Easter 2018

April 1, 2018 Speaker: Matt Benton

 

04.01.2018      Easter

Scripture: John 20: 1-18

 

Christ is risen!

 

He is risen indeed!

 

Happy Easter everyone.  I am glad that you are here with us this Easter morning.  We are here to worship the risen Lord today just as Christians have been doing ever since that first Easter morning.  But as we’ll soon see in our Scripture Gospel this morning, many different people went to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter for different reasons and had different reactions to what they saw.  It’s possible that some of you have come for different reasons today.  Some of you might be here because church is where you are on Easter.  Some of you might be here because coming to church on Easter seems like the right thing to do.  Some of you might be here because it means a lot to your parents, to your spouse, to your kids that you’re here.  Some of you might be really hoping that I don’t take too long because brunch or Easter baskets or a long drive are on the other side of church.  Whatever brought you here, I’m thankful you are here. One thing we see in the Easter Gospel is that no matter what brought the different people to the tomb that first morning, the most important thing was that they came.  So thank you for being here.

 

We are here this morning to talk about something unbelievable.  We are here to talk about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was executed by the Romans, came back from the dead.  It’s hard to believe.  If you find it hard to believe, you’re not alone.  You’re not alone here in church today and you’re not alone if we read the Gospel story.  Jesus’ resurrection has been surprising, difficult to believe, hard to understand, and at the same time world changing, life transforming, compelling, and awe inspiring.  I hope this morning you can catch a glimpse of all of that as we go through the story.

 

Let’s turn to the story.

 

John 20:1-18

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. 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!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus 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.’” 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.

 

We are going to walk through this story to catch the details of what’s going on but before we do that I want to talk about two English words that we received from the Greek language.  The first is utopia.  In Greek utopia literally means not this place.  Utopia is an idea of a place, an ideal place, that is perfect.  Where people live in peace and harmony, where everyone has everything they need to thrive.  And most of the time we think we can make that happen.  We look at the problems we have and think that we have the skills and the means to fix them.  Science and technology and medicine can bring this about.  We can build happy lives for ourselves, if we try hard and make the right choices we can have all the peace and fulfillment we need.

 

Basically, this concept of utopia makes us think that we can create for ourselves the lives and families and communities and world that we desire.

 

So we work hard and make good choices and raise good kids and save and do all the right things in the sure belief that our lives are our own making.  And happiness and contentment are within our grasp.

 

But what happens when we go about our lives doing all the right things and a friend or family member dies young?  Utopia doesn’t work anymore.  What happens when cancer strikes?  Utopia doesn’t work anymore.  When you’re working hard to build a life and a family and your husband comes home and says he’s been having an affair, he’s fallen in love with her, and he’s leaving you? Utopia doesn’t work anymore.  What happens when you work hard your whole live, you’ve saved, you’ve paid your bills on time, and then all of a sudden because bankers in New York played fast and loose with the market, you suddenly find yourself out of work, savings and retirement are all gone, and you’re about to get your house foreclosed?  Utopia doesn’t work anymore.

 

There are moments in life when we realize that we cannot, through hard work and good choices alone, ensure happiness, safety, and security.  We are at the mercy of things and forces greater than ourselves.  We can be hurt, we can be harmed despite all our best efforts to avoid it. 

 

Or how about this, what happens when you follow around someone you believe to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. You see him heal the sick.  You see him feed thousands with a few loaves and a couple fish.  You see him calm a storm.  You see him raise the dead.  You believed he would be the one to bring about the Kingdom of God, utopia if we ever had one.  And you watch as he is arrested, tried, convicted, beaten, and executed.  What do you do when the man you thought was the Messiah is killed?  Utopia doesn’t work anymore.

 

What do you do when utopia doesn’t work anymore? You need a new word from Ancient Greek. That word is eschatology.  Eschatology is about the last things.  Eschatology is about what happens at the end. Eschatology is what Easter is all about. And with that tease, let’s go back to the Gospel story.

 

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. 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!”

 

Sunday morning Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body.  Jesus was crucified on a Friday and his execution was sped up because his body needed to be removed from the cross and placed in a tomb before sun down Friday to keep with the Sabbath law.  There was no time Friday to anoint Jesus’ body for burial and the work could not have been done during daylight hours Saturday.  So Sunday morning is the first moment Mary had to go and anoint Jesus’ body. 

 

As an executed criminal, Jesus’ body would have been placed in one of many tombs reserved for executed criminals for one year until it had decayed and then his bones would be given to his family to be laid to rest in the family tomb.  Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away and fears the worst.  She immediately runs to Peter and the disciples to let them know. 

 

There is a particular reason for her panic. Not only is she worried that the body of Jesus has been stolen, but she’s worried it might not be found in time. Ancient Israelites believed that the soul hovered over a dead body for three days and left on the fourth. That’s because on the fourth day the face had decayed beyond recognition.  Mary is freaking out because this was the third day.  They had a day to find Jesus’ body before the task would be impossible and at the end of the day, the task would be impossible.

 

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

 

They really should have seen this coming.  How could they have not known?  How could they have not believed?  How could they have not understood?  There are texts in the Old Testament.  Ezekiel goes to a valley of dry bones and, upon prophesying to the bones, they come alive again.  Jesus himself predicted it.  In the transfiguration story he tells the disciples not to say anything until the Messiah has risen from the dead.  In John he says unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground it cannot produce fruit, but if it dies it will spring up and bear fruit.  How did they not see Jesus’ resurrection coming?

 

Simply put, because resurrection was not part of their worldview.  You know what ancient people thought happened to people after they died?  The same thing modern people believe: they stay dead.

 

Here’s another question: what did ancient Jews think would happen to the Messiah when he died?  Trick question.  They didn’t think the Messiah would die.  They didn’t think he would be executed by the imperial overlords.  They thought the Messiah would free Israel from oppression and establish a kingdom that would never end.  Simply put, they were still in utopia.  They weren’t ready for eschatology.

 

Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus 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.’” 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.

 

The disciples return to where they were staying but Mary lingers.  Mary remains around the tomb.  She sees a man and thinks he is the gardener.  They have an exchange.  She thinks it’s a gardener because she’s still under the assumption that dead people stay dead.  She’s still thinking along the lines of utopia.  She’s about to be brought into a new world.

 

Because we know it is the risen Christ she is speaking with.  We know its Jesus.  Jesus speaks her name and says “Mary.”  And in that instance she goes from utopia to eschatology. 

 

Now let me finally say what I mean by that.  Eschatology is all about how God will make things right in the end. Eschatology is about God’s vindication of all injustice and all wrong.  Eschatology is about the ways that God will heal and redeem and fix the hurt and pain we feel in this life. When we are hurt by other’s sins and misdeeds.  When we are hurt by other’s choices.  When we are hurt by systems and people that have power and authority.  Eschatology is how God will make it right.

 

Mary is broken that her Lord, her Savior, her Messiah was tortured and killed.  Mary is broken that the body has been taken away.  Mary is broken that the one who gave her purpose is gone.  All that is redeemed by God’s eschatological act.

 

Jesus was unjustly killed by Rome.  Jesus suffered death unjustly.  He was innocent.  He was sinless.  And yet he died.  God’s eschatological act was to bring him back to life.

 

And in speaking her name Jesus opens her eyes to the way God vindicates the good and righteous parts of this world.

 

Jesus is raised from the dead and Mary is told to go announce to the disciples that she has seen the Lord.  God’s act in Jesus Christ was not meant to be a one time thing, a special favor for His Son.  Instead, Jesus being raised from the dead is a sign to us that God will be just and good in the face of sin and death.  God will be just and good in the face of injustice.  God will be just and good in the face of hurt and pain.  Jesus being raised from the dead is the new paradigm of how we should view the world.

 

The crucible of lived experience teaches us that utopia doesn’t work anymore.  We cannot and will not build a perfect life here free of hurt and pain.  There will come a time where we are hurt.  There will come a time where we are crushed.  There will come a time where we are broken. But that is not where the story ends. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and God’s eschatological promises to us are to make all things new in the end and make all things well.

 

This has profound implications for our lives. We can risk.  We can be vulnerable.  We can open ourselves up.  And we can dream.

 

What seems impossible in your life now?  Maybe it seems impossible to forgive someone, to forgive that person.  Because the hurt is so great, the wound is so raw.  The harm inflicted was too much.  God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and because of that things that were impossible are impossible no longer in God’s eschatology. 

 

Maybe it seems impossible to ever recover financially from a set back.  You worked and worked and worked and now it all seems to have fallen apart.  God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and because of that things that were impossible are impossible no longer in God’s eschatology. 

 

Maybe it seems impossible to ever get over the loss of a friend or a family member.  They died and when they left, they left a hole in the world.  And that hole can never be filled without them. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and because of that things that were impossible are impossible no longer in God’s eschatology. 

 

Maybe it seems impossible that everyone in this county will have a roof over their head.  Maybe it seems impossible that everyone in this county will have enough food to eat.  Maybe it seems impossible that everyone in this county will have access to good, affordable medical care.  Maybe it seems impossible that everyone in this county will have the opportunity to work. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and because of that things that were impossible are impossible no longer in God’s eschatology. 

 

What seems impossible in your life?  This Easter, here the good news: God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and because of that things that were impossible are impossible no longer in God’s eschatology. 

 

God is here and God is moving and God is working. God is bringing about a new world in our midst.  And in the end, God will heal and redeem and fix and make new all the brokenness and pain and hurt we feel.  God raised Jesus Christ from the dead as a sign of God’s making new of the world and as the beginning of God’s making new of the world.  This morning we gather to remember and to celebrate the inbreaking, the coming of God’s eschatology.  And we gather to be asked, to be called, to be welcomed into the new world of God’s eschatology.  Will you join in?  Will you join in the work that God is doing in our midst? 

 

Christ is risen!

 

He is risen indeed!

 

Alleluia. Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Amen.