A Sermon for Easter Sunday
April 5, 2015
(Isaiah 25:6-9; Hymn to the Risen Christ; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18)
The church calendar is centred upon Easter Sunday. Our principle festival celebrates the miracle of the resurrection.
Of course, this is not a recent idea: Paul, as we have just heard, ‘…handed on…as of first importance…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day…’
Easter is core.
We can easily forget, however, just how inauspicious the discovery of the resurrection was. Our Gospel account reads like a collection of false starts: Mary runs from the open tomb.
And then there’s the comment regarding the unnamed disciple: ‘he saw and believed’ initially looks promising. This one and Peter made their investigation. They ‘saw the linen wrappings lying there’.
But what is it that they believed? That the body was stolen? That Jesus is not in his tomb? It is difficult to accept that they believed that Jesus had risen. Our author makes it clear: ‘…as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’
So after concluding that the body is gone, both Peter and the ‘other’, return home. There is nothing else to do. Mary’s initial testimony is confirmed.
And even after all this, Mary is seen weeping ‘outside the tomb’. Her response to the angels question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ is to reiterate her conclusion: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’
Her mind is far from changed. Mary answers even Jesus in the same way: ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
It would be profoundly arrogant of us to look back on these accounts as fables rising out of a hyper-simplistic culture. They bury their dead because they know how life and death work. They search for the body, make their accusations, and arrive at these conclusions because they know the dead don’t rise.
Resurrection was not a part of their experience or expectation.
But Mary’s eyes are opened to a new possibility when Jesus names her: ‘Mary’. It is personal. It is familiar. It inspires a reconsideration of this ‘gardener’.
Her new conclusion: this is the same Jesus who lived and died.
‘Ribbouni’, as we are told, points to Jesus status as teacher. Mary has named the resurrected Jesus very well: there is a whole lot a willing student can learn – about God, people, and the world – from the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection.
For the early church it was, quite simply, the foundation from which they rebuilt their understanding of themselves, the world, and of God.
Throughout the gospel accounts we are reminded that Jesus taught his disciples openly about his coming resurrection. Such a concept was outside their experience, beyond their imagining. They puzzled over what ‘rising from the dead’ implied. ‘Is this another of his strange parables?’
I sympathise. How could they imagine something so infinitely beyond everything they had – so far – known?
The gospel’s answer: they could’t. Well, at least not initially. But from Mary’s simple, hard-won, Jesus-sent, testimony many eyes were – and still are – opened.
So hear again the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus: ‘I have seen the Lord’.
Paul reminds us that standing alongside this initial testimony were other appearances of Jesus. Mary’s, to be sure, was the first. Paul, however, claims to be able to point to over five hundred who conversed with the risen Christ. He sees his own conversion as a result of his own – unnatural – encounter with the risen Christ.
This is exactly what Paul’s ‘…someone untimely born…’ implies. The image is of one born before they were ready. He was not prepared for or expecting this discovery. His was no conscious pilgrimage of God-discovery on that Damascus road. There he was blinded by a light he did not expect to see.
And now he who previously prosecuted the church is telling anyone who will listen of the resurrected Christ.
So important is Paul’s list of appearances that it simply flows on from the very message of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Hear it again:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
The witnesses are an integral part of the account Paul tells.
Of course it goes on from there. Your story, if you have discovered the resurrected Christ, is also now a part of the account of God’s action in our world. What a shame if we are unwilling to tell how our eyes were opened.
For there is a lot a stake. How can anyone join with the activity of God in our world without hearing of what God is doing – in both your heart and throughout the entire cosmos?
After all, after the resurrection there remains infinitely more to come. It is a start, not an end. It id a foundation, not a crowning spire. To use Paul’s language, the resurrection is but a foretaste – an appetiser in preparation for the coming banquet.
I conclude with Isaiah’s vision of a heavenly banquet and a deathless, tearless, shameless world. This is the vision God, in the person of Jesus, is inviting you to be a part of.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Dear friends, Jesus came – lived, suffered, died, and rose again – to invite you to be a part of this cosmic vision.
All it takes is the trust – the faith – that leads us into the wonder-filled journey of discovering the God of all who is madly – indeed sacrificially – in love with you.