Jn 20:1-18 (NIV)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
April 1, 1018 – Easter Sunday
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 8 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
= = =
The last time that Easter fell on April Fool’s Day was 1956, and it won’t happen again until 2029. I’m hoping that all of my colleagues have resisted the temptation to stand before their congregations and say, “Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed … APRIL FOOL’S!”
We can laugh and chuckle about that, but for some, the meaning of today might just as WELL be an April Fool’s joke.
People don’t believe it … they’re skeptical. And even many of US, if we’re honest, don’t always know if we should treat this day as a FACTUAL account … or if it’s ALLERGORY … or it’s METAPHOR … if it’s speaking about true, PHYSICAL resurrection of the body … or if it’s alluding to a SPIRITUAL – almost METAphysical – transformation.
And probably not surprisingly … I’m going to aggravate some of you by saying what I always do about such things … that’s for YOU to figure out with the guidance of the Holy Spirit … because THIS day represents all of those things to all of us in one way or another – fact, allegory, metaphor, symbol.
And, again, if we’re HONEST … there have probably been times in our lives when this day has meant different things to each of us in our OWN lives. It’s kind of like Christmas! As we grow and change … our life events and experiences shift our perspective a bit … and BOOM! Things like Easter, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries … they all mean different things at different times. Right?
This event, though … the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth … what many would argue is the event that bestowed upon him the title of “Christ” or “anointed one” … “Messiah!” … this one has had a PROFOUND effect on human history.
For believers and non-believers alike.
Take the calendar, for instance. There still exist other calendars … the Jewish and Chinese calendars, for example … but the majority of the world operates out of the Julian calendar which is based around this man’s LIFE.
And there are many other ways that the world has been “Christianized,” if you will – whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your perspective.
Today is the holiest day in our religion.
Jesus is NOT the only religious leader to have had a miraculous birth, OR to have been reportedly resurrected.
But to his early followers, THIS was the most important event because it showed once and for all that NOTHING was impossible for God … that everything that Jesus had taught in his lifetime was TRUE. The first Gospel account written – Mark’s – doesn’t include the BIRTH of Jesus at all. But it sure has the DEATH. And then the account of the Resurrection was added on.
Easter DEFINES Christians.
And just as CHRISTMAS has become secularized, so has Easter… borrowing HEAVILY from pagan holidays with bunnies and eggs. Even the name “EASTER,” itself, comes from the Old English word, “Ēastre,” (ES-tray) which was the the name of a goddess associated with spring.
What I want us to spend just a few minutes THINKING about today, though, is a little different from what I usually preach on at Easter. USUALLY I talk about how it’s up to us to CHOOSE to believe – or not – because we can never know with our left-brain intellect if something happened 2,000 years ago.
Faith is believing in that which cannot be proven. Right? Because it we could PROVE it, we wouldn’t need faith.
But TODAY I want us to agree to ASSUME that whatever it was … SOMETHING happened at that time … in that part of the world. We know through the great Jewish historian to Rome, Josephus, that a person existed who was named Jesus and he was from Nazareth. He was an ITINERENT Rabbi and had followers who traveled with him. According to Josephus, he was tortured and executed by Rome for insurrection – a crime against the state.
And, as Josephus said, the word spread that his tomb, though having been guarded, was empty and his believers saw him alive again, according to testimonies. They claimed resurrection.
The fact that an insignificant man in Palestine with a handful of followers who were nothing special … fishermen, laborers, a tax collector/collaborator with Rome, and some women … the fact that their STORY and his TEACHINGS have survived over 2,000 YEARS?????
Some people refer to the Resurrection (and to Jesus coming to earth in the first place) as a COSMIC happening. The divine ENERGY … the divine PRESENCE found in his life, death, and resurrection changed EVERYTHING … even for non-believers. It toppled the greatest empire of the time … Rome. It ENDED the 400-year Pax Romana.
His little band of followers spread his teachings to the far corners of the world and that couldn’t have happened if there weren’t some INCREDIBLE force behind it.
But somewhere along the line, many Christians have forgotten the fact that when we say the words “Jesus Christ,” we are making TWO statements of faith, not just one. Some of us forget that “Christ” is not his LAST NAME. That when we say “JESUS” we are naming the MAN … but when we say “CHRIST” we are claiming the energy and the POWER of being a cosmic force that cuts across all dimensions and all limitations.
JESUS was a man of his time, but the CHRIST – the christos, the anointed of God … THAT is an Energy … a PRESENCE outside of time. It is trans-liminal and trans-dimensional.
Franciscans and people like Richard Rohr and Matthew Fox … they talk about the Cosmic Christ a lot. You can Google “Cosmic Christ” if you want, and find WONDERFUL readings to explore.
But for our purposes today, I want to leave you with a VISUAL thought.
I have here a couple of nails from Good Friday.
They remind us of the horrible, HORRIBLE events of two days ago. Tens of thousands of people were crucified by the Roman Empire … men AND women. It was brutal and agonizing. Inhuman and inhumane. We look at methods of torture TODAY around the world and can’t stand it. But this was even worse than many of THOSE.
And if we have only ONE of these nails, we can be reminded of how awful we can be to each other … judging … killing … NAILING each other with our words AND our deeds.
Each of our lives is like one of these nails walking around by ourselves – UNTIL we meet up with others and are in RELATIONSHIP with them. Until we build relationships with others and with God … and THEN … the two become ONE [show the two nails forming a cross]. (Here are two nails from my home church in Oneonta that were welded together when the church did a major renovation in the 1970’s. Easier to see than my LITTLE nails.)
Once we do THAT … once we come TOGETHER … then the power of the CROSS takes over… the power to liberate … to FREE us from death … the power to cross dimensions and create NEW realities of love and light because SOMETHING happened in Palestine that changed the world!
When two or more of us come together, it’s like putting together Jesus, the human [VERTICAL line] with his teachings, and Christ [HORIZONTAL line], the cosmic life-altering and life-sustaining PRESENCE of God.
And that’s our JOB as Christians… to help others put those two pieces together by forming relationships with God [VERTICAL line] and with other people [HORIZONTAL line]. It’s OUR job to make sure that the historical Jesus [vertical] is EXPERIENCED as the life-changing CHRIST [horizontal]
It’s OUR job to take the ways that people NAIL each other [X] and judge each other and bring them together into the healing and LIBERATING message of triumph over the grave.
That’s the CROSS purpose … that’s the purpose of the cross … to bring together HEAVEN [vertical line] and earth [horizontal line].
… to bring together Jesus [X] and the Christ through our interactions with others.
… to see the cross NOT as a barrier or a wall that SEPARATES us from others, but as a CUT-OUT … a PORTAL … through which we see the world … through which we walk INTO situation. As Christians, we are to view life through a cross-shaped LENS in order to remove distortion and see clearly.
Through God’s resurrection of Jesus, the cross has no power to KILL us anymore. It only has the power to TRANSFORM.
When he emerged from the tomb … the battle was won forever-more because Jesus had BECOME the Christ for all time … for all places … and for all people.
If it weren’t for the Resurrection, the cross would have REMAINED just a killing machine … an instrument of capital punishment like the electric chair or the gas chamber. But NOW, the EMPTY cross is a REMINDER of the empty tomb.
You won’t find a crucifix … a cross with Jesus ON it … in Presbyterian churches because that focuses us on the Crucifixion. WE choose to focus on the RESURRECTION and it’s kinda hard to wear an empty TOMB around our necks, so we have the empty CROSS to remind us of the empty tomb.
And what HAPPENS when we acknowledge the power of the Resurrection???
Then we are changed and, just like Jesus when Mary Magdalene saw him after he had risen … we are often unrecognizable by even those who knew us well.
We are CHANGED from the inside out.
THAT’s the purpose and power of the cross. Where the Life [X] and the Light intersect, there is a cosmic explosion on the cellular level and we are changed … TRANSFORMED … one molecule at a time just as Jesus was.
We become something new altogether.
And a good place to start INTERNALIZING that cross purpose … that intersection of interior and exterior … that intersection of Jesus and the Christ … is right here at his table when we will sit and share a meal with HIM … and we will take within us the ELEMENTS that are blessed in His name.
Let us continue our worship now as we prepare our hearts and minds to SHARE our faith with others, and to RECEIVE the presence of the Risen Christ.
Amen, and amen.