First Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday 2014
We've made it to another Easter Sunday. It's a day of celebration, a day of joy! But arriving at Easter isn’t a cakewalk. There's that weird evening in which Jesus washed the disciples feet as a sign of humility and then at the table, instituted Communion. A few hours later he was betrayed. There are the crowds who had, earlier in the week, shouted “Hosanna” and then on Friday cried "Crucify." There was hope with his entry into Jerusalem and then despair as the week ended on a hill with three crosses. There was agony, unexplained darkness, an earthquake, the ripping of the temple veil, the sealing of a tomb, and the long silence when everyone assumed all was lost. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning, the Psalmist writes. Easter is a day of joy, but by the time we arrive, lots of tears have been shed.
In Richard Rohr’s devotional for today, there is a quote from a book he wrote for teens about the Risen Christ.
If you have ever been rejected, you know how unlikely it is to come back into the midst of those who have said, ‘We do not want you.’ That is the eternal mystery we celebrate: God is always coming back into a world that some unbelievable reason does not want God. It’s almost impossible to believe that could be true. And yet Jesus, in his humility, finds ways to come back.
When I think about all Jesus endured leading up to his crucifixion, I’m amazed at Jesus. Why would he come back and show love and concern to the disciples (and us and others who’d rejected him)? Jesus’ actions on Easter remind us just how much we’re loved by God. Let's listen to the Easter morning account as recorded in John's gospel. Read John 20:1-18.
Although there are some slight differences between the Easter stories in the Gospel, they all attest to basic truths. The tomb that had been sealed shut on Friday was open and empty, a woman is first on the scene, and, most importantly, Jesus is alive. And it’s that last truth that makes all the difference in the world. Our testimony is based on a risen Savior. Didn’t you like the testimony we heard earlier from Bono? We should be so bold in sharing our own testimonies!
John tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark. Perhaps the waning moon provided her enough light. It would have been a little after full, as the full moon corresponds to Passover. She makes her way through the empty streets and out beyond the walls of the city to Jesus’ tomb. She expects to find the tomb sealed, perhaps she’ll spend the morning hours wailing by the rock door. But when she arrives and finds the tomb open, she panics and runs and finds Simon Peter and another disciple. We know, from the ending of the book, that this other disciple is John, the beloved disciple and author of this account. These two disciples, hearing that the tomb is open, sprint off toward the tomb as if they were in a race. John arrives first.
It is interesting to note that up to this point (and even afterwards), they think someone stole Jesus’ body. Perhaps it was the Romans, who didn’t want Jesus to be made into a martyr. Perhaps it was the Jewish leaders, who wanted to erase him from the memory of his disciples by removing the body so that his followers wouldn’t have a place to grieve. Of course, it is early, still dark; no one has taken the time to process everything that has happened. It’s just odd that Jesus’ body is gone. “Where could it be,” they wonder?
John’s gospel says that he “believed” when he saw the empty tomb with the fabric used to wrap Jesus body rolled up, but we’re not sure what he believed. This has been debated by scholars, many of whom disagree with me. It seems obvious to me that he believed what he’d heard from Mary: that Jesus body had been taken away, not that Jesus had risen for the grave. John goes on to state that they did not yet understand the Scriptures prophecy of Jesus rising from the dead. The disciples leave the tomb and head home, feeling lost, wondering what had happened to Jesus body.
Mary Magdalene, however, sticks around. Tears flow freely as she looks into the tomb and through the water prism makes out two angels kneeling by where Jesus’ body had been laid. Interestingly, neither Peter nor John had mentioned the angels. Looking away from the tomb, Mary sees a man that she mistakes as the gardener. He, like the angels, asks her why she is crying and continues, asking who she is looking for. She begs him to tell her where they’ve taken him.
We’re not told why she doesn’t recognize Jesus right away. Perhaps it was because her eyes were filled with tears. Maybe it was because of the darkness. Or maybe Jesus’ resurrected body appears somehow different than his earthly body. But when Jesus calls Mary’s name, she immediately recognizes him and cries out, “Rabbi!” as she throws herself around him. Can you image the joy she instantly felt in her heart as she realizes Jesus lives?
Now, Jesus wants her to get a hold of herself and to calm down. He tells us not to hold on to him, but perhaps a better translation, as The Message has it, is “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” We see how Mary’s emotions take over and understand why she would want to hold on to Jesus forever. But remember, such actions would be an attempt to control God. So instead of clinging to her Lord, he sends her on a mission. She is to go and tell the disciples, whom Jesus calls “my brothers” that he is ascending to the Father…
There are two important things I want to point out in verse 17. First of all, Jesus doesn’t hold any grudges. Jesus still considers the disciples, most of whom have been cowardly and have fled or are in hiding, his brothers. Jesus is willing to forgive and seeks to round up his brothers so they can get on with their work.
Secondly, Jesus isn’t just going to “his father,” but to her Father and their Father and our Father. I’ve got to go, Jesus continues saying, to “my God and to your God.” Jesus special relationship to God the Father is something that we share in. That too, is a reason for joy for through the resurrection, through this new life, we are brought into a more intimate relationship with the Creator.
It’s a joyous think to wake, as I did this today, on a spring morning to birds singing and flowers blooming. But such examples of nature should remind us that we belong to a God of second chances. We belong to a God of forgiveness. We belong to a God of love and compassion who still keeps after us even though we turn our backs and ignore his commandments. There are plenty of reasons to be joyful and, like Mary who was sent to the brothers to share the good news; we too should join the efforts at sharing the news of Jesus’ resurrection.
In an effort to improve my writing and preaching abilities, I have been reading Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences about Writing. It's a unique book; written (or printed) in a way so that each sentence stands alone. There are no paragraphs. It’s his attempt to force his reader to look at each sentence and to ponder its meaning. Klinkenborg also suggests writers throw out most everything they'd been taught about the craft, which I am sure doesn't make him very popular with English teachers. Yet, there are things he insists on like the power of the correct word. Mark Twain (or at least it’s attributed to him) said that the difference between the right word and an okay word is the difference between lightning and a lighting bug. This makes the title of Klinkenborg's book ironic at best. His "several" short sentences(according to my brief calculations) come in around 5000. So much for "several!" That said, at one point in the book I read passage that popped out at me as applicable for our role as Jesus' witnesses in the world. Listen:
Writing doesn't prove anything, and it only rarely persuades. It does something much better. It attests. It witnesses. It shares your interest in what you've noticed. It reports on the nature of your attention. It suggests the possibilities of the world around you... Proof is for mathematicians. Logic is for philosophers. We have testimony.
I would suggest that the same goes for us as witnesses of what God is doing in the world. We have our testimony. This morning we’ve read John’s testimony. We also have the testimony of others: Matthew, Mark and Luke. We have the testimony of Paul and Peter. And we ourselves, or at least some of us, have experienced what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Like the Gospel writers, we then want to share our experiences with others, just as Mary Magdalene did in our text this morning. It is a joyous experience to go from thinking all is lost to seeing that all has been gained! Such experiences, to borrow from Klinkenborg, needs to be attested, witnessed, and reported.
N. T. Wright, a theologian from Great Britain whom I’ve often quoted, says “the resurrection of Jesus is Christianity. And this means that it becomes the starting point for all Christian thinking and living.” Jesus lovingly calls Mary by name and her life is changed. Jesus calls us into his family and our lives are changed. We’re not yet perfect, but we have hope and we know our future is brighter.
If you read on to the end of John’s gospel, you’ll see there are other encounters between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples. In each, his love flows and their lives are changed. Jesus institutes his kingdom, that starts here on earth, within our broken lives. Mary Magdalene becomes a missionary to the disciples. The disciples are sent out as missionaries to a dark and hopeless world, telling of the loving-power that’s centered in the risen Christ which can change lives and the world. Do we believe that? Can we testify to it? Can we embrace the joy of it? Amen.
©2014 Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, MI
 Psalm 30:5.
 Richard Rohr, For Teens on the Risen Christ, as quoted in Radical Grace: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, John Bookser Feister, editor. (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1995), 146.
 See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 1007-1008 and Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 1147-1148.
 Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing (New York: Random House, 2012), 117.
 N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 112.