Easter Sunday John 20:1-18

“Christ is Risen!” He is Risen indeed!”

Mary Magdalene was totally unprepared for his body to be missing. Some disciples came and looked. They did not understand, and simply went home.   Mary did not recognize him immediately.

Can we put ourselves in the scene? We saw Jesus die on Friday afternoon.  Some of us helped put his body in the tomb.  Three years we knew this rabbi from Galilee who was always talking about the kingdom.  We had made certain assumptions about the kingdom.   That was all behind us.  We saw him die on the cross.  We helped put his body in the tomb.  We saw the stone rolled into place.  With all that evidence of his death and burial, we could not believe he was alive.

The disciples overlooked the fundamental fact of faith, a fact that must still renovate our thinking day by day. They forgot God’s power. When we forget God is in charge, we run away. Now that Jesus was dead, how could he bring in the kingdom?  How could the disciples’ dreams be fulfilled without his leadership?  How could they move into the future with him dead and buried?

We might feel the same frustration in our day, whether in our national political life or the international scene or deep within our innermost personal feelings. Think of the great agonies in the 20th and 21st centuries — the worldwide wars, the senseless murder of six million Jews, the needless firebombing of civilians in Dresden, the tragic necessity of the atomic bomb, the bloodbath in Vietnam, the endless  conflicts in Africa, Syria and Iraq, and now the unspeakable horror of unpredictable suicidal bombers.

On the family level, we find agony and anxiety, fear and frustration.  In all such circumstances, in our homes or world wide, we ask “Where is God’s mercy?”  Everybody knows fright, alarm, terror, and amazement.  We have much in common with the disciples and followers who were with Jesus in these last three or four days.  They could understand when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers who made the house of prayer a den of thieves.  They could understand when he introduced a new covenant between God and humankind in their Passover meal, an addition to the history of God’s relation to his people.

Perhaps they were still puzzled about the new kingdom of God he talked about. Then they went into the garden and they failed to understand his agony and anxiety – so they retreated into a nap. The soldiers came with swords.  Judas betrayed him, and Jesus went to the cross, alone like a lamb led to slaughter. Afterward, Joseph, not one of the disciples, claimed the body.  Others put the body in the garden grave as Sabbath darkness fell.   The soldiers sealed the tomb.  Everybody left.

Perhaps in our personal experience we can sometimes get in step with Christ’s way of life. That is, we want to go along with what he offers.  We can break the sacred bread of his body with him in this holy and comfortable setting.  That seems easy enough, so we tell ourselves that we are following along with a sort of average commitment to the Kingdom, a commitment we hope is somewhere over the passing mark, since we always approach God with a hope that he will see something in us he likes.

But then things get specific. We get in a situation where nothing but forgiveness will get us past an injustice or an insult or an injury.  We might say, “All right, if I get an apology, then I’ll forgive.”  Trouble is, there’s no swap in forgiveness.  There’s no trade, there’s no this for that transaction.  The idea in forgiveness is to give, not trade. Or we’re called on to bear some injustice, some cruelty, being blamed seriously for something seriously not our fault.

Then we’d like to get revenge instead of bearing the injustice. Many modern disciples fall away at that point. The man on the cross by his example asks us to deny ourselves, that is, to stifle some of those inner characteristics that should make us different from other people.  We’re asked to put no priority on our feeling of importance, like symbolically washing the feet of somebody who doesn’t deserve our service.  Or we’re in a position to stand up for integrity and moral principles and some of us fall away.  Modern soldiers recommend compromise, false principles, asking us to betray the son of man into their hands for a mess of pottage, and rather than stick to our beliefs, we cave in until we all desert Jesus.

We become afraid of life because we forget God is in charge. No wonder we flee in terror and amazement from the new life in Jesus Christ. To forget that God is in charge is to repeat the sin of Adam and Eve.  Adam thought God wouldn’t be too upset if he took one corner, one tree for himself.  God could keep the rest of the garden. That is still our problem.  We don’t believe God knows quite everything.  He needs our help at one or two little points, so we’ll not let God be quite in charge of everything.  Sin is the name of our idea that God is NOT in charge of every thought, word and deed.  We are  in charge of our selves, our time, and our possessions, we think.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ says we are not as independent, not as powerful, not as individually in control as we wish we were. Because of what God did in Jesus of Nazareth, Easter is the reminder that we can trust God.

Easter is the reminder that without Jesus Christ the tomb would be the end. However, in the resurrected Christ we are joined with his eternal life.  It is the legacy of the church that the whole power of God is at work in our midst, bringing the resurrection to bear in our own daily living.   To be part of the people of God means to be part of a great pilgrim people, always moving toward the Promised Land.

You recall how Moses led the people of Israel up from Egypt, but Moses never got to the land of their destination. He went up on Mt. Nebo and saw the land from afar.  He knew he would die before reaching the land he’d spent his life walking toward.  It was enough for him to see that his dream was true.  The Promised Land was there.  His people would cross over, and it was enough for him.

In her mind’s eye, Emily Dickinson saw a troop of soldiers defeat another troop and take their flag. Then she wrote,

Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.

To comprehend the nectar requires the sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host who took the flag today

Can tell the definition of victory

Half so clear as he defeated, dying,

On whose forbidden ear,

The distant notes of triumph

Burst agonized and clear.

There are many who will never reach their so-called Promised Land in this world. There are many will not win the great battles of life.  And yet, Easter says that God is in charge.  His power will win the day.  We move forward toward Easter. We are already members of the family of God, the family for whom Jesus Christ died.  He has won the day, the victory on our behalf.  He has gone ahead, has paid the last full measure of devotion.  He gave his life for us.

And as we lay dying, time after time, suffering defeats of this life, we must take heart upon hearing the distant strains of Easter triumph burst agonized and clear. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, we believe that the victory of Christ signals final victory for us, defeated and dying.

The promise of Easter is that in this on-going life of his church on earth we shall be joined with Christ, and we, defeated, dying, fleeing from life in terror and amazement, can rejoice because His victory, his resurrection, shall be forever ours.

 

May God grant you his love and life eternal.