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Easter Sunday 2024 When it was still dark ...

John 20.1-8

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark ..

It was dark.

Jesus – the one who the first disciples had put their trust in, who they had believed was the Messiah and was going to establish the Kingdom of God – had been crucified.
Everything looked hopeless. They had trusted Jesus, they had given everything for him, and if he had let them down, then who or what could they trust
And it was worse than that: for a brief time, for three years, they had thought that light and truth and love and life would win. But on that first Good Friday betrayal and lies and fear and hatred and evil had won.
All they could do is to come to the grave, lament the dead body of Jesus and weep for themselves and their broken dreams.
Beyond that there was nothing – no vision, no hope.

It was dark.

But as they come to the tomb on that first day of the week they get three surprises

1. Somebody has removed the stone.

John does not mention about the stone being placed over the entrance to the tomb (earlier we are told about a stone covering the tomb where Lazarus lay – when Jesus tells them to take the stone away). But he does mention the fact that the women saw that the stone had been removed.

Clearly it is important enough for John to mention.

The stone has been moved, and it is not the women who have moved the stone themselves or asked someone to do it for them.
Of course it could have been the disciples themselves who moved the stone in order to steal away the body of Jesus. But then that does not explain the surprise of Peter and John when the women tell them. And we are told specifically in Matthew that Pilate had placed some guards by the tomb just to ensure that there would be no funny stuff.

Albert Henry Ross, a journalist, wrote a book. He was going to write a tract to disprove the resurrection. But the more he researched the more convinced he became that something quite remarkable, quite unique had happened. And the book he wrote – under the pseudonym Frank Morison - was called, ‘Who moved the stone?

2. There is no body

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

Jesus body has gone from the tomb.

The obvious answer is that someone – perhaps the same person or group of people who moved the stone – has taken the body of Jesus and put it somewhere else. Later Mary, thinking she is talking with the gardener, asks him where he has put the body of Jesus.

But there is no body.

Jesus is so often not where we are looking for him.

In some of the other gospels, the angels say to the women who have come to the tomb, ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here.’
When Jesus ascends into the heaven, the disciples stand looking up, probably with wide open mouths ..
And the angel says to them, ‘Why are you looking up into heaven? You are not going to see him up there. He is now too big to be just up there. And one day he is coming back’.

There is no body. Or rather there is a body – but the body is no longer in the tomb.

The body of Jesus is so transformed, so glorious that he can appear to his followers – he is recognisable, especially because of the marks of the nails, but they don’t always immediately recognise him. But this body – and I wonder whether it will be a bit like our resurrection bodies - can talk and listen, can touch and be touched, can eat fish but can also appear and disappear from locked rooms.

3. The linen cloths left in the tomb

“They saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen”.

John spends a bit of time on this. 
This, I suspect, is what convinced him that Jesus had indeed truly risen.
“Finally the other disciple (John), who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”

If someone had stolen the body then they would have taken the body with the grave clothes.

No human person knows what actually happened in that tomb. It is a mystery.
But it could have been that Jesus’ body moved up, through and out of the grave clothes, and then Jesus had taken off the head cloth and folded it up in a different place.
I like that – the risen Jesus conquers sin and death, but he stops to fold up the head cloth.
His mum had taught him well!

That morning began dark. Then it got very confusing. And then the light broke through the darkness.

It is interesting that John first believes and then he meets the risen Jesus (unlike Thomas who needs to see before he believes)

But even then we have this little comment: ‘They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead’. It implies that if they had understood the Scripture (which also includes the words that Jesus himself spoke – about having to die and rise again on the third day) then they would not even have needed to see the stone rolled away or the linen cloths. They had all that they needed. Or more to the point, we have – together with their witness - all that we need in order to believe, to put our trust in the risen Lord Jesus

It really does all hang upon the resurrection

The garden tomb

The first Christians staked their lives on their conviction that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead. They left their homes, travelled the world, endured unspeakable hardship, in order to preach the message that Jesus was not dead but had risen from the dead
They gave up safety and comfort and familiarity because they believed that there is something bigger, more important, than simply living for this world
They faced danger, ridicule, persecution, imprisonment, torture and death because of their conviction that betrayal and lies and fear and hatred and evil and darkness have not won, but that truth and love and life and light have won and will win.

And because of their words, and because of the stone and the absence of the body and the linen cloths, and because they encountered the risen Jesus, countless women and men through history have staked their lives on that conviction.
They have given up homes and families and wealth and status and possessions and safety for the sake of the resurrected Jesus
And some have given up their lives for the sake of the resurrected Jesus.

One of my current roles means that I have the privilege of meeting with Orthodox church leaders in the UK. A few weeks ago I met with Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Archbishop. You may remember the 21 Coptic Christians who were publicly beheaded by ISIS in 2015. It appears that they were offered the opportunity to convert to Islam, but they refused and as they are about to be beheaded they confess their faith in Jesus Christ. In a unique ecumenical gesture, they have been recognised as martyrs by both the Coptic Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

But as Paul writes, if Christ is not risen from the dead, then we are of all people to be most pitied.
We have lived our lives based on something that did not happen, and we live for a false hope.

But it is not a false hope. Jesus Christ on that first Easter Sunday, when it was still dark, defeated death once for all and rose from the dead.


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