Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sun, April 16, 2006 - Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118
1 Cor 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

You know, when I hear John's account of what happened on that first Easter morning, I wonder at the different reactions that people had to the empty tomb. Particularly, I wonder why it was that Peter and the disciple "whom Jesus loved" were so quick to head back home after seeing the empty tomb. Mary's reaction I understand - even though she thought Jesus was still dead, she wanted to go out and find the body so that she could provide it with the dignity and respect that it deserved. But I can't really understand why Peter and the other disciple went home. It's not as if they believed that Jesus was resurrected - they didn't go home and start telling people that Jesus was risen. In fact, they must have thought that he was still dead or they wouldn't have locked themselves in a room with the other disciples a week later. So I don't understand why they just left Mary and went home - why they didn't continue looking with her to find Jesus' body.

Unless, maybe just maybe, they didn't go looking because they were afraid of what they would find. You see Peter and the other disciple and in fact all the rest of the disciples weren't coming into Sunday looking too good. On Thursday night and moving into Friday morning, they had all abandoned Jesus to his arrest, they had failed to put their bodies in place of his, Peter had denied Jesus three times, and not one of them hung around to take him down from the cross and put him in the tomb. If I were a disciple, I might actually be a little worried that Jesus wasn't in fact dead, that he might in fact be walking around looking to find me. Because who knows what would happen when he did?

I guess Jesus' followers reaction to his body's disappearance from the tomb was connected to whether or not they thought his return would be a good thing. For the disciples whose consciences were wracked with guilt, they would have been a little apprehensive of the whole thing. For the women who followed Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, the discovery of Jesus would be the most amazing thing in the world. They had nothing to worry about, no fear of reprisals, they, of all the disciples, had been the only ones whose loyalty to Jesus had passed the test. So it was natural that they would be out looking. Where the disciples were operating out of fear, the women were looking for a reason to hope.

We are here today, most of us, I would guess because we are like the women looking for some reason to hope. What I mean is, we are here looking for something more than just the knowledge that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. We all have our different reasons for looking - but I would hazard a guess that most likely you are here because you're hoping that there is no body. You're hoping that the tomb is empty, not because somebody stole the body, but for a much better reason. Like all Christians gathered in church this morning, you're hoping that our ultimate disloyalty to Christ - abandoning and betraying him - will have a positive outcome. You're hoping, like I am, that our disloyalty hasn't ruined everything, that it won't lead to payback, that it won't lead to our deaths in exchange. We're all desperate to hear that this story has a happy ending, that our wish for forgiveness will be fulfilled, that our hope for a better future will come true. And so we're here, looking into the tomb, like Mary and Peter and that anonymous beloved disciple, looking for Jesus.

But the tomb is empty. There is no one there. But not because his body has been stolen or moved somewhere else. In one of those great, Godly twists it turns out that Jesus is not in the tomb because Jesus is out looking for those who are looking for him. Jesus goes looking for Mary Magdalene in the garden, and then, in the verses that follow ours today, which you'll hear over the next couple of weeks, Jesus goes looking for the disciples, who have locked themselves behind closed doors. A week later, Jesus returns, looking for Thomas, the disciple who doubted his resurrection, and after that, he returns, looking specifically for Peter, the one who denied him.

Does he go looking for them to get some kind of payback? To repay them for their complete lack of loyalty to him in his hour of need? That's what we would do - we're all about revenge and retribution, after all. But not Jesus. In fact, he never even once brings up the past, or reminds them of their guilt. Instead, Jesus' words to his followers are words of peace and blessing and forgiveness. "Peace be with you," he says to the disciples barricaded in the upper room. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he says. "Tend my sheep," he says to the runaway Peter. The one who was abandoned and betrayed and denied by his friends seeks them out to bring them forgiveness, and to give them new life, and to prove that his loyalty to them can never be swayed.

Which is wonderful, glorious, blessed Good News for us. Because Jesus' unshakeable loyalty to his disciples - his disloyal disciples - is the incarnation of God's loyalty to us. After all that we've done and will do - after all the times that we don't believe that Christ is bringing new life to the world, after all the times that we don't even bother to go to the tomb to look for him, after all the times that we call for those proclaiming the love of Christ to all to be silenced - after all of that, God, through Christ, continues to seek us out. Not for revenge, not to bring up our past against us, but to proclaim forgiveness to us and to make us new.

And as it turns out, this newness is what we're actually here looking for. We're looking for something that goes beyond the betrayal and disloyalty and death that we're all too familiar with. We need a reason to get up in the morning, to move past the morning news that talks only about disaster and violence and ends only in death. We know that story, and we're searching for there to be more.

So hallelujah - praise be to God - that we don't have to go far to find it. Hallelujah that God brings that newness that we're seeking right into our lives, restoring our relationship with Christ, overcoming the damage and death that we've caused, not just to Jesus, but to all the people in our lives. You see, Christ's resurrection is not about one man who was brought back to life and that's it. That kind of story makes the evening news, but it doesn't change the world. No, Christ's resurrection is about one man who was brought back to life but then went out to seek others to offer them forgiveness for killing him, to bring them new life that God knows they didn't deserve. It's about Christ's loyalty to God's people extending so far that not even death could stop him from loving us.

And that is the enduring significance of Easter: that not only were the deadly consequences of disloyalty to Christ overcome in his resurrection to new life, but that, despite our own constantly disloyal behaviour, both to him and to those around us, he shares that new life with us. It is not something we have to go out looking for, in a tomb or otherwise, because it's something that Christ brings to us, seeking us out to give us this tremendous gift, not just today on Easter Sunday, but every day. It is this that we celebrate, this we ponder as a wonderful mystery, and this that prompts us to give thanks and praise to God this Easter morning. Hallelujah! Amen.

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