Scripture: John 20:1-18
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:20
If you went to the mall, maybe not today, but on almost any other day, and took a survey asking people which holiday they thought was the most important day in the Christian church, what do you think they would say?
Somehow, somewhere along the way, Christmas has become THE defining day on the Christian calendar (at least as it is seen by outsiders). There’s something a lot more approachable about a baby in a manger than a man on a cross, and a suspiciously empty tomb and whispers that he might have risen from the dead. On the whole, Christmas is a much more approachable holiday.
But truly, Christmas is nothing without Easter.
The reason we are all here this morning, the reason a bunch of us gathered last night around the new Easter fire, the reason we are singing hallelujahs – nothing has meaning if the events we celebrate today didn’t happen.
Resurrection matters. Resurrection matters so much that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
If Christ is not alive, then our faith is futile. We can always trust Paul to set a cheery mood. But he’s not wrong.
Our faith, the way we read scripture, and the way we live our lives are defined by the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. Even more than that, though, is the hope we have for a future we have not yet seen. This eternal life that we have been promised because in rising from the dead, Jesus defeated death, and defeated the power of sin in our lives.
That’s the point Paul is making when he says, if we are only putting our hope in Jesus for THIS life, then we of all people are to be pitied because Jesus died to give us so much more than that.
Resurrection matters because it points to God’s actions which reverse the death, decay and chaos of the world that has ruled since Adam and Eve first fell into sin. Paul reminds us that all of us are, by our very nature doomed except…
Except that Jesus has been raised – and that makes all the difference in the world.
Nothing matters without resurrection. It isn’t enough that Jesus died on the cross for us. Nothing matters without resurrection. If Jesus had stayed in that grave or if he had not truly died, then nothing else matters.
Jesus is Alive – Alleluia!
This is our faith: that Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was buried.
On the third day, he rose again and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was still dark and she saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. She has the same reaction as we might if we walked up to the cemetery this morning and found the gravestones cracked and overturned, and plots opened. We’d be pulling out our phones and calling the police. Many of us wouldn’t even stop to take a closer look at the damage, certainly not into the graves, before making that call.
Neither does Mary. She sees that the stone has been moved and she runs to tell Simon-Peter and the other disciple. She is beside herself, it’s bad enough that Jesus is dead, now someone has taken his body.
The men go running to the tomb, they go inside and they find the linen wrappings lying there and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself.
This is the first sign that something strange is going on. Why would grave robbers go to the trouble of unwrapping the body, rolling up the linens, and leaving them behind? Scripture says that the other disciple saw these things and believed. The problem is, that nobody seems to be able to agree on what exactly it was the disciple believed.
Did he see the empty tomb and believe, as Mary did, that someone had taken the body and desecrated the grave?
Or did he look at those discarded linens and think about Lazarus, Jesus’ friend who came out of the tomb still wearing those very same grave clothes and wonder about the scriptures which said he must rise from the dead.
Then the disciples went home. Which is a strange thing to do given the circumstances.
But Mary didn’t go home. She stood there weeping. Finally, she seemed to work up enough courage to look into the tomb. Suddenly, two angels were sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, Angels who weren’t there before. Just as suddenly Jesus was behind her, though she assumes that he is just the gardener. When he calls her by her name, she knows it to be him, and she clings to him.
Despair turns to hope and hope turns to joy. This is resurrection.
We assume that Mary makes a logical error in thinking Jesus to be the gardener and not seeing him for who he was. But she wasn’t altogether wrong. Jesus is the gardener, resurrection is not just for us, but all of creation.
The disciples went home. We don’t know what they believed.
And that uncertainty is what we need to grapple with. Do we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?
Resurrection is critical. It is only the resurrection that makes the crucifixion anything other than a horrible end for another failed messiah.
If Christ is not alive, then our faith is futile.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then Christianity gets easier on several levels because it reduces it to a morality code which we don’t need a saviour to follow.
But resurrection changes everything. Resurrection doesn’t happen every day or ever. Jesus is not the first person that God brought back to life. But Jesus is the first one to be brought back to life never to die again AND he promises that life to us, and all as well.
Christ is Alive. Alleluia!
We live in a world which is obsessed with its fear of death. We do everything in our power to deny our mortality and yet it is something which we cannot escape. Sin and death are inherited traits and no one is immune. You can almost smell it in the air, and not just in hospitals and funeral homes but in less obvious ways as well: when someone neglects their partner or a child, when leaders misuse power and authority, when bullies get their way, in endless news cycles and media circuses, in climate change reports, in the voices of the oppressed … chaos, sin, and death permeate the very air that we breathe
If we believe in the resurrection. If we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we believe that death and sin have been defeated.
Because Jesus is alive, sin and death don’t get the last word.
Because Jesus has risen, we too shall rise to eternal life.
Because of resurrection, death is no longer to be feared.
Because of the resurrection, we can live lives which are fully alive now and full of hope for a future we have not yet seen.
The resurrection of Jesus was the moment when the one true God appointed the man through whom the whole cosmos would be brought back into its proper order.
Resurrection matters because, without it, nothing matters.
Jesus is alive and we have hope. Jesus is alive and we are filled with joy.
You may have noticed that compared to the other Gospel accounts, John’s telling of finding the empty tomb is a little subdued. There are no earthquakes and no soldiers fainting.
There are simply three people trying to make sense of what they have seen.
Trying to make sense of what Resurrection means in their own lives.
When she realizes that it’s him, Mary clings to Jesus and he gently pushes her away.
In many ways, it’s helpful that John’s version of the first Easter morning is slightly more understated and generally less dramatic than the others. Many of us can relate to Mary sobbing in the garden, crying bitter tears until Jesus calls her name and the truth and the hope of resurrection are made clear to her.
Jesus shows us resurrection all the time too:
“If you have faith, then you also have seen the Lord. The trumpets may not always blare at every moment of your life as a result. You may well still do your share of crying, too. But it is amid those bitter tears that Easter happens. We discover hope and then cling to the joy of that hope to remind ourselves that death is not the end. By faith, we also have seen the Lord.
Resurrection matters because, without resurrection, nothing else matters.
Thanks be to our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.