This sermon is based on John 20:1-18
Introduction: In the Garden
Nobody ever expected a resurrection.
On that morning when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, she knew what her errand was about.
Of course, we understand that she would have been in mourning. She was present at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, but events had moved swiftly and death would have seemed incomprehensibly sudden. Mary knew very well that Jesus was dead, but she was probably feeling a bit surreal, like she was present but somewhere else, not knowing what to think or what to feel.
We can imagine that this morning’s task of anointing Jesus for burial might have been a welcome one. She had one last duty to perform for her friend and it was a very practical one; there was actually one more thing that she could do for him – and this might have been a comfort to her.
Despite being in mourning and probably feeling surreal, we have no reason to believe that Mary was – as psychiatrists say – not oriented in time and space. She knew exactly what had happened, exactly where she was, and exactly what she had to do.
The world as she had known it had not changed, although it had become a sadder place for her.
What Mary found in the tomb began to change her expectations. She’d expected to anoint Jesus’ body with herbs and oils but the body had disappeared and the burial linens lay abandoned in the tomb.
She knew that she could not anoint a body that wasn’t there. What she didn’t know was that the world had changed.
Mary must have been quite shocked to see an empty tomb. Perhaps she thought that her grief had got in the way of her seeing Jesus’ body in the shade of the tomb. But when Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved came to inspect the tomb, they confirmed that the body wasn’t there.
The logical explanation must be that someone had taken the body away. Perhaps a friend, perhaps an enemy. After all, a body does not just disappear of its own accord.
But in her encounter with Jesus in the Garden, Mary began to understand that her world had changed. No-one expected a resurrection, but Mary began to suspect resurrection.
The man who Mary met in the garden that morning called her by her familiar name: Miriam. Not Maria. Not the formal name that the Gentiles used, but Miriam. Her Jewish name. The name that her family and friends used. Her real name.
It was in this intimacy, in this familiarity and love, that Mary was able to recognise her friend Jesus. It was from this point forward that Mary understood that everything had changed.
The New Creation
Everything had changed.
The Good News on that first Easter morning is the same news that we proclaim this morning: that the incarnate God is alive. God is completely alive and without reference to death. Eternal, abundant life has broken into the cosmos. And reality as we know it will never be the same again.
Everything has changed.
Jesus is risen, Christ is alive but the meaning of his resurrection is not – in my view – simply a miracle on the order of other New Testament miracles. Jesus Christ did not simply rise from the dead in order to give us some kind of supernatural sign that he was really divine.
The resurrection was somehow – and I can express it no better than “somehow” – an integral part of God’s plan for creation – for God’s New Creation.
To borrow images from John’s Gospel, the Christ event – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - was the event which brought light into the darkness. Yes, the resurrection proved that God is completely alive and without reference to death, but more than “proving” God’s driving force toward life, the Christ Event actually brought that life into Creation.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Illustration: “Lazarus Laughed”
The American playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote a play about the raising of Lazarus entitled Lazarus Laughed.
You will remember that, in the story as told in the bible, Mary and Martha summon Jesus so that he can heal their brother, Lazarus, who is on his deathbed. But Jesus delays his journey to their village and, when Jesus gets there, Lazarus has already died. And so, rather than healing Lazarus, Jesus calls him forth from the tomb.
In Eugene O’Neill’s play, once Lazarus has been raised and has settled back into mortal life, all his friends and neighbours gather ‘round him and ask him what it is like being dead.
And Lazarus’ response is to laugh and to say that death is not an abyss. The story he tells them is one of God, of life, of joy.
As Lazarus tells this story to his friends and neighbours, they all start laughing too.
They are amazed at this wonderful good news and they tell their friends and neighbours.
Soon the entire village is one great big laughter factory.
But the Roman authorities hear about what has happened and they become alarmed. The Romans understand that the key to controlling people is to intimidate them with the threat of death. The Romans understand that if everyone in Judea loses their fear of death that they, the Romans, will loose their control over their conquered land.
Without fear of death, the conquered people are, in fact, free people.
The Application of Resurrection
The resurrection makes us free people.
Because of the resurrection, Christians understand that God is completely alive and without reference to death.
On Easter day, we proclaim our faith in God’s complete aliveness.
The question, I think, is whether we live as people who really believe in resurrection. To the extent that we live in fear of death, we are people who live under subjugation. The more we come to grasp the reality of resurrection, the freer we are to hope, to give thanks, to be joyful and to laugh.
What would the world be like if, because they were not afraid, those who understand God’s life-force were totally free to do what is right and what is Godly?
What would the world be like if every Christian lived as a person who was “brilliantly alive and completely without reference to death”?
What would we do if we believed in the resurrection?