Summary: John wants us to believe. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”’ (John 11) The question is do you believe?
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
Before I begin this morning, there’s a little tradition that goes with Easter Sunday called the Easter Acclamation, or the Paschal greeting. Basically one person says ‘Christ is Risen,’ and then the response is, ‘He is Risen indeed!’ Given some of us might be a bit tired, especially if you were at the dinner on Thursday night, and back on Friday morning, or if you’ve spent the weekend indulging in Easter eggs, I thought we’d make today a bit interactive. So throughout the sermon, at various points I’m going to say ‘Christ is Risen’ and when I do I want you to interrupt with the response, ‘He is risen indeed!’
Growing up, one of the books I enjoyed was the Guinness World Records. It’s full of amazing facts and figures. Not just the fastest time for the 100m sprint, but useful facts like the largest chocolate Easter egg weighed 7.2 tonnes. As amazing or weird as these things are, to get in the Guinness Book, they had to be measurable, they had to be verifiable. No matter how fantastical they seem, they’re still facts, reliable and trustworthy. When I worked in a bookstore I discovered the cousin, or rival to the Guinness World Records, a book called Ripley’s Believe it or Not. These books are full of weirder, more unbelievable things, more the stuff of urban legend. There’s no hint that they’re verified in the same way as the World Records are, in fact the more unbelievable the better! I wonder which book you’d place the news that Christ is Risen? (He is risen indeed!) How did the disciples classify this news? More importantly how did they respond, how should we respond?
As we start John 20, we see Mary heading out to the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid after it was taken down from the cross on Friday. Because of the Sabbath she, and the other disciples, hadn’t had a chance to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial. They didn’t have the opportunity to properly mourn or grieve. Mary can’t even wait for the day to start properly, she heads out while it’s still dark. She doesn’t yet understand what’s happened, her mind is dark to the reality of what took place on the Cross, and what was about to take place.
Although it’s dark, even before she gets to the tomb, Mary can see that the giant stone that covered the entrance has been rolled away. Straight away her mind jumps to the worse case scenario. Someone’s taken his body! At this point in time, that’s more believable to her than anything else. She doesn’t yet believe that Christ has risen. (He is Risen indeed!) What can she do? Mary runs straight back to Peter and John and tells them what’s she’s seen and what she believes, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’
This leads to an epic footrace between the two disciples. They can’t believe what Mary’s told them so they burst out racing to see it for themselves. If you’ve ever had a race with kids, you’ll know that sometimes you might think you’ve won, but then they go a few steps past you and claim that in fact they’re the winner! That’s what happens here. John’s the younger of the two and he beats Peter to the grave. But whether out of respect, or fear, he just peers in from the entrance. But then Peter arrives and he doesn’t hold back. He rushes past and so he becomes the first to enter the empty tomb. Emboldened, John also stoops down and enters in. Inside they don’t just see the grave clothes, but also the cloth that had been placed on Jesus head, lying folded up and placed neatly to the side. John tells us that when he saw that, he believed. But what did he believe? Not that grave robbers had been in and taken Jesus’ body. If that were the case the linens and spices, the things that were actually worth money are left behind. (It’s like when you watch a cop show and they discover a victim has their wallet and jewellery intact, and instantly assume it’s not a mugging). And John doesn’t believe, that the authorities had stolen the body, because they wouldn’t have taken the time to unwrap it at the grave.
No, John believes that Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed). He saw the evidence with his own eyes and he believed. Though as he writes the gospel he’s honest and humble enough to admit that at the time he didn’t yet understand this from the Scriptures. He’s admitting that even without seeing it the empty tomb for himself, there’s enough sufficient evidence in the Bible, in the OT, to make a case for the resurrection. He might’ve been thinking of passages like this one from Psalm 16: