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Sermon for Easter Sunday

2012 — John 20:1-18

 

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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (Jn 1:1,2)  “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Darkness and formlessness.  “Tohu wabohu,” the Hebrews called it.  It was not nothing but it was not yet something either.  Primordial chaos.  And God spoke, the Word came forth and light came to be.  Light and life.  The first day.  And God brought forth man.  The sixth day.  Creation is complete.  God saw all he had made, and it was very good.

The eternal Word was there at the beginning and then, at one point in time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Word made flesh brought light and new life wherever he went speaking it, causing it to be by making water into wine, healing, even paradoxically by dying.  “Behold the man!”  Darkness covers the earth.  The eternal Word made flesh is death.  “It is finished.”  The sixth day.  Good Friday.  The Word made flesh is buried in the tomb.  At last He has Sabbath rest but in the cold stone of the grave.  The tohu wabohu has returned.

It is still dark on the morning of the first day of the week.  With eyes still red and swollen with sleep and tears the women come to the tomb to finish what the men had started and also because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.  It is like that on the morning after the funeral.  All the preparations are over.  What else is there to do?

The women are the first apostles, the first sent ones; sent to the others with the news: the tomb is empty.  This is news but it is not yet Good News.  No.  It is bad news.  It is cruelty on top of chaos.  Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb.  Maybe the soldiers took him.  Maybe gardener knows what happened.  This is very bad news.  She runs back into the city, back to Peter in his hiding place, back to John.  They both run back to the garden tomb.  It is as she said it was: the tomb is open and empty.  Looking in, it must be getting lighter now, he can see very curiously the linen cloths are still lying there.  That makes no sense.  Whoever took the body first unwrapped it.  Why on earth would someone do that?

Peter finally arrives.  While the others had merely peered in, Peter doesn’t hesitate.  In he goes. And it’s even stranger than it first appeared: “the linen cloths are lying there; but the single cloth, the napkin that had been around Jesus’ head, isn’t with the others. It’s in a place by itself. Someone, having unwrapped the body (a complicated task in itself), has gone to the trouble of laying out the cloths to create an effect.  It looks as though the body wasn’t picked up and unwrapped, but had just disappeared, leaving the empty cloths, like a collapsed balloon when the air has gone out of it.” (Wright, 142)

British scholar and theologian Tom Wright puts it nicely:

“Then comes the moment. The younger man, the beloved disciple, goes into the tomb after Peter. And the idea they had had to that point about what must have happened—someone taking the body away, but unwrapping it first—suddenly looks stupid and irrelevant. Something quite new surges up in the young disciple, a wild delight at God’s creative power. He remembers the moment ever afterwards. A different sensation. A bit like falling in love; a bit like sunrise; a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.

A bit like faith. Oh, he’d had faith before. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He had believed that God had sent him, that he was God’s man for God’s people and God’s world. But this was different. ‘He saw, and believed.’ Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last. Believed that God had said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, to all that he had been and done. Believed that Jesus was alive again. (Wright, John for Everyone, Pt 2, 142-143)

That’s pretty close to what we can imagine it was like for Mary and Peter and John that morning.  After John carefully looked around in the tomb he believed that Jesus was alive again.  I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  John did not believe that Jesus had died and gone to heaven.  Many people, some Christians even, believe that’s what we mean when we say that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Later on in the next episode with Mary and Jesus and then in the episode with Thomas, John is quite clear that this is not what he means.  John means that Jesus was resurrected.  Jesus did not just come back from the dead; that would be resuscitated.  He was raised from the dead; He was bodily resurrected.

Mary and Martha believed in the resurrection; they believed that their now departed brother Lazarus would be raised on the Day when all are raised from the dead.  But Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave for him only to die again.  When Lazarus was raised, he was powerless to untie himself and needed something to eat.  We just heard how Jesus left his graveclothes behind altogether when Jesus was raised.  This was a new thing entirely, as alluded to by Paul today in the new lump, the new creation.  Lazarus came back into a world where he suffered the death threats of the religious rulers who thought he should not have heeded the command of the Lord to come out.  Jesus’s resurrection points to something else entirely, a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond this life, where death and darkness had been defeated and life, life and light in all their fullness and bright glory, could begin at last.

Just as Israel had been rescued from the bondage of slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord had drowned Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea, so also in the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord has rescued all His people from the bondage to death and has destroyed the power of death forever.

“Well, pastor, that’s all well and good, but it seems that the burden of proof lays on the other side.  Death seems mighty powerful still.  There’s a whole graveyard full of folks we love just over there and none of them have been resurrected.  What proof do we have that they will come out of their graves like Lazarus?”  Oh dear brothers and sisters, they and we if we join them there will not come out like Lazarus, they will come out like Jesus.  Risen.  Resurrected.  Glorified.  Having put on the heavenly body.  (1 Cor 15)  The proof is Jesus, the firstborn from the dead.  Just as He has risen, so shall they, so shall we.  I am not so heavenly minded that I cannot see the power of death around us.  But death’s power is now limited, reigned in, like a bee it’s stinger had broken off, it’s only a matter of time before it finally dies.  As goes death so goes that which comes along with it.  Darkness.  Chaos.  Tohu wabohu.  Slavery.  Fear.  Sin.  The power of the devil and hell itself.  Sure, the world around us testifies to the power these still have in it.  War.  Violence.  Lies.  Hate.  Murder.  Subjugation of peoples.  Genocide.  These do not come from the earth, they come from the sin-darkened, chaos-filled, hell-bound heart of man; from your heart; they come from my heart.  All it takes is a little bit.  One rotten apple rots the whole barrel.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  Even the creation itself is groaning under the pollution of our sin.  Earthquakes.  Famines.  Droughts.  Tsunamis.  They all testify that the creation is no longer “very good” as it was intended.

But today is, just as it was then, the first day of the new week, the eighth day, the new creation.   On that first Easter a new day dawned, the day of the new creation, the eighth day.  Pondering the mystery of the eighth day Doctor Luther was left to conclude,

“the eighth day signifies the future life; for Christ rested in the [tomb] on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day without the alternations of night.”[1]

Today we celebrate our Lord Jesus raised from the dead, in glory.  This is the first day of God’s new week.  The darkness has gone and chaos and death have been overcome; the sun is shining.  Your sin is forgiven.

     Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

Inspiration from Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21, 140-43.

 


[1] Martin Luther, vol. 3, Luther’s Works, Vol. 3 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20 ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther’s WorksSaint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), Ge 17:11.

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