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Easter Sunday 2022

Updated: Mar 18

John 20:1-18 (NIV)
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. 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!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 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.’” 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.

Isaiah 25:6-9
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples,a banquet of aged wine—  the best of meats and the finest of wines.On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,the sheet that covers all nations;  he will swallow up death forever.The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears    from all faces;he will remove his people’s disgrace  from all the earth.The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”


I’ve come to think that the Easter story is a bit like a diamond. We think we’ve seen it many times already, but then the light strikes it differently and suddenly it seems new again. So this morning I want to share just a few ways in which the story has become new again for me this year, a few places where the light has struck it in a way I hadn’t noticed before.

 

 

I realised for the first time that there are some really odd little details in John’s account. There is this race between the two disciples, with both claiming a victory of sorts, as the beloved disciple is first to the tomb, but he hesitates at the entrance so it is Peter who enters first. And we are told quite specifically that the beloved disciple bent down to look into the tomb, and that the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was separate from the cloth that had been wrapped around his body. Why does any of that matter? We could draw a link between the race and the hint of jealousy between Peter and the beloved disciple during the breakfast on the beach, and we could hypothesise that the face cloth being separate conveyed some particular message, but I’m not sure that we need to.

 

Memory can be unpredictable, especially at moments of heightened emotion. Take the birth of my two children as an example. There are parts of their births that I cannot remember at all, and other parts that I remember with such clarity they are almost flashbacks. It doesn’t matter at all to the resurrection who got to the tomb first or where the cloths were left, so these sudden flashes of precise detail read to me like those odd moments that lodge in the memory. It is a reminder that we are reading an eye witness account, whether it has been written down first hand or relayed to the gospel writer. Somebody really saw this, and the images of the beloved disciple bending at the entrance to the tomb while Peter ran past, and of the grave clothes in their separate places, stuck in their memory.

 

Somebody really saw this. It seems so obvious but we need to say it, because at the core of the Christian faith, as expressed for many centuries in the apostles’ creed, is the belief that “Jesus Christ...was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” And most essentially, at the core of the Christian faith is the belief that these things really happened. The resurrection is not a metaphor but a historical event, a turning point in the story of creation, the moment that says we can be sure that death is not the end and joy and hope wait on the other side of grief and despair. As Frederick Buechner said “this overcoming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary [is] the tale that is too good not to be true”.

 

 

Something else I saw for the first time is the way the gospel writer says that the beloved disciple believed, and then immediately says the disciples did not understand from scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. He saw the empty tomb and the abandoned grave clothes and he believed, though he still did not understand in full. That feels so very significant that I can’t believe I didn’t spot it before, not even when I was translating this text for my studies, so let that be an encouragement to us all to keep going back to the scriptures.

 

But why is it so significant that the beloved disciple believed without understanding? I think for me it is because so much of my faith lies in that liminal space between belief and understanding, and seeing it in scripture assures me that it is okay. I believe that prayer is effective, although I do not understand how it works. I believe that there is an essential goodness to the world, although I do not understand why it sometimes seems so well hidden. I believe that two thousand years ago a man died on a cross and then walked out of his tomb and somehow that means that one day everything will be okay, although I do not understand how it could possibly be so. Some days I really need to understand, and I wrestle until something slots into place. Other days I know it is enough just to believe, and I simply let the love that defeated death carry me. Both days are good days.

 

There are many ways of understanding the Easter story, many theories of atonement that seek to explain what happened between the cross and the empty tomb. There is value in exploring and interrogating them, because they shape how we see God and how we believe we are called to live, and if for you today is a day on which you need that understanding, I encourage you to seek it in prayer and in the wisdom of others. But perhaps today is a day to stand in the empty tomb and see the abandoned grave clothes and simply believe, allowing yourself to feel in your heart what you cannot explain with your head, trusting that the rest will follow in time.

 

 

Because we have been following the lectionary, this was also the first year that I had read the story of the resurrection paired with the passage from Isaiah. I said last week that we must be careful about appropriating texts from the Hebrew scriptures, but the image of God destroying the shroud that covers the people resonates powerfully with the image of the cast off grave clothes. I won’t be so bold as to claim that this passage is definitely speaking about the resurrection, but I do think we can explore a possible connection, or at least sit with the poetry of it.

 

Because if there is a connection between the shroud that enfolded Jesus’ body and the shroud that Isaiah saw enfolding the people, then we are reminded that in some way we have died with Christ, and “if we died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11). Resurrection is our story too, and not just in the future but right now. The shroud has already been discarded and destroyed. Death is being swallowed up. God is wiping away our tears and removing our disgrace. A feast is being set and we are invited to share in the best of meats and finest of wines. We can rejoice in the salvation God is working out.

 

Perhaps that sounds like it is all well and good while we are in this bubble of Easter celebration, but it won’t last long once we have walked through the doors. We may look at the world and think there is little salvation to rejoice in, but there is always more goodness than we realise and joy can be an act of revolution in a despairing world. We should not take this tattered shroud and turn it into a comfort blanket to hide ourselves in, but turn it into a banner that declares that joy is possible, hope is possible, life is possible.

 

 

If we can sit with the poetry of Isaiah, I also want us to sit with the poetry of Jay Hulme. I first read Mary Magdalene and the Gardener some time ago, so this is not strictly speaking something new I have found in the Easter story, but every time I read this poem it feels like light hitting the diamond right on the spot that sends spectrums dancing around the room. I don’t want to spoil it with any clumsy exposition, so let us simply read it again, looking through Mary’s tear filled eyes to see the bringer of life.







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