John 20 1-18
Is there anything new that we can say? We know the story; we know how it all turned out. But of course there is always something new, for the word of God is living.
Let’s start with Mary Magdalene. Early on the Sunday morning she set off , while it was still dark. She had about two miles to walk - she is alone; Alone with her thoughts, her sadness and her anxiety. She must have thought about the stone. It was huge and had been rolled over the entrance to the tomb; how was she going to get into the tomb? She arrived at the tomb just as dawn was breaking. Not just another dawn but this was going to be the dawn of a new world.
Life would never be the same again.
The first thing that she sees is that the stone has been moved away. Who moved the stone? More importantly, why had the stone been removed?
Not so that Jesus could get out. No, for in few days time he was to meet the disciples in an upper room where all the doors and windows were shut – and all of a sudden he would appear in the midst of them. He did not have to open the door to get in; He simply walked in, while the door was shut. No, the stone was removed so that others could get in.
Mary saw the stone had been rolled away - but this was a truth so bright that she couldn’t look at it and she did what everyone of us would have done - she ran.
There is something very unusual going on here - if you read the gospels carefully you will discover than people don’t usually run. And women certainly don’t run. Mary ran to Peter and John. Mary was the first apostle – the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty – even though she didn’t understand what had happened at that point. If anyone doubts the story of Easter this is a sure pointer that it wasn’t a story made up by the disciples. For only God would chose a woman, and a woman who had been a prostitute, to be first to tell the story. Mary the apostle to the apostles! One good very reason why women are included in apostolic succession and be ordained as Bishops.
But to get back to the running – Peter and John joined in the running and ended up having a race. John won and went into the tomb first and saw the grave clothes and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. It had not been some kind of haphazard theft of a body from a gravesite, the clothes were neat and in order. Christ came through those grave wrappings as though they were not around him, leaving them lying undisturbed.
John saw and believed; believed that the new creation had begun; Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last. John believed that God had said Yes’ to Jesus, to all that he had been and done. He believed that Jesus was alive again. All the signs were there, in particular the undisturbed grave clothes.
If you remember back a few weeks to when Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus returned to the present life. He came back again. When he was called out of his tomb they had to unwrap the grave clothes and set him free – Jesus left his behind. Lazarus came back into a world where death threats still mattered. Jesus had come through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated, into life. Life in all its fullness could begin at last. This is the first day of God’s new week. It is no longer dark, it is no longer dawn, the sun is shining.
If you were to go to the grave of the founders of religions such as Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith you will find their bodies are entombed, or there is a visible memorial. But not for Jesus; Christianity is the only faith, founded over 2000 years ago, whose leader cannot be found in a tomb, and there is no edifice to go to for homage. If you go to the Garden tomb in Jerusalem there is sign on the door which says ‘He is not here, He is risen.” I think we might manage a Hallelujah at this point!
But let us stand with Mary for a moment, alone outside the tomb – Peter and John have gone back home to tell the others, but Mary stayed behind. Think about her tears, how she must have wept; then stoop down with her, and look into the tomb. There are angels – where had they come from? - They hadn’t been there when Peter and John had been inside the tomb, - or maybe they had. Sometimes we only see angels through our tears.
When we are afraid - angels tell us not to be: When we are in tears - they ask why? Turn around with Mary and see the stranger, the gardener, then listen for the greeting, the gentle rebuke, the ‘come on, don’t you know me?’ when he says her name, Mary. She wants to hold him but he tells her not to cling on to him. Not I think, because there was something special about his new body that couldn’t be touched, because in a few days time Thomas would be invited to touch him. Jesus was saying don’t try to keep me, but off you go, you are an apostle now, take the good news to others.
Something extraordinary had taken place, not only to Jesus, though that was extraordinary enough, but to the way the world is, the way God and the disciples are. This is what Easter means:
Up to this point Jesus has spoken about God as ‘the father’ or ‘my father;’ Jesus has called his followers disciples, servants and friends. Now all that has changed. The answer is in verse 17: where Jesus tells Mary ‘Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God. Something has altered, something has been achieved, a new relationship with Jesus, a new relationship with God; Jesus has bridged the gap between man and God once and for all, now all are included in this new relationship. This is the meaning of Easter. Yes, Jesus died for our sins, Yes, Jesus died that we might have eternal life right here and now, this very moment, Yes he died that we might go to heaven, but Easter is not about giving us an escape hatch from the world when we die, or a private ladder to heaven. It is so much more – Jesus changed the world on Good Friday; the New Covenant was made, the new relationship between God and man, a new creation has begun and we are part of it.
When the lilies have faded, the chocolate eggs have been eaten and the school holidays are over, the new creation will still be here, so – this Easter morning - Take the truth of God in one hand and the power of God in the other, take a deep breath of the air of the new creation which blows through the world on this Easter Day, and just like Mary, go and make a difference.
Wishing you all a very Blessed Easter.