Jesus Christ is Risen! Thanks be to God! This is our proclamation on Easter morning, that the tomb is empty and God’s promises have been revealed in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. But what is the call of the resurrection on our own lives? How does this impact our day to day living?
This is what we must explore as we live as Easter people.
Text: John 20: 1-18
He is Risen
Then they returned to their homes. This sentence in our passage this morning caught my attention and stuck with me. On a day when we celebrate and proclaim that Christ is risen, why did the disciples go home?
It is a strange series of events that takes place in our gospel account this morning.
Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. She leaves to find Simon Peter and the other beloved disciple.
Those two disciples engage in a foot race. The beloved disciple wins, arriving at the tomb first but does not go in.
Peter goes in and then the beloved disciple goes in.
Then they returned to their homes.
Somewhere along the way Mary returns and remains outside the tomb. She meets the risen Christ and is commanded to leave the tomb behind.
There is a lot of back and forth, coming and going. It seems that the scene is never static. There appears to be a lot of confusion in the opening verses that Margaret read for us this morning. The disciples leaving and returning to their homes adds to the confusion. What are they to do? Jesus has died and now his tomb is empty. The feeling of unease that the disciples experienced at that moment must have been deeply upsetting. No wonder they went home.
The writer of the passage does not tell us what they believed after seeing. Is it at this moment that they finally understood that Jesus must rise from the dead? Had their fear that the body had been stolen been replaced with a profound belief that Jesus had risen from the grace. Just what did those two disciples think had happened?
NT Wright calls the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, “the long Sabbath, the rest in the cold tomb.” He writes, “And now, still in the darkness, the first day of the week. The new week. The new creation. The eight day.” Perhaps this is how we should think about the beginning of our passage. The empty tomb represents a new beginning, a new creation. Easter is the start of God’s new week.
At the beginning of that new week the disciples returned home, leaving Mary alone beside the tomb.
Now before we go any further we need to clear the air, I want to ensure we are all on the same page when it comes to Mary. Over the centuries Mary seems to have gained a bad reputation. She is often referred to as having been a prostitute. However, there is not one iota of genuine evidence in all of scripture to suggest that Mary should have such a reputation. She is a follower of Jesus, she is mentioned fourteen times in the gospels and she is the first person who the risen Lord reveals himself to.
As the Irish poet Eaton Stannard Barrett reminds us:
Not she with traitorous kiss her Master stung,
Not she denied Him with unfaithful tongue;
She, when Apostles fled, could dangers brave,
Last at the Cross, and earliest at the grave.
There Mary stands weeping and upon looking once again into the tomb sees two angels who ask her “Why are you weeping?” After a brief exchange, she turns and sees a man she does not recognize. Supposing him to be a gardener she asks if he has carried the body away. It is only when Jesus calls Mary by her name that her eyes are open and she realizes that yes, Jesus is alive. Jesus calls her by name, just as he calls each of us by name. And by calling us by name we are invited into a relationship, a friendship with Jesus.
Mary wants to hold on to Jesus. And Jesus says, “Do not hold onto me.” Is Mary wanting to hold on to the way things were? Is a sense of nostalgia coursing through her as she sees Jesus standing before her? But the words of Jesus inform us that the new relationship isn’t going to be like the old one.
Something has changed. Yes, Jesus is risen from the dead, as if that was not enough. But did you pay attention to how Jesus refers to the disciples? “Up until this point Jesus has spoken about God as ‘the father’, or ‘the father who sent me’, or ‘my father.’ He has called his followers disciples, servants and friends. Now all that has changed. Feel the force of verse 17: Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my father and your father, to my God and your God.” (NT Wright, John for Everyone Part 2). Something has changed, the relationship has deepened.
We are more than disciples; we are more than followers of Jesus. We do more than follow in the way of Jesus, we are more than just Christians. We are brothers and sisters of the risen Christ and God our Father has done all of this for us and for all of creation.
Ask anyone what the biggest celebration in the church year is and they will tell you Christmas. Ask them what the most important celebration is and they still might tell you Christmas. The reality is that Easter is the moment we need to celebrate. Easter is when we should be holding feasts and parties and giving presents. Easter is what defines us. We are an Easter people, that means we live in the time of the resurrection. The time of the new creation, we awoke this morning on the eight day of God’s good creation.
If you stop to think about what that means you’ll realize that it is radical, revolutionary, life altering and more than a little scary. Just think about who Jesus is. The son of God, yes absolutely. But while he lived with us on Earth, who was he?
Author Brian McLaren puts this spin on Easter, “The scandal of Easter is not that a dead man was raised. It was who the raised man was. Someone rejected, mocked, condemned, and executed by both the political and religious establishments was raised. A convicted outlaw, troublemaker, and rabble rouser was raised. A condemned blasphemer and lawbreaker was raised. A nonviolent nonconformist who included the outcasts and therefore became an outcast—was raised.
“What if Easter became an annual affirmation of our ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, from fear to faith, from hostility to love, from a culture of consumption to a culture of stewardship and generosity … from death to life. What if our celebration of Easter was so radical in its meaning that it tempted tyrants and dictators everywhere to make it illegal because it represents the ultimate scandal: an annual call for creative and peaceful insurrection against all status quos based on fear, hostility, exclusion and violence.” – Brian McLaren, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, page 175.
What is the message of the cross? That humanity and creation are redeemed through Jesus Christ? Yes, but what are the implications for us today. Do we simply commemorate this event and then move on with our lives? Easter is about more than a get-into-heaven-free-card (Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher).
What did Jesus stand for in life?
What did Jesus stand for in death?
What did Jesus stand for in life?
What do you stand for in life?
What do you stand for in death?
What do you stand for in life?
Yesterday, I read a surprising article in the National Post. The title of the article is From the time of Christ until the present day, real news matters because truth matters. The clear indication of the title is the importance of good reporting in our day and age. Yet, words at the end of the article struck me.
We read, “The Christian conviction is that we are indeed damned if history is just one thing after another. Our hope lies in the reality of something new — not outside of history, but within it — introducing a new possibility. That novelty is the empty tomb of the resurrection … There’s an old expression that nothing is more useless than yesterday’s newspaper. That’s not quite right. Truth endures. Which is why Christians keep watch by the tomb this Saturday, and await to find it empty at first light on Sunday.” (http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/national-post-view-from-the-time-of-christ-until-the-present-day-real-news-matters-because-truth-matters)
Friends, brothers, sisters, I encourage you to be the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.
Today, like the disciples, we will return to our homes. Return home with the promise of the resurrection on your lips. The promise of new life. The promise that what we see around us, is not how it is supposed to be. That the violence, greed, fear, jealousy of this world is not the good creation that God intended.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can change that. We can return home changed to start the work of the eight day, the work of the new week, the work of the new creation, the work of God’s kingdom. Amen.