Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection - Jn 20:1-18

                                                                                                Jn 20:1-18

            I have to admit that I was a little slow on this one.  I kept seeing cars that had an oval sticker with the number “13.1”.  Since we do live in southern Illinois, I initially thought it must be some kind of Christian sticker.  There was no reference to a specific book of the Bible, but I wondered, “Is there some verse in the Bible that is chapter thirteen verse one that should be so obvious you don’t even need to provide the book?”  For the life of me, I couldn’t think of one, and it made me a little nervous because maybe I – a pastor – was failing in Bible 101.
            Eventually it did dawn on me that 13.1 is half of 26.2, the distance for a marathon.  These stickers are declarations by people that they run half marathons.  Running is tremendously popular these days, and in particular many people focus on running marathons and half marathons.  There are numerous organized events of this kind and people travel some distance to take part.  People train hard, doing a lot of mileage to be ready.  It’s a big undertaking, and so people are excited to have completed a race and they like to share pictures on social media.  In fact, I have seen the joke that if a person runs in an event and doesn’t post a picture … did it really happen?
            Apart from a handful of individuals who took part in athletic contests like the Olympics in Athens and the Isthmian games in Corinth, nobody in the first century world ran.  Daily life itself provided all the physical exercise a person could want.  The majority of people worked in what involved physical, manual labor.  When people went somewhere, it invariably meant walking.  They weren’t looking to exercise in their free time.  When they weren’t working, they wanted to rest.
            And so one of the striking things about our Gospel lesson for Easter is that people are running everywhere.  First, when Mary Magdalene finds that the stone had been removed from Jesus’ tomb, she runs to Peter and the disciple whom we assume to be John the Gospel writer. Then Peter and John run to the tomb.  In fact they don’t just run, but John describes it as a kind of race.  First we are told, “So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.” Then we hear, “Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”  Then finally we learn, “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.”
            This running in our text should convey to us that the first Easter was a time of surprise, shock, and anxiety.  The disciples were not expecting it. They struggled to understand what had happened.  But when they did it changed everything for them. For all who believe in Jesus Christ, it still does.
            John’s Gospel gives us a sense that the burial of Jesus was a rushed affair.  The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies of Jesus and the two criminals hanging on the cross during the Sabbath that began at sundown on Friday.  They asked Pilate to break the legs of the men to hasten death, so that they could then be taken down.  Jesus was, of course, already dead and so a soldier only pierced his side with a spear to confirm this.
            Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus showed great courage and devotion to Jesus when they claimed Jesus’ body and prepared it for burial.  The time of day played a key role in choosing the location for burial and John tells us, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”
            The death of Jesus had been a shattering experience. Having entered Jerusalem to adulation at the beginning of the week, on Friday afternoon he was dead on a cross.  All of the hopes about Jesus were dashed.  How could this have happened? When others had left Jesus, the disciples had stayed because as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  They had seen his miracles – his signs – and they believed in Jesus. And they loved him – how could you not love someone who embodied what love was meant to be?
            The death had been shocking.  The burial had been rushed.  Now, after the Sabbath had passed it’s not surprising that some wanted to go to the tomb.  John tells us, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”  At the earliest possible opportunity, Mary made her way there.
            What she saw was heartbreaking.  The stone that sealed the tomb had been removed.  Mary knew of the hatred of Jesus’ opponents. She assumed that someone had committed one last indignity against Jesus by stealing his body.  So she ran and went to Peter and John and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
            The Gospels don’t pull any punches when they describe the events of Easter.  Despite all that Jesus had said and taught, the disciples were not expecting anything.  When Jesus cried out “It is finished” and died, they thought this summed up the situation.  Jesus was dead and all was finished – all of their hopes had come to nothing.
            Peter and John were shocked by the news – so much so that they ran to the tomb and John didn’t even wait up for Peter.  He left him in his dust.  John got to the tomb first and stooped to look in.  When Peter arrived, they both went into the tomb and saw that the clothes Jesus’ body had been wrapped in were lying there.  The cloth that covered Jesus face was also in the tomb.  However, it was folded up and set in a different place by itself.
            John tells us that when he went in and saw this, he believed.  He believed Jesus had risen from the dead.  But that doesn’t mean he understood all that it meant.  John adds, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
            It’s a recurring theme in John’s Gospel – that Jesus said and did things during his ministry that the disciples didn’t understand until after the resurrection.  We heard it last Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and John tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
            The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything for them.  They woke up on Sunday morning thinking that Jesus was dead and that all Jesus had said and done meant nothing.  They went to bed that night realizing that Jesus was alive and that in him God had worked salvation that fulfilled the promises of Scripture in remarkable ways they were just beginning to understand.
            Mary had followed the disciples back to the tomb. She stood weeping outside it, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They asked 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.”
            It was then Mary realized someone was behind her.  Jesus was standing there, but Mary didn’t recognize him. He too asked, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Mary assumed he was the gardener and said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
            The angels and the risen Lord ask Mary the same question: “Why are you weeping?”  They ask the question because Jesus has risen from the dead and so there is no reason to weep. God’s word addresses the same question to us: “Why are you weeping?”  It asks for the same reason: “Why are you worried?”
            Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  The One who was crucified for you lives.  This means that he has conquered sin, death and the devil.  It means that you have life – eternal life – now.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
            You believe in Jesus who died on the cross and now lives.  This means that you have passed from death to life.  The life of God’s love abides in you because of Jesus.  True you still live in a fallen world and so there are circumstances that seem to call for weeping and worry. But Jesus’ resurrection means that they only seem to. 
            You have received the life and love that come from God. When you stop and look at things through Jesus the risen Lord it becomes clear – he trumps the weeping and worry. They cannot compete with what he has given you; what he has made you to be.  Jesus lives, and so his love and care for you continues today, tomorrow and forever.
            Mary recognized this when Jesus spoke her name.  He said to her, “Mary,” and she turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” – Teacher!  At that moment Mary understood that there was no reason to weep.  Jesus was alive!  And he had a message for his disciples: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 
            Jesus accomplished what he had come to do.  He had come from the Father.  But because of our Lord’s death and resurrection, now God is our Father too.  According to his divine nature Jesus is God.  But according to his human nature Jesus could describe the Father as his God.  Yet because Jesus took on our human nature to die and rise again, we can now call the Father our God.
            The risen Lord Jesus spoke to Mary about his ascension.  And in this we are reminded that because of Jesus we not only have life now, but we have hope for the future.  Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Because Jesus has risen from the dead we know that occasions that cause us to weep and worry will end.  In fact, their end has already started in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And their end will reach its completion when the Lord returns in glory on the Last Day.
            On the first Easter, Mary and the disciples learned that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. This changed everything for them. For all who believe in Jesus Christ, it still does.  It does because we know Jesus words are true: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”


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