JESUS IS RISEN!
John 20: 1-18
We live in a world influenced heavily by the television shows that all start with the initials CSI. Crime Scene Investigators. In the decade that that franchise has grown, law enforcement, prosecuting attorneys, and judges on benches have groaned. Police offices groaned over the apparent state-of-the- art systems on the television shows when actual law enforcement budgets rarely can afford such cutting edge equipment. And because it is television, they artificially speed up the results of lab tests. In truth, DNA results are not returned in the span of time depicted. Prosecuting attorneys groan also because the burden of proof in a trial has shifted dramatically in the last 15 years. With the advent of cell phones, YouTube, and high definition security cameras, juries have changed their definitions of “reasonable doubt” to “if there isn’t DNA or a photograph, then we really can’t prove a crime.” Especially in high profile cases, confident prosecutors are left with their jaws open as the evidence they presented to convict a person is called “insufficient” or “not enough” by juries. Experts have said things like just in the last two years: For centuries defendants have been prosecuted and convicted with less evidence than is presented now. But because everyone wants to see photos when there are none, or find DNA when there is none to find, defendants are found ‘not guilty.’ The times have really changed.” Judges have had to brace themselves for surprising verdicts and more appeals than before. It is a tough world in which to prove something. Even with film or pictures, Photo Shopping, blue screening, and green screening is done with such precision that actors on a soundstage with concrete floors can be made to look like they are flying, while another is climbing alps, and another is lassoing a cartoon calf. It is all done to fool the eye which makes people conclude that seeing is believing. Illusionists like David Copperfield and Criss Angel-MINDFREAK count on being able to fool our eyes. And yet we think what we see with our own eyes is the best evidence. Today, Jesus is hoping that we will trust other kinds even more.
John, who wrote our gospel today, is mostly concerned that readers, none of whom were eyewitnesses to the resurrection, still believe that it happened. How does he do it? And can his first century techniques still connect with 21st century skeptics? Let’s see. First he reports that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early. Clearly the Sabbath was over and the dawns early light was the first time it was appropriate to visit a grave. Many believe that Mary was one of Jesus’ most trusted followers. She is startled that the stone—a large one- is rolled away, so she runs—the text says “runs—to Peter and the disciple ‘who Jesus loved.’” Good Bible detectives will note that the other disciple is only referred to that way in John. Only here do we find one disciple referred to as “the disciple who Jesus loved.” Several scholars believe that John, out of great humility, does not want to name himself in such a fashion. John MacArthur, in his book called TWELVE ORDINARY MEN says this: “Throughout John’s Gospel, he never once mentions his own name….The apostle John refuses to speak of himself in reference to himself. Instead, he speaks of himself in reference to Jesus. He never paints himself in the foreground as a hero, but uses every reference to himself to honor Christ. Rather than write his name, which might focus attention on himself, her instead refers to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ giving glory to Jesus for having loved such a man [as he, a rugged fisherman who answered his call.]” [W Publishing Group, 2002, p. 110-111]So Peter and John were two disciples in what might be called the “inner circle.” Again, Mary says in today’s text what she assumes: “They (authorities? grave robbers?) have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we (we? Who else was with her?) do not know where they have laid him.” She is looking for a body. There is no hint she is looking for a risen Savior. The two disciples seem astounded and want to see this for themselves. So for the sake of readers like you and me we learn that the empty tomb was observed by Mary Magdalene; now we will benefit from two more eyewitnesses, one of whom is likely the author of this gospel. The one who Jesus loved got to the tomb first, looked in without entering, and saw the linen grave clothes, as we depicted at our empty tomb scene today. When Simon Peter came, he actually went into the tomb. He not only saw the crumpled grave clothes, but he saw the ritual linen napkin that was placed on the head of the corpse. It was not crumpled like a grave robber would leave it. It was “rolled up in a place by itself.” Here was another sign that robbery had not gone on. The first disciple, the one who may have been John, says he also went in and saw the same thing. But he did more than seeing; “He believed.” What could he possibly have believed? Could he have believed what the Lord had told him and the others earlier would take place? The men left, but Mary stayed, apparently not yet ready to leave the last place where she could remember her Lord. She then saw something incredible: two angels in white. I wonder how I would know if an angel was in my midst? Would the angel be small or tall; translucent or transparent; fierce looking or kind; male, female, or would it be of uncertain gender; I don’t know. But I know that Mary decided she had seen angels, one where the head of the body would have been and one at the feet. They asked her why she was crying. Did they do it together or did one ask and the other agree with the asking? We don’t know that. Professor Bill Brown of Columbia Seminary helps us recap the scene with these words: “The first cry that pierces that early Easter morning at the garden tomb was not ‘Christ is Risen!’ but “Jesus is stolen!’ Mary had every reason to believe that what she saw bore the signs of a bona fide body snatching. And what did she see? Exhibit A: a missing stone, a gaping entrance….When the winded Simon Peter gets there, he sees another detail: the head cloth neatly rolled up ….” [The Ecology of Re
surrection, Journal for Preachers, Vol. XXXVI No. 3 p. 20] Could Mary have had a vision from God? Remember John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, reminds us that he knew about the beginning; that in the beginning was the Word. We also know that in the beginning there was a garden. Our 1 Corinthians passage for today reminds also that God created a garden and placed human beings—adam in Hebrew—in the garden. Through sin, life became finite; it had a finish line. But now, through this message that is unfolding, through the risen Lord, all can be made alive! We can have new life beyond life’s finish line! Paul put it this way: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive!” [1 Cor 15:22] In Christ, Mary was shown a glimpse of God’s plan, and was given instructions about fulfilling it. She saw a gardener and he turned out to be Jesus! “Do not yet hold me” he said to her. That was his first instruction to Mary Magdalene. He said it because he had something for her to do that had to be done first: To go and tell his other disciples that he was ascending to his Father. So Mary went and proclaimed what centuries of seekers have needed to hear: “I have seen the Lord!”
So today we cannot count on CSI or on DNA. We cannot count on science or hold our breath to see if the Shroud of Turin is actually dated to the time of Christ’s resurrection. Instead we can hear again and again accounts of eyewitnesses recorded in Scripture. We can hear that the first ones at the tomb thought there had been a body snatching; only later did it dawn on them that a resurrection had occurred. We can count on accounts from four gospels with slightly different details; that happens with witnesses: ask four people what they saw at an event and you’ll often get four slightly different accounts. But each Gospel records the same truth: an earth shattering thing had happened. Jesus of Nazareth had a bodily resurrection from the dead; no David Copperfield or other illusionist was involved! The one event that sets our faith apart from Jews or Muslims or atheists or other groups is the message of Easter: We serve a risen Savior! This is the life changing message of Easter. But there’s more. John also quotes Jesus as saying he came so that those who believe in him may not perish, but have everlasting life! What a gift; the gift of life eternal. It is the event that changed the world, and if you let it, that event can change……your ………. life.
Through the ages pastors and priests have proclaimed to the world “Christ is Risen!” And believers have affirmed back: “He is risen indeed!” So I proclaim to you this Easter Day: “Christ is Risen!” (Believers: “He is risen indeed!”)
Jeffrey A. SumnerMarch 31, 2013