Scripture Text – John 20:1-18
So it is Easter morning and so that means we are going to talk about really important things. And I will begin with a question, so get ready:
Ham? Or egg casserole? Or lamb?
Brunch or dinner?
Chocolate bunnies? or Cadbury eggs? or Peeps?
My question, of course, is a bit tongue in cheek, but not entirely. Holidays, in large part, are centered on special foods, and gatherings with family and friends, yes?
During the last week or so I have had a number of conversations with people about Easter: what it means—is it about bunnies and eggs and baskets, or an empty tomb? but also how some like Christmas better than Easter.
And I can understand that, for many reasons. Easter is a moving target—the date is different every year because Easter falls on the first full moon after the spring equinox. Last year it was March 27; the year before that, April 20; next year it will be April 1. It is difficult to pin down and to plan accordingly.
Christmas is always, reliably, on December 25.
Christmas is about a baby being born, and who doesn’t like that?
Easter, on the other hand, besides being difficult to keep track of, involves a good deal of suffering and death, and if there is anything we human beings want to avoid talking about, it is suffering and death. We don’t even like to say “death.” We say “passed away” instead.
No wonder neon colored, rabbit shaped marshmallows are such a thing.
The celebration of spring and loved ones getting together and delicious food and getting creative with eggs are all good things. But they are not the main event.
To paraphrase the Grinch, “Maybe Easter…perhaps…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Easter…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
The main event is that empty tomb, God’s big surprise, and what it means for us.
And let us be honest for a moment: this whole notion that God raised Jesus from the dead—it does not make sense to our rational, empirical, scientific brains. So if you get stuck there, no judgment.
More important is this:
The event of Easter is not about proof, it is about perspective.
The truth is, we can’t prove that the resurrection happened.
And the predominant message I see about Easter in hymns, cards, memes on Facebook is, “Jesus died so we can have eternal life.” But the resurrection is so much more than a get into heaven free card.
Easter is about a different way of seeing, perceiving, understanding. It is a way of living. A lifestyle, if you will.
We see this transformation from the old way to a new way in Mary Magdalene.
When Mary headed to the tomb at dawn on that first day, she was a wreck. The crucifixion of Jesus had dropped the bottom out of her world. We don’t know why she was going to the tomb—in John’s version of the story, Jesus’ body was already wrapped with linen cloths, spices and ointment. Maybe she just wanted to be near him, to see if it was all real. Maybe she just didn’t know what else to do with herself and wanted to get away from her friends who were also in shock and deep grief.
Of course, Mary finds the tomb empty and instead of being joyful, she is terrified. If possible, her grief is intensified. A missing body can only mean foul play—grave robbers, or someone wishing to inflict further indignity on her beloved friend. So her grief is compounded. Everything was terrible, and getting worse.
Perhaps that explains why Mary doesn’t seem moved at all by seeing two men in white inside the tomb. When she turns away from and sees another man, she assumes he is the gardener.
Then he says her name, and somehow, there is something about his voice, because all of the sudden, she recognizes him and she calls him, “Teacher.” Jesus tells her not to hold on to him and sends her to the others. When she gets there she says, “I have seen the Lord!”
Now, seeing is a huge metaphor in John—John includes stories about people who are blind understanding who Jesus is, while the religious authorities who are supposed to know everything get caught in the weeds of whether the healing happened on the right day, etc. Rather than saying, “Come, follow me” to prospective disciples, in John Jesus says, “Come and see.”
So when Mary says, I have seen the Lord, this is significant. It means, she gets it. Which means, we are supposed to get it, too.
We are supposed to see that it is about relationship. When Jesus said her name, she responds by saying, “Rabbouni”, teacher. Not his name, but that he is her teacher and she is his student, his disciple.
Although John’s Jesus doesn’t say it here, the message is, Do not be afraid. Trust me. Follow me and do what I do, live how I live.
And that is the new perspective that is so different from the world’s view.
Now—I think it is critically important to point out that in many ways, the world that first Easter morning was no different than it had been the day before. The Roman Empire still ruled their land with an iron fist; the religious authorities were still in cahoots with the Romans; the powerless and vulnerable were still suffering. Nothing appeared to have changed.
But those who followed and believed had a different perspective. They lived as if the world had changed and guess what? They changed the world.
Let me say that again:
After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus lived as if the world had changed and because they did, they changed the world.
The Roman Empire is gone and other empires have risen in its place. The Jewish religious authorities who use religion to benefit themselves? Still around, just in more religions. People are still vulnerable and suffering. And yet…when we live as if the world is different because of Easter, we still change the world.
That’s perspective. That’s a change in perception. That’s an amazingly hopeful call to us in a time in which it feels the world is swinging off its axis.
You have probably heard it said that “Perception is reality.”
You have probably seen the inspirational message, Believe there is good in the world. Be the good in the world
These are true. But we don’t do it entirely on our own.
Farmer, New Testament scholar and co-founder of Koinonia Farm Community Clarence Jordan said,
“The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus,
not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life.”
This is the message of Easter, one not for just this day, or the Easter Season that lasts for fifty days, but for every day and ever more:
Jesus has taken up permanent residence,
standing beside us as teacher, friend, encourager,
whispering constantly to us that the world has changed, that the world is different, in spite of the evidence…
so that we can—side by side with him—change the world.
Friends, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
~Rev. Lori Wunder