Sermon - 31st March 2013
Scripture - John 20:1-18
Rev Andy Braunston
All four Gospels record the Resurrection of Jesus but, from their different vantage points, different places of writing, different sources and different perspectives they all tell the events from their own point of view – and so some of the accounts differ from each other.
If someone had been making it all up a generation later, as many have suggested, they would hardly have had such a muddle going on – they would have got their stories straight! Nobody would have made up the remarkable detail of the cloth around Jesus’ head, folded up in a place by itself, or the even more extraordinary fact that Jesus is not immediately recognised, either here, or in the evening on the road to Emmaus, or the later time, cooking breakfast by the shore.
The first Christians weren’t prepared for what actually happened. Nobody could have been. The Gospel writers, even though they were writing some years after the event still didn’t have adequate language to fully describe what was going on. It isn’t surprising really – we struggle, even now, to explain what the Resurrection means – even if we can be comfortable with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.
The Turning Point
Easter is the turning point in human history. The Jewish people longed for their Messiah to set them free, the prophets had foretold of his coming and saw in him a sign that God would dwell with the people again – even though they couldn’t really understand that this would mean in reality. They tended to think that the Messiah would be a military leader who would fight for and maintain freedom. The entire Old Testament looks forward to Easter and leads up to it. Indeed in many Catholic and Anglican churches services were held last night with 9 long readings from the Old Testament giving an outline of the history of salvation which culminates in Easter. As Christians we see the world through the prism of Easter – it is the turning point in human history.
It’s the turning point as at Easter the powers of death and disaster, of evil and empire, of pain and privilege were overturned. It is the battle that has changed the course of the war.
When Jesus was betrayed and handed over the political and religious powers of his day, the dark powers thought they’d won. He’d been isolated from the crowd, one of his closest friends betrayed him, and the self-serving religious and political leaders did what they were expected to do in order to preserve the status quo. And so the dark powers of military might, religious legalism, empire and the darker spiritual powers at work in our world united to bring about Jesus’ cruel death.
They united in that first Holy Week to bring down Jesus who was a threat to them. On that first Good Friday it seemed as if they’d won. As Samuel Crossman wrote in the hymn My Song is Love Unkown:
Why what has my Lord done
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.
This story is as old as time itself and will, in different ways continue until the war with the powers of evil is over. There will always be injustice, poverty, and oppression as our human nature is deeply flawed. Jealousy, bitterness infighting, jostling for position, the desire to get rich, the need to strip the world of precious resources, to amass money, power and influence will continue as the powers whip up the greed and resentment just below the surface in humanity.
Yet there is hope – hope isn’t the same as optimism. Optimism is the idea that things will get better, somehow, someday. Hope is grounded in reality. The Resurrection gives us hope because it is the proof that the powers were defeated. It’s the battle that turned the course of the war just as the Battle of Britain turned the course of the Second World War.
The powers were defeated. God vindicated Jesus and the Kingdom started to break into our world with a sovereign power and energy that is unlike any other power in the world. Karl Rahner used the image of a bomb going off to describe the Resurrection. The bomb exploded in to our world and sent out shock waves which continue to reverberate around the universe, continue to give strength and inspiration, continue to give us hope. The Resurrection is the start of the future.
The start of the future
The future is different because of the Resurrection. It is different because with the resurrection God turns the tables. This is a key theme of the Gospel – the tables are turned as the poor are fed and the rich sent empty away; the tables are turned as smelly shepherds are the first to worship the new-born king whilst the king of the age is ignored; the tables are turned as women were the first witnesses of the resurrection yet their testimony was not admissible in law. The tables continued to be turned when, as the Early Church grew, women had leadership roles and gentiles were admitted into something which was, essentially, Jewish.
We experience resurrection when we see the tables being turned, when we help turn them around. When we befriend those on the outside we’re helping turn the tables; when we give worth to people who are written off we’re experiencing resurrection; when we seek to lift up the poor and excluded we’re taking part in this turning of the tables.
The future is different with the resurrection as love not might will win eventually. We are used to a world based on military might. The powers of the world rule and it’s difficult to criticise or oppose military or financial might. Governments in the Gulf and in China don’t get much internal dissent because they rule with a rod of iron and sell us things we want or buy things we want to sell, so we don’t criticise. But the Cross is about the power of love conquering, not the power of the military, of violence and oppression. Whilst all may look dark, below the surface the Kingdom is breaking in and the war will be won with methods not dreamed of by the powers that rule our world.
The future is different as the resurrection shows us that weakness not empire is where God’s heart truly is. All the empires that have ever arisen have fallen and are now found in museums or the dust of the earth. The empires we have now based on capital, warfare and elitism will go the same way eventually. The kingdoms and realms of this world will give way to the eternal rule of Christ, the risen one, who stands with the poor, the lowly and the outsider.
The future is different because the resurrection shows that the cross is judgement. Easter is about God’s judgment, calling the world to account and setting up His new, glorious creation of freedom and peace, and summoning all people everywhere to live in this new world. Easter is about God’s rich welcome to all humanity.
The future is different because of the resurrection; but the future does have marks of the past. Jesus rose from the dead, wasn’t recognised at first by this friends because of his radical difference, but was marked by the wounds of his crucifixion. Thomas could put his fingers into these wounds and they are what convinced him that this Risen One was, indeed, Jesus, his Lord and his God.
As we struggle for justice we’re marked by the wounds of the fight:
- The fear of the asylum seeker about being returned to oppression leaves its wounds, even after gaining sanctuary,
- The one who survives abuse and finds justice and healing, is still marked by the scars.
- Those who are bereaved find healing, peace and rest eventually but are always marked by the scars of the love of the one they’ve lost.
The healing comes: the new life is part of who we are as Easter people but we are marked, just as Jesus was, by all that had gone before.
Easter is about Jesus: the Jesus who announced God’s saving, sovereign kingdom; the Jesus who died to exhaust the power of this world’s rulers; the Jesus who rose again to be crowned as the wounded king over all things in heaven and on earth. God give us grace, this day and from now on, to live as Easter people, celebrating Jesus’ love and joy at his table and making his kingdom and justice known in his world.