“The difference Easter makes”

The Gospel Lesson for Easter Sunday is John 20: 1 – 18: ‘Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag′dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  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.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.  They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  

 . . . . But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?” 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.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo′ni!” (which means Teacher) . . . . Mary Mag′dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.’

When I was a boy, my brothers and I slept in what we called the sleep-out.  The sleep-out was an enclosed part of the veranda that surrounded the house.   Down the one side of the sleep-out there were a series of windows.  And at night shadows from the trees outside fell on these windows and made all kinds of weird and spooky shapes, especially when the wind moved the trees.  When I lay in bed and looked at these shapes on the windows my imagination would run riot.    I would think that there were all kinds of monsters out there trying to get in, and I would be afraid and sometimes hide my head under the blankets until I fell asleep.

But in the morning it was all different.  In the morning light the shadows were gone.  In the morning light my fears were gone.  With the first rays of light the birds would start singing.  And I was happy to get up and go outside.  I would be up with the chooks, and even climbing the same trees that had scared me a few hours before. 

What a difference sunrise makes to a frightened boy!  And what a difference Easter makes to us Christians.   Easter means the night is over.  The Son of God has risen and brought light and hope into our lives.  In the Gospel for today we see the difference Easter makes to Mary Magdalene.

The Gospel begins with Mary coming to Jesus’ tomb.  Mary comes in the dark.  She comes to grieve.  To grieve for her departed teacher and friend.  The darkness around her matches the darkness she feels inside.  She has lost her best friend.  The kindest, bravest, wisest, most loving and amazing person she ever met has been suddenly, brutally and unjustly killed.  And when that happened her hopes and dreams were shattered, her world fell apart, and darkness descended on her soul. 

 And, to make matters even worse, when she arrives at the tomb she finds the stone at the entrance of the tomb has been removed and Jesus’ body is missing.  Immediately she thinks, “Grave robbers!”  And so she comes running to tell Peter and John the bad news.  “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I don’t know where he is!”  And when Peter and John have come and gone, she just stands there crying.  This is all so sad.  All so bad.  All so wrong.

I’m sure there have been times when you felt like that, when your life was sad and dark.  When you got a phone call bringing bad news.  When you stood at the grave of a loved one.  When you said your last goodbye to a dear friend.  These sorts of experiences cast a dark shadow over your life.  I remember reading about a piece of graffiti someone wrote on a wall.  “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  That’s a pretty gloomy outlook on life, but it sums up how you can feel when loss and death come your way.  

But what a difference Easter makes!  See the difference it makes to Mary!  As she stands in the garden Mary hears a familiar voice.  She hears her name being called, and she looks up and recognizes Jesus.  He is not dead but alive.  Suddenly there is light in her darkness.  “My Teacher” she exclaims.  Now she is full of joy.  Now she is full of life.  Now she has everything to live for.

Easter makes that kind of difference for us!  In the light of Easter everything is different.  Injustice does not rule.  Sin and evil do not rule.  Old age does not rule.  Disease and decay do not rule.  Death does not rule.  Jesus rules.  Jesus is Lord.  At Easter a bright new day began.  By raising Jesus from the dead, God has opened the way to a great new future – for you and for the whole universe.   Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of a whole new creation. 

Now to help you get John’s Gospel message, I want to make a quick comparison between the first chapter of the book of Genesis and the Gospel of John.  I know it sounds a bit academic and boring, but please bear with me.  It’s important. 

The first book of the Bible is Genesis, the book that tells the story of creation.  It begins with the words, “In the beginning”.   On the first day of creation God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light.  Creation begins with light.  It goes on to tell how God made a man and a woman and put them in a garden to look after it.  There in that garden the first people walk with God and have a close and loving relationship with God.  Everything is good.  It is very good. 

Then the man and woman sin, and this good creation is spoilt.  Sins spoils the harmony they have had.  It brings pain and hardship and death into the world.  The man and woman lose that intimate connection with God.  When God comes looking for them and calls them, they are ashamed and frightened and try to hide.  But God calls them to account and because of their sin he sends them out of the garden and places angels to stand guard at the entry to paradise, to prevent them from returning to the garden and the presence of God.  Now people are estranged from God.  Now the world is divided.  And they begin to fight one another.  That’s the story of creation and the fall in Genesis. 

Now let’s compare that with John’s Gospel.  The first words of John’s Gospel are the same as the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning.”  John’s Gospel is in a sense a rewrite of Genesis.  Here we have the story of a new beginning.  John tells us that Jesus is raised “on the first day of the week”.    Remember, that’s the same day on which God first made light.  The resurrection of Jesus is the coming of God’s light into the darkness of our sinful and sad world.   In this Gospel we see a man and woman in a garden, again, just like Genesis.  The woman is crying.  Twice she gets asked, “Why are you crying?”  She’s crying because she doesn’t yet know what has happened.  She doesn’t know that Jesus is alive and now there is no need to cry.

In this Gospel we also see two angels in white.  But these angels don’t block her from coming into God’s presence, like the angels do in Genesis.  They actually prepare the way for her to come back into God’s presence.  When she turns away from them she sees Jesus but does not recognise him.  At first she thinks he’s the gardener but then she hears him call her name, and she knows that voice.  It’s Jesus, her teacher and friend, and he is alive.

In this garden, Mary gets good news.  Jesus says to her, “Go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” By dying and rising, Jesus has made things right with God for us.  He has dealt with our sin.  Now we have peace with God.  Now we can come to God as our Father in the name of Jesus and be welcomed as his beloved children. 

Easter is day one of the new creation.  Jesus has risen from the dead.  The light has overcome the darkness.  And God is at work renewing his creation through his word and his Spirit.  When you are baptized, you become part of this new creation.  St Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ (if anyone is a baptised believer) he or she is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come.” 

In the first few centuries of the church, baptisms were usually conducted on Easter morning.  Just before dawn, people were baptised.  This was to show that through baptism we are connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In baptism we die with Jesus and rise with him to a new life as children of God.  Already now we are part of the new creation.  And God has not finished yet.  After we depart this life, God’s Spirit will raise us from the dead and give us new bodies like the glorious, resurrected body of Jesus.  Remember this and hold onto it when the world looks dark and gloomy.

There is a story about Martin Luther and his wife Kitty.  Luther was what we call a melancholic – the kind of person who from time to time became depressed.  And one day Kitty decided to teach him a lesson.  She dressed in black, as if she was in mourning.  Luther noticed and asked her, ‘Why are you wearing black? “Because God has died,” she said.  “What do you mean “God has died?”  said Luther.  “Well you’ve been so gloomy lately, I thought he must have died,” said Kitty.  Luther took the lesson to heart and resolved to change his ways.  And one of the things he did was to say each day, “I am baptised.”  He did this to remind himself: I am part of God’s new creation.  God is at work in my life.  God is at work in the world.  His work is not yet complete.  Yes, life is hard and bad things still happen.  But one day God will complete his work and all things will be new.  This lifted his spirits and changed his outlook.  

I began this sermon by telling you about what I did when I was little – how I was afraid of the shadows at night and hid under the blankets.  But in the morning light I gladly got up and went outside.  Well, the Son of God has risen.  A new day has begun.  God is making all things new.  God is at work in your life.  God is at work in our world.  It’s time to get up and face the future with hope.  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord! 

Pastor Brian Schwarz

The audio of this sermon is available on this web site.