Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. - John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
Sermon by Pastor Joshua Demi
The night has ended, the morning has come. Eternity, infinity, has broken into our world, to bring Light and Life to all trust in the One who is the light made flesh. As a church we have walked through a journey together in the past several weeks, a time of fasting, whether that has taken the form of fasting from a particular distraction or indulgence, or giving up a portion of our free time to add a new practice. At the very beginning of the journey we set fire to our sins, burning away prayer cards, on which we had written confessions. Last Sunday we waved palm branches in celebration of the humble king of creation who died that we may live. Then, in the past few days, in celebratory feasts gathered with friends gathered across distance, in a quite upper room here at the church, and in a journey through the darkness to a place where only the light of the cross shined bright, we have done all of that to prepare for this, to prepare ourselves to celebrate in spirit and in truth all that Christ has done, all that Christ has accomplished.
In the words of the ancient hymn, still sung by our Orthodox brothers and sisters to this day: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!” Sin and death have been defeated; sin and death no power! Christ has borne the sin of the world on his back and risen victoriously offer death and mercy, healing, grace forgiveness, and life beyond life are offered to all who would trust in Him.
As we dive deeper into this beautiful truth, lets reread a little bit from our text for today. We’re not reading the whole thing, just verses six thorough sixteen.
6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:6-16 (NRSV)
As always, context is key. If we want to understand scripture we cant just isolate particular verses or passages or stories, but we need to look at them in context. This is not the first story in John about a person rising from the dead. There is the famous story of Lazarus.
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” - John 11:38-44 (NRSV)
There are a lot of similarities between the two: the dead rising to life, a stone rolled away from the tombs. Yet there are also significant differences. Lazarus returns wrapped in his grave cloths, wrapped in the trappings of death and reminder of mortality, and is instantly recognizable by those who see him. In the case of Christ, those wrappings have been folded up and set aside, and he is recognizable, but not instantly. He is the same, but different. In his “John for Everyone” commentary, N.T Wright puts it beautifully: “Lazarus needed someone to untie him from his cloths, and the napkin round his head. Jesus left his behind altogether. Lazarus came back into a world where death threats still mattered (12.10). Jesus had gone on, through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated and life, sheer life, life in all its fullness, could begin at last.” Lazarus returned to a what he once was, while Christ rose to a new life entirely.
Christ is risen, as the first-fruits of what is to come. We will talk more about this in the coming weeks, but throughout scripture, the risen Christ is consistently described as the paradigm of what eternal life, life beyond life, looks like. That is why we sing “Made like him, like him we rise” (Christ the Lord is Risen Today, by Charles Wesley). When Christ rose, He rose neither to an ethereal, ghostly existence, nor to a mere restoration of His old life, but rose to something new, and likewise, those who rise to eternal life will rise to something new. As he has risen, so shall we rise.
The biblical view of eternal life is not a mere return to what once was; it’s not a mere undoing of the fall. The end is better than the beginning. Nor is it that we will be scooped up to some higher plane, to some ethereal existence. In Colossians 1 verses 15 through 19, the Apostle Paul says this:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Notice what the Bible does not say here, and notice what it does. It does not say God was pleased to reconcile our souls, nor does it even say that God was pleased to reconcile us, but “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” In fact, much like the Bible begins with a wedding, the wedding of the first human couple, it ends with a wedding, it ends with two weddings. The one the gets the most press is the wedding of Christ and the church, this big symbolic image of God and God’s people eternally united, but there is another. is also the wedding of heaven and earth. Revelation 21 speaks of a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven like a bride, and God dwelling among mortals.
That is what the resurrection of Christ means: death looses, in every conceivable sense, death looses. The One who became incarnate as an infant lying in a manger, the One who bore the sin and shame of the world on the cross, has risen from the dead as the firs-fruit of what is to come and He will make all things new. This does not mean that our present suffering does not matter. It does matter, and we have a responsibility to comfort the afflicted, and care for those in need, precisely because we worship the One who will dry every tear. This is the good news, that the King of Creation has become incarnate, has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and has died for our sin and risen victoriously over sin and death. That is the good news, and this is what it means: it means that God offers grace and mercy, and life beyond life – not in some ghostly ethereal existence but in a new creation where heaven and earth meet and creation is freed from it’s shackles. How do you accept that grace and mercy and all that He offers? Trust Him. That’s it. There is no formula; you can pray a prayer if you want, but it ultimately comes down to clinging to a person and trusting in what He has done.
Death looses, in every way. Rejoice, and celebrate. If you gave up something for Lent, go get it! Go get the big latte, eat that piece of cake! Today we rejoice, today we celebrate, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks . Easter is a season; it’s too big a celebration to contain to fa single day. Today, whatever we face, we celebrate. Though we may look out at our broken world through misty eyes, we know how the story ends. Light and life has come to us, death has been robbed of it’s sting. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. He is risen from the dead and He will make all things new.