Easter Sunday – April 21, 2019 – Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18 – Trinity, Winchester
Easter is a day on which we typically don’t pay much attention to our scripture readings. Like Christmas, we already know the story. We come wearing bright colors (and maybe dressed a bit nicer than usual) to sing glad hymns and shout “Alleluia!” My job is to remind you to never underestimate the power of scripture, no matter how familiar you may think it is.
Each of today’s readings gives us a sense of the fullness of the eternal life into which we walk with the Risen Christ, this day and all the days of our lives.
From the Acts of the Apostles we hear Peter’s brief message of God’s peace in Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that we carry on as witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
From 1 Corinthians we hear Paul working out one of the Church’s first theologies of Jesus’s death and resurrection. “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
Paul tells us that just as we die daily in our sin, we are also continually raised by virtue of the fact that we have been baptized into the life of Christ, who claims ultimate victory over sin and death.
From the Gospel according to John we hear an account of this very morning involving Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.
I commend to you each of these readings (and the psalm!) for further study. However, this morning I want to focus on this rich gospel account.
It reads to me almost like a game of human pingpong. Back and forth, back and forth. To and from the tomb. Stay with me here…
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb. Startled that the stone has been rolled away, she runs away from it. She tells Peter and John, who decide they need to see it for themselves, so they run back toward the tomb.
They find the tomb empty, as Mary said they would. They see the linen grave clothes lying inside, but there is no body. Then they go, you guessed it, away from the tomb, back to their homes.
Somewhere in the course of these events (the scripture isn’t clear) Mary makes her way back to the tomb as well.
All three of these characters have different reactions to what they observe at the tomb. The gospel tells as that, after seeing the grave clothes, John believed Jesus had been raised. That’s remarkable, really. He had no gospel account to clue him in. It was all unfolding right there before his very eyes.
We’re not quite sure about Peter. Maybe he gets it. Maybe he doesn’t. Perhaps he has some more thinking to do.
Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t get it at all, which is totally understandable. Thinking his body has been carried away, she remains at the tomb to cry and lament the fact that she has lost Jesus, her Lord, for a second time.
At this point, some of us might be tempted to identify with one of these biblical characters. You know, the sort of thing we do with Mary and Martha when we hear the story of Jesus visiting their home in Bethany. We tend to ask ourselves questions like, which personality is analogous to mine?
There’s a danger in that, I think. It limits your perspective on the story. In fact, I think we can identify with all three of Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel.
We are all John. We are all Peter. We are all Mary Magdalene.
We are John when we see something, and believe it. We are John when all the puzzle pieces finally fall into place. “Oh, I get it now.” We are John when we arrive on Easter morning without one shadow of a doubt that Jesus is risen.
We are Peter when we are unsure. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to sort this stuff out. I am reminded of a young girl, maybe about four years old, who went to church with her grandmother one Easter morning. Her grandmother explained to her the Easter story, including Jesus’ death on Good Friday. “Then, on Sunday morning,” the grandmother said, “he came back to life!” The little girl glanced up with a look of pure innocence, and said, “Yeah right!”
Finally, we are Mary when our grief overcomes our ability to make sense of eternal life. When someone we love dies, grief often overcomes our senses. We don’t have the ability to perceive what’s right in front of us, even if that something is the presence of God.
Friends, we are all in different places on our Christian journey at different times, and that’s okay. Even on Easter. Whether you run toward the empty tomb with an open mind, or run away from it in disbelief. Whether you need to take a break and come back later, or if you just need a little more time outside to cry. The good news is, the Risen One is always by your side.
Although you may not always perceive him, he is there waiting to call your name—even when you least expect it—and to give you the confidence you need to run from the tomb one final time proclaiming the living God.