Sunday, April 16, 2017

EASTER A World Turned Upside Down

(John 20:1-18 NRSV)  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. {2} So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." {3} Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. {4} The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. {5} He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. {6} Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, {7} and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. {8} Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; {9} for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. {10} Then the disciples returned to their homes. {11} But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; {12} and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. {13} They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." {14} When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. {15} Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." {16} Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). {17} Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" {18} Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Last week, we talked about the two parades that came into Jerusalem on that day that we know of as Palm Sunday.

Lots of things have happened during this past week
·         Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the market
·         Jesus angered the religious authorities
·         Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples
·         Judas sells out Jesus to the Religious Authorities
·         Jesus, while praying the in the garden of Gethsemane was arrested by the Roman officials
·         Jesus was tried before Jewish leaders, before Herod and also the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate
·         Finally he was condemned, beaten and ultimately crucified

It’s was a busy week!

But without Easter
Without Easter --- we wouldn’t be here this morning.

If Jesus’ story had ended with his crucifixion, my hunch is Jesus would have been forgotten, remembered only by a small few who viewed him as a failure.

Jesus would have been just another Jew crucified by the Roman Empire, an empire that executed thousands upon thousands on the cross.

Maybe the Roman—Jewish historian Josephus would have left us a word or two about this preacher who was executed, but in all likelihood you and I would never have heard of him.

Or what if the Disciples had just gone home?

What if they figured that the guy that they had been following, well, they decided that he wasn’t all that they had imagined?

Where would we be today?

I have thought about that a great deal this week . . .

Not only, what would have happened if Jesus was never resurrected, but also: WHY?  Why was Jesus resurrected?

As I tried to come up with an answer I thought of three possible reasons why Jesus was resurrected.

Was Jesus resurrected for Jesus benefit?

Did God resurrect Jesus because he had not finished what he had started?

At first blush, that makes lots of sense, if you think about it; Jesus left a lot to be done.

But under further scrutiny, that just doesn’t make much sense for a number of reasons

1.       Jesus tells us on the cross that it is finished
(John 19:30 NRSV)  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The things that Jesus came to accomplish had been accomplished, so there was no reason for him to be resurrected to complete what he had started. 

It was finished

2.       Would God make Jesus come back to that broken and battered body to interact with the people who just killed him?

I cannot image that God would allow Jesus to continue the suffering that he had to endure dying as he did on a cross

I don’t think that Jesus was resurrected for Jesus sake.

But what about for the Disciples?

Did God resurrect Jesus for the benefit of the Disciples?

It seems pretty clear from the gospel stories that they never really understood what Jesus was all about.

So, did God resurrect Jesus so that they could figure it out?

Again, when we look quickly at the stories it is obvious that the Disciples did not expect or anticipate that Jesus would be resurrected.

When Jesus was crucified, we are told that they fled and were in hiding, afraid that what happened to Jesus was going to happen to them

John goes so far as to tell us that on resurrection Sunday, after Mary has already come and told them that she had encountered the risen Christ, that they were still hiding.
(John 20:19 The Message)  Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.

What is amazing to me is that this frightened mass of people changed after this event.

No longer were they afraid, but now they were willing to go out and proclaim Jesus and his Way --- even when it ultimately meant their own deaths.

Without a doubt, Jesus was resurrected to transform this ragtag group of peasants into the strongest force the world has ever encountered.

Not an army that would change the world through weapons, but an army that would change the world through the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.

But is that why Jesus was resurrected?  To straighten out the misfits who had failed to understand him?

Or maybe, just maybe Jesus was resurrected for us --- for you and for me --- and for all of humanity that followed.

Maybe Jesus was resurrected so that we can understand that Jesus is not simply some historical figure, but that Jesus is an ever present reality.

Sometimes, however, I think we get confused as to the meaning of the Resurrection for us.

We think that because Jesus was resurrected that our circumstances will change.

If we believe in the resurrection then no harm will come to us
·         We will be protected from evil
·         Cancer or other illness will not rage in our bodies
·         Our marriages will be secure
If only we believe

But that is not the way that it works

The resurrection doesn’t change our circumstances --- what it changes is our perspective

Resurrection gives us hope!

Have you ever looked closely at the resurrection story as it is found in the Gospel of John?

John tells us something that is not found in the other gospels, which is not unusual in itself, but I find this particular thing very fascinating.

John is the only one who tells us that Jesus was crucified and buried in a garden.

(John 19:40-42 NRSV)  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. {41} Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. {42} And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Why do you think John wants to make sure that we know that Jesus was crucified and buried in a garden?

Interesting question, but let me ask you:
Where does the Bible start?
Where does the Bible begin?

In the Garden of Eden.

Some people believe that the creation stories are describing a literal event, others believe that it is a metaphor, but regardless the creation story and the Garden of Eden are archetypal stories.

They are stories that describe the perfect place that God wants us to dwell in.

A place with:
·         No sin
·         No bigotry
·         No racism
·         No poverty
·         No crime
·         No hatred

It is a place of shalom --- a place of perfect peace

We don’t live in the Garden of Eden today --- do we?

No, the truth is we have wandered far from it.

We live in a world that at times seems to be the exact opposite from the Garden of Eden.

But John tell us the resurrection story the way he does to point out, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus offers us a return to the Garden of Eden.

Resurrection, for John, is a symbol of restoration

Restoration of the shalom that God created the world to live in.

Think, once again, of the crucifixion story.
(Luke 23:39-43 NRSV)  One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" {40} But the other {criminal} rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? {41} And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." {42} Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." {43} He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

God restores the broken and defeated criminal.

No longer is this sinner --- this common criminal separated from God --- but now, through resurrection, he is restored to God.

And God want to restore you and me!

Millions of people have spent great sums of money trying to figure out what their God given purpose is.

Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California has sold millions of copies of his book called THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE, as people sought an answer to that question. 
But the answer to what our purpose is --- is actually quite simple

Resurrection is an invitation for us to partner with God in helping to return to Eden.

A place where the prophet tells us to
          Love justice
          Seek kindness
          And walk humbly with God

Or as Jesus told us repeatedly, quoting from the Hebrew Bible --- to love God and love our neighbor as much as we love our self!

Easter is the story of God’s shalom --- God’s restoration --- God’s purpose for the world.

One more interesting thing that is found in John’s story of the resurrection.

When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb looking for the deceased Jesus she is surprised to find the tomb empty. 

She is so surprised that she turns and runs to find Peter and the disciple that Jesus loves and tell them about it. 

They go to the tomb and Mary seems to follow them.

Then Peter and John go into the tomb and find it empty and
“the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.”

Not finding Jesus they head back home --- back into hiding --- but Mary stays.

John tells us:
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

She did not know it was Jesus --- instead do you remember who she thought it was that she was talking too?


What a fascinating image --- John is telling us that resurrection takes place in the Garden and that have been are called to join God in his restoration of the Garden of Eden which is breaking in as a result of Jesus resurrection.

But more than that, he tells us to follow Jesus, the gardener, the one who is working to bring about the restoration of the world.

He is telling us it is time to get to work!

Why resurrection?

Why are we here today?

So that God can show us what we must do!

So be sure to join us next week as we go into the city to help and tend God's garden.

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