John 20: 1-18
Alleluia, Christ Is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the pinnacle of our faith—the day of the empty tomb, the day God raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, the day of inauguration of resurrection life for all who believe. Its’ a day of paradox when the victim became the victor, when power came out of weakness, and death gave birth to new life. Is it any wonder that the disciples had absolutely no clue as to what was going on?!
Even though Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection on more than one occasion, everyone was still completely caught off guard. When Mary discovered the empty tomb and ran back to tell the disciples what she’d found, no one exclaimed, “Hallelujah, he is risen just like he said!” No, that joyous acclamation has been left for us because we are far enough away to know what we mean. We expect that when we sit vigil at the foot of the cross on Good Friday that we will get to sing our Alleluias 2 days later. They had no such expectation. His coming back was a complete surprise because they didn’t understand.
I bring this up because as I studied this week in preparation for today’s sermon, it occurred to me that in being exempt from a sense of surprise I, and possibly we, may have been lulled into thinking that I actually understand this wondrous mystery we call the Resurrection of Christ. I mean I understand that it happened. I understand that Jesus said it would. I understand that it was God’s chosen action for the salvation of the world, but do I understand what it was?
Eugene Ionesco said: “Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible” and next to the Incarnation, I challenge you to come up with anything more incomprehensible than the suffering, death, and resurrection of God’s Son becoming the salvation for the world.
Now, I’m not saying that we can’t understand parts of it, and indeed I think we are meant to, after all, the resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and witness. We are meant to understand that death is not the end and that there is nothing from which we cannot be forgiven because it was bought with such a great price. We are meant to understand that God loves us beyond all we can think or imagine, that anything is possible with God, and that the world will never be the same.
There are things we know and things we can understand, but today I want us to be astonished—I want to be astonished and surprised. Jesus did something that the disciples did not expect. Jesus is still in the business of doing things we don’t expect. I am reminded of that every time I get to stand in this pulpit and see your beautiful faces. I am astonished by the blessing of being your priest, and you have unexpectedly become for me a kind of gateway into the incomprehensible grace and love of God.
So this wondrous day, let’s revel a little in the joyously incomprehensible. The Resurrection, like the Incarnation is a holy mystery so let’s give explanations the day off.
Our Lord Jesus Christ died on a cross but he did not stay dead. He arose. He was not resuscitated like in medical miracles. He was not some kind of divine zombie either. The Scriptures say he came back the same but different. He died in an earthly body and came back in a heavenly one. Do you have any idea how much ink has been spilled trying to explain that one? He was recognizable, when he wanted to be. He could be physically touched and he ate food but he could also walk through locked doors and be suddenly gone from your sight in an instant.
It’s astonishing and you know what else is astonishing? It’s that the Church has always believed that what happened to Jesus will happen to all Christians. Paul in first Corinthians says regarding the resurrection: “Listen I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1Cor 15:51-52)
But wait there’s more. The Scriptures also tell us that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are made new creations and they are not referring the imperishable and changed bodies that we will get in the afterlife. Easter is known as the “eighth day of creation.” We know in Genesis that God created everything in 7 days and then rested. Well, as Christians we believe that He wasn’t quite done. He did one more act of creation on the day that He raised Jesus from the dead. He made him the first born among many (Romans 8:29) and the first fruits of God’s resurrection (I Cor 15:23). We keep hearing that if we share in his suffering, which frankly in this life is inevitable, then we will share in his resurrection life. Yes that means that death is not the end, but it also applies to the life we live now. Scripture says that the day of salvation is now. We don’t just get raised later, we get raised now.
Lance said to me yesterday that it was almost over, meaning the long week leading up to today. I realized in that moment that it wasn’t going to be over, it was just beginning because it is after we proclaim and rejoice on this day, that our real task begins. Together we set our feet on that road that is the resurrection life, trying to figure out together what that will mean and where it will lead, for God’s glory and our good. I think we best prepare ourselves to be surprised and astonished.
God has done the unimaginable and incomprehensible by saving the world through the blood of his Son. And if you think a lot of ink was spilled over the idea of “heavenly bodies,” go look up the Atonement. God saved the world. Yes, it’s fun to understand how things work but frankly sometimes I just want my car to work without having to know the mechanics of the engine. God has proclaimed the world saved. We can toss the ball around about how that works but sometimes it’s good to just hear that and go, “Wow!” and “Thank you!”
I like the image of the cosmic game of capture the flag, in which God takes the cross, an instrument of torture and inhumane death, plants it on the earth and roars, “Mine!” If we ever wonder how far he was willing to go, to bring us back into life and love with him, we need only look at the cross. I used to think up until yesterday that making the cross into jewelry was perhaps a tad incongruous, and in the case of those huge blingy crosses, a bit crass. But then as I was praying and writing I realized that it is THE symbol to remind me of how much I am loved, of the indestructibility of life because of Jesus. To borrow from the brilliance of Barbara Crafton, it isn’t so much the afterlife as it is the already life.
I don’t know why God loves me anymore than I know why my family or friends do—they just do.
I don’t know how it is that I am born again and have eternal life now, but I do.
I don’t understand how the blood of Jesus saves the world but I see his handiwork and I feel his hope.
God’s welcome is wide and God’s love is unconditional.
Our God is full of mercy and grace.
God will never abandon or forsake us and we have never and will never do anything to deserve it.
It’s all so truly astonishing. What more can we say this day than, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!”