Reason to Rise

Sermon preached for Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for Resurrection of the Lord Sunday.

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.

***

What gets you up in the morning?

It’s such a simple question. Why do you throw back the covers, turn on the light, put your feet on the floor, and start the new day? Why do you rise?

I know that some of us are morning people who bound out of bed as soon as they’re awake. And others of us… very much are not. But eventually, whether graciously or grouchily, each of us gets ourselves moving. 

I googled the phrase “why I wake up in the morning” this week. What I found were lots and lots of articles with tips on how to wake up more easily or earlier—but not much about why.

Why do we get out of our safe, warm beds in our nice dark, quiet rooms to go out into this messy, chaotic, fast-paced, contentious, needy world?

Since Google failed me, I asked some of you on Facebook this week, why you get up in the morning. Most of the answers, unsurprisingly, were fairly practical. I get up because I have to go to the bathroom. I get up because my pets won’t leave me alone. I get up because my five year old is staaaaaaarving. I get up because it’s the only quiet time I get with my spouse. I get up because I have to go to work. 

Some folks spoke about the beauty of the morning. Personally, I don’t get it, but I love that you morning people are out there. Friends shared about the simple pleasures the morning brings, whether it’s a hot mug of tea or coffee, devotional and prayer time, or the quiet, orderly beginning to a day that always turns loud and chaotic eventually. 

Finally, a few people responded with deeper answers. “I get up out of gratitude that I have another day to spend with my family.” “To make someone smile.” “I get up because, despite my chronic illness and pain, I still can.” “I wake up because of the quiet proximity of God.”

And a member of our own congregation wrote, “I choose to keep getting up every day because I want to figure out my place in the world. I want to find a way to make it a little bit better for the people I love and like and even the ones who I don’t like at all. I just hope that there is something that I can do everyday that lets me be a blessing to someone else.”

I loved that line: “I want to figure out my place in the world.” How many of us are trying to do the same?

I learned a new-to-me word this week, in all my googling about why we rise: ikagai. Ikagai is a Japanese word, from the people of Okinawa, combining two words that mean “live” and “reason.” It’s often translated as a “reason for being,” or “purpose,” or “the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning.” 

Ikagai lies at the center of life—at the nexus of what you love to do, what your gifts are, and what the world needs. It breaks down the barriers between work, hobbies, passions, family life, even faith—ikagai cuts through all those divisions and points to the heart of what fuels you, why you do all the things you do. 

A person’s ikagai doesn’t have to be fancy. It can simply be to love their family, or to create joy, or to build safe homes. It can be to make the best loaf of bread or the safest minivan. It can be to tell important stories or heal people’s hurts. It’s why you get out of bed in the morning, plain and simple. 

Some of you may know the word already—it had its day in the sun maybe five years ago, especially in entrepreneurial circles. There were books and TED talks. But I hope you weren’t oversaturated with it, because I think it speaks deeply to the Easter story. 

Here’s a question I’ve never asked: What was Jesus’ ikagai? Why did he get up?

It has never occurred to me before this year to wonder why Jesus woke up from the dead, and came out of the tomb. It had always seemed so obvious, before. Being alive is better than being dead. Being in the world is better than being gone from it. 

But then this year, these past fourteen months of pandemic happened, and it seemed like the world was one long series of dumpster fires and dangers, and even leaving the house required the protective armor of masks and sanitizer. And in my darkest hours, when I certainly had no desire to leave the safety of my bed and go out into this pain-filled world, I wondered: why did Jesus rise? Why would he possibly want to come back here, after we’d tried to kick him out in the most excruciating way possible?

I have to think Jesus could have gone back to his Father, to heaven, and stayed there. Jesus could have fully escaped the cruelty and the contention and chaos of the world that condemned him to the cross. So why come back? Why did Jesus get up that first Easter morning?

What compelled him to throw back the graveclothes, put his feet on the floor, and come blinking out into our world—a world that was still full of people who would kill and condemn him? It was no safer for him here on Easter Sunday than it was on Good Friday. Yet, he rose. 

The answer, I think, is that Jesus’ purpose, his ikagai, is to love this world. To love it in all its messy, hurting, violent, frightened, longing vulnerability. To love us, so ferociously and fully that we cannot help but love him too. And for us humans to feel loved, we tend to need presence. We’ve certainly learned that, in this year of isolation and separation. We need to be together. So Jesus came, one last time. Jesus rose up and walked this broken earth, to love us just a little more.

Jesus got up out of that tomb so that he could prove to Mary Magadalene, to his disciples, to all of us, the strength of his love, and what it can do. Love that would forgive their fumblings and falterings. Love that would wipe away our sins and shortcomings. Love that not even death could put a stop to. 

Jesus came to earth, the word made flesh, so that we would be able to see and understand the full depth and breadth and power of God’s love for us. And, I think, so that we could take even a drop of that love, and show it to each other.

You can see it, in the way the disciples race towards the empty tomb the minute Mary Magdalene delivers the news that it is empty. You can see the love that Jesus instilled in them, now reflected back to him: hoping against hope that somehow their beloved friend is back. He loved them, and now they have learned to rise up with love.

You can see it, in the way that Mary Magdalene hangs around in that garden, unwilling to abandon her Lord even if he is dead. He loved her, and now she has learned to rise up with love, the hard, faithful, tender love of the grieving.

Easter is a love story. Jesus’ all encompassing, all-glorious love, planting seeds of love in each and every one of us. 

Several of the people who told me that they get up for practical reasons each morning seemed a little embarrassed they had nothing more profound to say. But I think I see it differently. I see profound love in their daily faithfulness.

Even those humdrum, practical reasons for waking up were rooted in love. Love so everyday that we might not even notice it. Love that refills the cat’s food bowl, love that pours bowls of cereal and mugs of coffee, love that propels us through a nine-to-five job so our family has a enough to live on. 

At our best, most of us get up in the morning for love. Love of family, love of our work, love of our world, love of joy, love of new opportunities. At the root, we are here to love, because Christ loved us from the first. 

Where does what you love intersect with someone or something that needs love? There you will find your ikagai. There you will find your slice of divine mission. There you will find your reason to rise.

This Lent, we’ve been pondering what we might need to give up, to fully embrace Christ’s abundant, resurrection life. And so I ask you now: what do you need to give up, in order to get up? What do you need to stop chasing, in order to find your purpose? What do you need to let die, in order that you may truly, truly live?

Can you give up thinking that what you do doesn’t matter?

Can you give up thinking that God doesn’t have a path for you?

Can you give up thinking that you’re too small to make a difference?

Can you give up thinking that life won’t get better?

Can you give up thinking that we won’t miss you if you were gone?

Can you give up thinking that love can’t still work miracles?

One brave, beautiful soul on my Facebook was courageous enough to admit they weren’t sure why they get up. That it seems meaningless. That it’s getting harder to put their feet on the floor. 

And I get it. I’ve felt that. I’ll probably feel it again. Every morning can’t be Easter morning. 

But my prayer for them, for me, for you, for the whole world, is that now and again, you do have those Easter mornings. Enough to keep you rising each day.

I pray you have days when your ikagai, your purpose, your reason for getting out of bed is so clear; when Christ’s love fills you so full to bursting that you have to share it or explode; when the future seems bright, and all things seem possible; when even the practical work of love is drenched in sunlit holiness; when you, like Mary Magdalene, can announce with joy that you have seen the Lord.

But if all that seems out of reach, today, if that all seems too fairytale, then here is my prayer for you: may you will know, deep in your bones, deep down to the roots of your very soul, that Christ has died and risen for you, and that he will stay right by your side in the quiet dark of your tomb, until you find your reason to rise. 

Amen. 

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