by Pastor Cherie Johnson
John 20:1-18 NIV
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
It’s Easter Sunday. Today, we celebrate the Risen Christ, the defeat of death, new life. We reach the culmination of the roller coaster ride of Holy Week. Instead of ending up at the bottom, we wind up higher than we began. We started with the excitement, the shouts of “Hallelujah” and parades of Palm Sunday. We continued a downward slide in the events of the last supper with the revelation that not only is Jesus going to be betrayed, but he knows it. It’s not only by Judas Iscariot, though he may have initiated it by bringing the authorities to arrest Jesus, but he’s betrayed by all the disciples who fled and denied him. We pick up speed on our roller coaster as we descend further on Good Friday with Jesus’ trial and execution.
For the disciples, it was the end of a beautiful dream, this dream that Jesus would drive out the Romans and be king, with them as advisers and courtiers. They thought evil had won. The disciples were hiding from the authorities, after all Jesus was executed as a revolutionary. They easily could be next. They didn’t realize it was only Friday, but Sunday was coming.
The Bible is clear that Fridays are still a part of life. The book of Acts talks about many of the trials and dangers the Early Church experienced this side of the first Easter Sunday. There were arrests. Disciples were executed. In the end, tradition tells us that the only disciple that lived to be a ripe old age was the Apostle John, as they all continued to experience their Fridays.
Events in the world this Holy Week remind us that Fridays are part of living in this world. When we wake up to hear there is another bombing, it can make us feel like evil is winning. It can be especially hard when these events occur during special holiday times. Of course, when they are as a result of terrorists that is their intent. There were the bombings in Nigeria in a church during Easter services in 2012. When it’s due to a natural disaster, it can almost be worse in loss of life, like the tsunami at Christmas back in 2004. Those things are so big that unless we know someone personally involved it can feel very remote.
Marshall Shelley, a Bible editor and respected Christian Leader, found that his first daughter was born with severe disabilities. Eighteen months later, his second child only lived for a minute. Then, six months later, his first daughter died. It didn’t matter that intellectually he knew that it was unlikely his daughter would live long. He was broken hearted. He asked some direct questions of God, the questions that we all have when tragedy strikes and loved ones suffer. After all this he said, “God is not offended by [our asking questions]. In fact, [God] invites it.” Somehow, with God’s help, Shelly came through those tragedies with a renewed faith.
You are not the first person to have to face Friday. It is part of life in this broken world. As unpleasant, as heart-wrenching, as they can be, those can be times that we develop our relationship with God. It’s only Friday.
Because of Easter, we know that God can take what looks like the end and create a new beginning. In the Bible, the events of that first Easter morning, make it clear that Friday is not God’s last word. It’s only Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
Even on that Easter morning, before any of them realize what’s really happened… Maybe Jesus body has been stolen, but who would unwrap it before taking it… Then Peter and the other disciple go home after looking in the tomb, but Mary remains behind, crying. We have to remember that mourning is important, too. We cannot get to healing without mourning first. Resurrection does not take away the tears. What it means is that tears are not the end of the story.
And soon it happens. Mary sees Jesus, this man who healed her, who changed her life, who she was certain was dead. After all, she was at the cross. She could be more sure than those disciples who immediately went into hiding.
Mary sees Jesus. Is it any wonder that she didn’t recognize him, eyes blurry with tears, the very last person she expected to see walking and talking.
Then, he says her name, and her life is turned upside down. She begins to understand. What looked like defeat has been turned into victory. The victory was over something much more primal than the Roman Empire. It was merely the device, the tool that allowed the real battle to take place. The Roman Empire was transitory. It had a beginning and an end. United States had a beginning and will eventually come to an end or be transformed into something new. Ousting the Roman Empire was a small thing compared with what Jesus did by defeating death.
Last month, a new movie, Risen, was released depicting the time from Jesus death on the cross to several days perhaps several weeks after. In it, a Roman officer investigates Jesus’ missing body, and he calls in Mary Magdalene for questioning. She doesn’t seem to care what the officer might do to her if she doesn’t answer his questions the way he expects her to. She answers those questions, but he wants her to tell him where the body is hidden. Who are the people who did it? There is no body to find, and she knows it doesn’t matter. This thing that has happened is something that affects the whole world not merely this place in a small part of the Roman Empire.
What does this defeat of death even mean? They talk about death like it is an entity that can be defeated, not merely the state of what was once a living thing.
In Romans 6:23, the Apostle Paul says that, “The wages of sin is death.” Paul gets this from several places, two of which include Genesis 2 where Adam is told that if he eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that he would die. (2:17) This is the thing that gets he and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden. It is the act through which sin entered the world, the start of the chain reaction that gets Jesus put on a cross. Another place is from Ezekiel 18, where it says that, “The soul who sins is the one who dies.” (18:4)
Jesus willingly paid that price for all of us on the cross. He died once for all. (Romans: 10) Through him, all that is in us that deserves that penalty died with him. As the renowned theologian Karl Barth said, “What we were has been done away with and destroyed. What we were is no longer real and has no future.” (CD IV/1, 295)
That all happens on Friday, but… Sunday’s coming.
What happens on Sunday, the first day of a new week, is new life begins. New creation begins. Adam was the first person of the old creation. Whereas, Jesus is the first person of the new creation.
“He has passed through death and come out in a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself has been defeated and life, sheer life, life in all its fullness, could begin at last.” (NT Wright, John for Everyone, 143)
What does the new creation mean for us? What does it mean for us to sing “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia,” or God be praised. We sing it. The music itself is stirring and powerful, but do we pay attention to the words?
The first verse is pure celebration. “Christ the Lord is risen today … Earth and Heaven in chorus say Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!”
The second verse starts explaining. “Love’s redeeming work is done … Fought the fight, the battle won … Death in vain forbids him rise … Christ has opened Paradise.”
Moving on to verse four. “Soar we now where Christ has led … Following our exalted head … Made like him, like him we rise.” This is more than a celebration of someone we love coming back to us, which would be extraordinary enough, but we get to participate in this, too. For those who put their faith, their trust in Jesus, “Made like him, like him we rise … Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”
It was only Friday, but Sunday is here! The Sunday when the new creation began, when people, when we could begin to participate in the Kingdom of God.
As we know, the original creation that God pronounced “good,” but has been broken and has decayed, still exists. It’s a place where terrorism exists, where people are so desperate that they think terrorism is the only option to improve their lives. Where people in love with violence and chaos join in because they can. It’s a place where people yell and scream to drive people apart rather than to draw them together, where people still need healing, food, clothes, and shelter.
When Jesus would come by and address these things, he said that the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God had come near. We still live here, but when we follow Jesus we become part of the new creation. We join the Kingdom of God.
Because for everyone else, it might as well still be Friday, but we can tell them… Sunday’s coming. Sunday’s here.
That’s how we live as Easter people. That is what it means to be in the world but not of the world. When we accept the Good News of Jesus Christ we are no longer citizens of this world. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is our job to spread the word, to transform the world, so that it can be on earth as it is in heaven. We can have it in the here and now. We don’t have to wait for the Hereafter.We have to tell them, it feels like Friday, but… all together now… Sunday’s coming. Sunday’s here!
If that’s how you feel or felt, and you think that you are ready to follow Jesus, that you want to be part of this new creation, let me pray for you. And if this is not your time. You still have questions. You want to meet privately. That’s fine. I’ll be happy to talk to you. But I will say that the invitation remains open.
Lord, we celebrate the most extraordinary day of that first Easter. The day when you defeated death for us all and begin the new creation. We thank you for your sacrifice. We thank you for redeeming us, for buying us back, for releasing us from our debt. We thank you for the new life you give us. Lord, we want to learn about and follow your ways, to learn how to live in your kingdom, a kingdom of love and acceptance, a kingdom where no one is put to shame. We may be taking our first shaky step toward you. Give us strength to continue forward as the world calls us to come back. Thank you Lord for loving us so much. Amen.