Summary: He is Risen Indeed! (an Easter Sermon) ...
It is Easter Day, and here we gather, along with so many other people around the globe, to celebrate that fundamental event which gives birth to the Christian faith - namely, the resurrection of Jesus.
I’ve been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus like this every year at this time for as long as I can remember, so I guess I sort of take for granted that it is an appropriate thing to do this time of year. I’m conscious though that it might not be immediately obvious to everybody in our world why we so passionately celebrate the fact that this man, Jesus, didn’t die (or at least didn’t stay dead).
‘So what?’ Some people may say. So what indeed!
I heard that in Japan some confectionary maker tried to capitalise on the Easter season by bringing out chocolate crucifixes, complete with a chocolate Jesus that you could bite into. I don’t know whether he went the whole hog and put cherry ripe on the inside, but either way he clearly missed the point.
But what is the point? I don’t think it’s immediately obvious to the outsider, and certainly the earliest accounts that we have of the resurrection event don’t help us to make a lot of sense of it.
If we take the account I read this morning from John’s Gospel, it doesn’t tell us a lot about the resurrection. It doesn’t tell us how it happened. It certainly doesn’t even tell us why it happened! It just tells us what two of the disciples did - how they ran all the way from their homes to the tomb, how they went in to the grave area and found the clothes lying about in neat piles, and how they then went home, leaving Mary there by herself for some strange reason!
This early resurrection account has often bothered me. Why doesn’t it tell us more? Why is it so focused on trivial details about who out-ran who and where the various bits of cloth were found to be lying. And then it occurred to me this year, as I read through it once again. It occurred to me why this resurrection narrative is so unspectacular and filled with odd details. It’s because what we are reading here was originally a performance!
If you read the end of John’s Gospel, you get quite a clear picture of how they put this book together. It wasn’t written by John (the ‘beloved disciple’) himself, but by his disciples - a small, loyal group of supporters that formed around him, and worshipped and ministered with him through his later years.
John, we believe, was the only one of the twelve disciples that did not meet a brutal and untimely death. John indeed apparently lived to a great age, and in his declining years, when he was riddled with arthritis, it was said that they used to carry him around to meetings and sit him on the floor, where he used to say no more than, ‘love one another, love one another’.
And it wasn’t until after John died that his disciples put together a collection of all the stories that he’d told them over the years, and no doubt one of the most often-told stories in the bunch must have been his experience on that Easter morning.
“Tell us again exactly how it happened, Father John”, you can see the little ones in that early Christian community prompting him.
“Well”, says John, “it all started when we heard a banging on the door, and found Mary standing there, breathless, and telling Peter and myself that the Lord’s body had disappeared!
So Peter and I didn’t even finish our breakfast. We started running towards the tomb. If we’d thought harder about it first, we might have gone and got ourselves some transport, but we didn’t’ think too hard about it. We just started running. And I was a better runner than Peter in those days, and I out-ran him. And I got to the tomb first, but I didn’t go in.”
“Why didn’t you go in, Father?”
“Well, to tell you the truth I was a little scared. From the outside of the tomb I could see that there was no body in there, but I couldn’t tell if there might not have been some thugs hiding in the shadows. But then Peter caught up and, typical of him, he just rushed straight in.
And then I went in. I stooped down, as the entrance-way was quite low, and sure enough there was no one in there, apart from Peter and myself. And there were the graveclothes, and the cloth that had been on Jesus head, it wasn’t with the other graveclothes. It was folded up and sitting over there by itself. And I knew at that point that something wonderful had happened!”