Easter 2008

JOHN 20:1-18
Our bible reading today focuses on two people: The disciple who Jesus loved (who is identified with John, but could in fact be anyone) and Mary Magdalene.

It is the story of how they came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

1. There is the disciple who Jesus loved.
He believes because of the facts.

He gets to the tomb first, stands outside while Peter goes in, and then he himself goes in.

And he is convinced.

He is convinced by
the empty tomb
the grave clothes

The empty tomb in itself is no evidence. The body of Jesus could easily have been removed. That is what Mary thought.

But in fact the tomb was not empty: There were the grave clothes. The head cloth is lying in the place it should have been – just as if Jesus had materialised through it; and the strips of linen were lying elsewhere – as if they had been thrown off.

For John it was a combination of the absence of the body of Jesus and of the presence of the grave clothes.

It is hard to imagine what could have happened.
But it does tell us one thing: The body of Jesus could not have been removed. If it had been removed then they would certainly have taken it wrapped up. There would have been no grave clothes.

It was enough for John. Verse 8 tells us that ‘He saw and believed’.

He realised that this story, which he thought had one ending, has a very different ending.

I get irritated when people dismiss the literal resurrection by saying: ‘It was the disciples way of teaching that Jesus’ ideas lived on, that his Spirit lived on’. I have a sinking feeling, after Friday, that that is the way that ‘The Passion’ is going – although I will be delighted to be proved wrong.

Yes, of course Jesus’ Spirit lives on, but the idea that the followers of Jesus turned the resurrection into a metaphor or parable just does not hold true. A week earlier they had thought that he was going to defeat the Romans, liberate Israel and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Now he is crucified, their hopes are dashed and they are wanted men.

Denying a literal resurrection leaves you with a very big problem. It does not explain how terrified followers of a crucified leader, could become a force that turned this world upside down.

They said, ‘Jesus is risen from the dead.’
They not only said it, but they were willing to go to the ends of the world to say it, and they were willing to be mocked for it, to lose everything for it, to die for it.

And we really do need to be like the disciple who Jesus loved. Like him, we are called to listen to the rumours that something has happened to his body. Like him, we are called to go to the tomb, to look at the evidence.
Do we see now why the bible doesn’t name him: because he is meant to be any one of us.

We have more evidence than John ever had. We have the absence of the body of Jesus, the grave clothes in the tomb, the multiple appearances to the disciples, on different occasions – he even ate with them. We have the evidence of their changed lives, of the fact that they moved the day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to the Sunday – the day of the resurrection. And we have the witness of those like James – Jesus’ brother - who, while Jesus lived was so hostile to him, but who was changed by something, and became a follower.

And we also have the evidence of the scriptures: John 20.9 hints that there is this evidence, but that the disciples hadn’t really twigged. There are the promises of God in the Old Testament that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise again – look at Isaiah 53 or Daniel 7; the words of Jesus himself in our bible; and the experience of the first Christians and the earliest church communities.

You do not need to kiss your brain goodbye to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are some great stories of people who set out to disprove the resurrection, and end up being convinced that it must have happened: perhaps the most well known is the story behind the writing of the book, ‘Who Moved the Stone’

Even one contemporary Orthodox Jewish scholar, Dr Pinchas Lapide has written that the only way to explain the emergence of the Christian community is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He writes, "I accept the resurrection of Jesus not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event." To be fair to him, it is Christian claims about Jesus as the messiah rather than about the resurrection, that is the key divide between Christianity and Judaism.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, a Christian theologian writes, “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: first, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”

In fact, the real brain kissers are the people who do not even bother to find out if it could be true.

So this Easter, we can run to the tomb with the disciple who Jesus loved. We can find out if what Mary said is true: ‘They’ve taken the body away’.

Because if we do look at the evidence: there is very little room for doubt.

John saw and believed.

2. There is Mary Magdalene

Mary comes at this story from a very different angle.

She has come to be close to the dead body of her Lord.

They had taken the living Jesus away from her
Now, she thinks, they have taken the dead Jesus away from her

And my guess is that Mary is in that place of darkness (v1, ‘While it was still dark’), of emptiness, of abandonment, of tears and of death. She is in the pit.

Her grief blinds her to the facts. It blinds her to the presence of the grave clothes in the tomb; it blinds her to realising who the people are who are speaking to her; it blinds her to seeing Jesus when he stands in front of her.

And it is only when he speaks her name that she realises that, No, they haven’t taken his body. He has risen. He is alive.

My wife pointed out that this ever so Mars/Venus, male/female.
The man (if it is John) convinced by the facts;
the woman convinced by the encounter.

Far be it for me to stereotype.
For 2000 years, men and women have been convinced by the facts: Jesus rose from the dead
For 2000 years, men and women have been convinced because they encounter the risen Jesus.

It really doesn’t matter how one comes to believe.

What does matter is that you make the effort to find out.

What does matter is that:
 Jesus is risen
 Death has been conquered
 Our sins are forgiven. His God is now our God and His Father is now our Father
 This life is not what it is all about

What does matter is that: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”

What does matter is that the tomb, evil, darkness, tears, emptiness, abandonment and death are not the end. For the person who puts their trust in Jesus, the end of it all is faith, love, light, joy, fullness, the presence of God and life.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!


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