistent beliefs in our culture
which are not just demonstrably false,
but also potentially deadly, such as the conviction that vaccines are hazardous.
Now mind you this book came out in 2017,
before the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson shots we’re all in line for.

The Gormans note that “immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,”
But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, anti-vaxxers remain unmoved.

What’s going on with that? Why can’t we see the truth that can save us?

The Gormans cite research which show that people experience genuine pleasure
—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their
already-held beliefs.  Providing people with accurate information
doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it.
“It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong.”

Now mind you this isn’t just about anti-vaxxers; it’s about all of us.
We human beings are used to seeing what we are already looking for.
We are people who take pleasure in our own opinions, even if they are dead wrong.

Mary had an opinion that awful morning:
that hope was in vain,
dreams for this world were pointless,
faith was too risky and not worth the effort.
She thought, she felt, she believed: Jesus was dead.
So when he’s standing right front of her, she could not see him.

A man she thinks is the gardener,
just a day laborer,
asks her what she’s looking for.

She’s looking for a body.
Tell me where he is and I’ll take him away, she replies.
(As if she could carry 175 pounds of dead weight.)
But Mary is really looking for confirmation of her disappointment.

I would say Mary is looking for the wrong thing.
But the truth is, there is no right or wrong in grief like that.
There is no room for judgment when the world you know has been dismantled.

While it is still dark, Mary is doing her best.

But Mary is only looking for that which her heart can imagine.
She could never have imagined Easter.

One of my best friends is Devin. His stepdad is John. John is a typical Asheville type with a greying beard. He builds furniture, drinks craft beer, practices yoga.
One day John was on a flight from LA to Atlanta, in coach, and being a talkative southern type, he was chatting up his seatmate for a great length of the flight.

The way Devin puts it, he and his seatmate were “talking about social justice and using your life for good and stuff.”

The new friend excused himself, and as soon as he was tucked into that world’s-smallest-bathroom at the back of the plane, everyone around John started to ask him, “Dude, do you know who you are talking to?”

Spoiler alert: he had no idea who he was talking to.

John said “I haven’t caught his name, Why??”
“Well because you’re talking to Bono like he’s your bestie.”
John’s blank expression indicated that name meant nothing to him
“Bono, as in lead singer for U2, the guy’s net worth is like 600 million,
oh wait…act cool, he’s coming back.”

Think about that for a moment…not meeting Bono, which would be pretty cool of course…but imagine someone saying…
“act cool, Jesus is alive, he’s right there.”

How might your conversation go?

This Spring here in worship and in our small groups,
we’ve been considering the questions Jesus asked, like:
Do you want to be made well?
Who of you by worrying will add a single hour to your life?
We’ve been leading up to this one;
when Jesus asks Mary: Who Are You Looking For?

How would you answer that?
It’s an interesting question and the answer is not as obvious as it seems.

Perhaps, like Mary, we are looking for someone of the past.
A historical figure. Someone we could autopsy, figure out.

Perhaps we are looking for a really good teacher?
Someone to show us what is the right way? the good moral choice?

Or an escape? A sure fire way to have life after all this.
A guarantee of comfort and glad reunion. Someone to make us feel,
a bit more at ease, if we can just hold on.

If the Gormans, in that book, if they nailed it,
and this confirmation bias thing holds up,
then, friends, we’re likely to find the Jesus we’re looking for.

Because—dopamine—we are used to seeing what we are already looking for.

The surprise of Easter, though, is
that the risen Christ crashes our expectations.
Perhaps he’s the only one who can.

The Jesus who meets Mary is that garden is not the Jesus she was looking for.
This Jesus is alive. Having defeated the very power of death.
This Jesus is calling her by name.
Always claiming us in love, knowing every hair on our head.
This Jesus is saying she can’t hold on to him,
because he’s more mysterious than our arms can hold.

The scandal of Easter is that Mary doesn’t leave that garden
with a picture of what she already thought,
she doesn’t have her opinions affirmed,
she leaves:
stunned, yes,
weeping, yes,
freaked out, probably
all the while saying I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.

I have seen new life, a fresh start, a clean slate.
I have seen hope, a way forward.
I have seen courage against all odds.
I have seen love, love that knows me, love that knows no limits, love that defies death.
I have seen the Lord.

Friends, resurrection changes how we see.
Resurrection changes how we see the world.
If I understand the text, that is the miracle of Easter.

While it was still dark this week,
my body was seeing something altogether new:
a protein that the moderna vaccine had instructed my cells to produce,
and thus my T and B lymphocytes were starting to form.

I was up before the birds started singing
because my body was not used to it, didn’t like it.

But you know what,
life was fighting through.
And that’s just the essence of Easter:
New life,
crashing through all our defenses.
defying all our preconceived notions.
More powerful than any dopamine rush, faithful to the end.

So watch out

He is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!




Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor


Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111


Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.