Sermon April 21, 2019 New Life Jumps Up!
Scripture Passage: John 20:1-18
New Life Jumps Up!
Good morning! Christ is risen! I believe the first Easter was probably the most dramatic, because all the disciples came to the tomb looking for death. They were certain that Jesus’ body was all that they would find and they were mourning. However, Jesus could not be contained by death!
Sometimes, in our world today, we see something similar, when life and energy refuse to be contained by death or injury. In our process of adopting
Dog #3, I learned about a dog named Cheeze It, who absolutely refused to let injury contain him. Cheeze It is a white poodle, who was abandoned and got his rear left leg crushed. So, after he was rescued, the vet had to amputate the leg and rehabilitate him. We would expect it to take some time for Cheeze It to recover and be rehabilitated. However, to the amazement of his foster mom, Jackie, Cheeze It was ready to bounce back as a “normal” dog right away! Jackie transported Cheeze It in a portable playpen, to allow him to recover, but to her great surprise, Cheeze It jumped right out of the playpen, with only 3 legs! Cheeze It had so much life and energy within him, that he was not going to let that leg hinder him, and his spirit was unstoppable.
In John’s classic resurrection story, we also see that Jesus did not allow even death to hinder him, and his spirit was unstoppable! However, when Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple first arrive on the scene, they do not expect this. They come looking for a dead body, extinguished of all life. They come, mourning the loss of a dear teacher and friend and deeply sad. They cannot imagine that after death, there could still be an unstoppable spirit and new life.
Then, they enter the tomb, and the drama begins. The Beloved Disciple outruns Peter in his enthusiasm and gets to the tomb entrance, first, but he stops and does not go in. Then, Peter catches up with him and goes in, first. I think we all wonder, “Why does Peter, and not the Beloved Disciple, enter, first, when Peter was the one who denied Jesus 3 times, before the cock of the rooster before his crucifixion?” As one commentator noted, maybe Peter was jealous of the Beloved Disciple outrunning him and wanted to enter before him. Or, maybe Peter felt guilty about his denial of Jesus. Or, maybe Peter was now curious about what actually happened to Jesus. I think looking at Peter’s response is important, since each of us might find ourselves in Peter’s ‘shoes’ at different times in our faith journey. We may get jealous of others, who have stronger faith. We may feel remorse about not having courage to speak up and share about Jesus and what great things he has done for us. We may find ourselves curious about the miraculous things that Jesus still does in 2019, but we don’t understand how he does them since it defies our knowledge of science. Whatever Peter’s actual motivation was, he finds something beyond his imagination! Instead of Jesus’ corpse, he finds an empty tomb and the only things remaining of Jesus’ are his body and head cloths crumpled on the ground. I think that Peter is overwhelmed and doesn’t really know what to think, so he leaves.
So after Peter, enters the Beloved Disciple. His response is quite the opposite of Peter’s. As soon as he sees the body and head cloths crumpled on the ground and remembers what Jesus foretold them about his resurrection, he believes! The Beloved Disciple believes that Jesus came back to life and maybe jumped up from the grave, like Cheeze It jumped out of the playpen, and tore the grave cloths off, and ordered the stone to roll aside, so he could run out of the tomb! The Beloved Disciple still is not able to ‘connect all the dots’ and does not have it completely figured out, yet, but yet his deep faith and optimism allow him to believe. I loved the commentator’s comparison of the Beloved Disciple with folks today, who are unwaveringly faithful and avid optimists! These are the folks, who look at the boy who keeps messing up the sound system at church and instead of snarling at him and calling him “Trouble”, they see a brilliant, future sound engineer! These are the folks, who see a run down, ghost house or old Sunday School room and imagine a great renovation project. We might get annoyed with their optimism and beaming smiles, but secretly we actually draw strength from their deep faith for our own faith, and we feel inspired by their hope that God can cause new life to jump up, even from death!
After the optimistic response of the Beloved Disciple, which is exactly the response God would desire, it’s hard to envision things getting any better-but they do! Next, we see Mary’s response. I’m afraid, Mary is not as optimistic as the Beloved Disciple, because her response to the grave cloths crumpled on the ground is that someone mean stole Jesus’ body. That is why she is so downcast and asks Jesus, whom she thinks is the Gardener, if he took the body away. Mary weeps tears of genuine anguish, because she believes that someone wrongfully took away her Lord’s body, whom she was ready to anoint. However, now the most dramatic scene of the story unfolds. Jesus now, instead of calling Mary “Woman”, calls out, “Mary!” Wow, I bet Mary was stunned and took a couple of steps back! This man, whom she had figured was the Gardener, actually knew her! Now, Mary’s faith and hope come back, and she immediately ‘connects the dots’ that this is her beloved teacher, Jesus! She calls Jesus Rabbouni instead of Rabbi, because it is an endearing term for a teacher. It would be like us saying to our favorite teacher, Mr. Johnson, “Hey, Mr. J.!” Suddenly, all the deep grief, which clouded Mary’s mind so that she could not think straight and realize that the men she saw in the tomb were angels and the Gardener had a strange body, melts! Mary’s sorrow turns into joy and elation! She not only got her Lord back, but he was so full of life and unstoppable, that he jumped up from the grave!
So, the risen, unstoppable Lord now commissions Mary to be the first disciple to go tell the good news of this amazing resurrection. Not only is the resurrection amazing, but the fact that Jesus commissioned a woman to be the one to share it is amazing! Most people in that culture and time would never have commissioned a woman to tell this very important news. However, Jesus makes a statement about women, while at the same time commissioning Mary to tell others about the miracle: women matter and can be entrusted with important roles. That, to me, is the good news, embedded in the good news of the resurrection in John’s story! As the commentator noted, resurrection stories are often considered commissioning stories by scholars, such as the story of Lazarus in John 11. The witnesses to Lazarus coming back to life were to share that though someone was dead, if they believe in Jesus, they will have eternal life. This story also reminds us of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, which is another commissioning story; the Samaritan woman is the first evangelist in her town and hundreds of people believed in Jesus because of her. So, Mary in her excitement and great joy runs to Galilee to bravely share the good news of the resurrection! No, her Lord was not dead or stolen, but he jumped up from the grave back to life and was unstoppable!
This is just like Cheeze It, who jumped out and ran just as fast as the other 34 dogs whom Jackie cares for. Cheeze It now lavishes love on everyone like a Love Bug.
Mary shared the good news of the Living Water and Bread of Life, with folks, like Peter, who struggled to believe this and were focused more on concrete things that they could touch. As Mary was filled with excitement and faith and spoke, may we also find our own voice in her, and speak. May we speak with enthusiasm and endearing terms about our risen Lord, and share this Living Water and Bread of Life, with those who cannot imagine him possible, yet need him most! Christ is risen!