Easter Sunday 2008
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.
A few observations about our gospel this morning. First, it is very personal. Remember we looked at the raising of Lazarus a couple of weeks ago. Lazarus responded from the grave when Jesus called his name. Read this chapter and the chapter on Lazarus side by side and you’ll see a parallel. Here is Mary, confused and sad. When Jesus appears to her, she thinks he is the gardener or someone who has carried away Jesus’ body. There is no response from her until Jesus calls her name. One simple word. ‘Mary.’ And her life is forever changed.
Eugene Peterson writes, “The man asks her the same question as the angels, and she gives the same answer. Then he speaks her name: ‘Mary.’ She turns to face him, her tear-blurred eyes now clear. She sees Jesus, and she answers, ‘Rabboni.’” a term of great reverence and intimacy, as if to say, ‘my dear teacher.’
There is a difference between a faith that is cultural or a faith that is based on a few curious encounters with God once and awhile–and a real, living relationship with the living Christ. We can say ‘happy Easter’ and miss out on a life giving relationship with Jesus.
Secondly, the resurrection, and really the gospel itself is all about second chances. Not Jesus’ second chance, mind you, but ours. Jesus did the work of redemption. Jesus conquered death on our behalf. But he is also there with forgiveness and love on his heart. You remember that Peter denied Jesus three times while Jesus was in his darkest hour. Each of the four gospels mention Peter as one of the first of the disciples to believe. He wasn’t entirely convinced right away, of course, but he began to believe in the face of his own misery and guilt. But John records a unique conversation with the risen Lord and Peter’s full restoration.
Do you want a fresh start? Have you been wandering in every direction but towards Jesus? He is there to restore you, to renew you, and to give you the opportunity to turn the reigns back over to him. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day where all things are made new. Why not make this a new beginning by giving your heart and life to Christ. Sometimes his presence is unexpected. Sometimes he takes us places we may not understand. But in Christ is purpose, in Christ is life!
Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus is a challenge to everything. It is a challenge to our notion that politics, or science, or whatever is best in humanity as the answer to the problems of this world.. It is a challenge to our assumption that God does not intervene in this world. It is challenge to our moral life (or lack thereof). There are those who, in the name of sounding deep, try to say that whether Jesus was raised or not doesn’t really matter. Whether Jesus physically rose is irrelevant.
Marcus Borg has said, “I now see Easter very differently. For me it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant. My argument is not that we know the tomb was not empty or that nothing happened to his body, but simply that it doesn’t matter. The truth of Easter, as I see it, is not at stake in this issue.”
The writers of the gospels, the Christians of the last 2000 years, all of us who have shown up today take issue with Borg’s statement. The gospel writers are insistent in their narratives that Jesus rose in a flesh and blood resurrection . Jesus eats. You can touch him. He is physically real. He is no ghost or phantom or spirit in the sky. Yet he is so much more. The challenge of Easter is to believe in this Jesus who rose again. It is to see that if he is risen, everything changes. He is available for a real relationship.
C.H. Dodd said, “now that he is no longer visible to the bodily eye, faith remains the capacity for seeing his glory.” What is faith? It is a matter of relationship, a matter of ‘investing everything in the person of Jesus Christ.’ There is no place for neutrality when it comes to the person of Jesus. The resurrection invites, actually demands, a response.
What will your response be? In many ways, we are like the first disciple who peeked into the empty tomb. Tradition says this is John himself.
John simply looked in and believed. His faith was not naive, for he saw Jesus crucified. In fact he was the only disciple who did not flee the scene. As you remember, from the cross, Jesus handed over his mother Mary for John to care for.
But John simply peeked into the tomb and be believed, even before he saw Jesus personally. We were not there on Easter morning. We simply have the word of faithful believers throughout the ages who have proclaimed, ‘Christ is Risen!’
Our challenge is to have faith, not naive faith, but faith that recognizes the suffering of Christ and the suffering of the world, but a faith that will acknowledge that the resurrection changes everything. Jesus is not dead, he is with us always, raised by the power of God and the power of God alone. As Eugene Peterson says, ‘resurrection is not available for our use. It’s exclusively God’s operation.’
I hope this day is more than a cultural nicety or a chance to eat a nice lunch.
If Christ is Risen, risen indeed, we all have to give account. But if he is risen. Everything changes. ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen!’