Easter Sunday. March 27, 2016 John 20:1-18
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This call and response is the traditional Easter morning greeting I grew up hearing in the Mennonite church. It is a joyful declaration, a proclamation, not just of the center hope of our faith, but of our identity as a people of the resurrection. We have a faith identity that joyfully lives into each day knowing that God is life anew and everlasting. Hope instead of fear. Light instead of darkness. Love instead of hate. It is such a needed message.
I wish we believed it.
Maybe that doesn't sound quite right, but when I really think about the empty tomb, I have questions. Do we live as if there is always hope? Do we live knowing and acting as though each person (yourself and enemies included) is deeply loved and valued by God? Do we see the bright side and live into it, or does the darkness of personal issues and world problems overwhelm? If we really, deeply believed, what would this news of an empty tomb unleash for us?
John 20 has three characters going to the tomb and exhibiting differing levels of belief.
Mary shows up alone, in the dark, emotionally distraught, and she finds an open tomb. (Doesn't this sound like the set up to a horror movie? Or maybe a scene from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?") Mary doesn't immediately believe in resurrection-she is so much more practical. She assumes there has been a robbery or a body snatching by the Romans. She doesn't go into the tomb (smart woman-in Buffy, the characters always split up, then go alone into dark, scary places...) after all, the robbers might still be there. Mary runs to tell the upsetting news to the disciples. After Peter and the Beloved disciple see and leave, Mary is again left alone. Now she is able to look in the tomb. She sees angels in white. (I have to admire the amazing composure Mary has. She is not afraid-she's able to speak with angels.) She isn't even startled when the "gardener" appears. Again, she engages, still convinced by the practical explanation that the body was taken. It is not until Jesus calls Mary directly by name that she recognizes him and believes. Joy is unleashed and she shares it.
Peter, foremost of the disciples, sees the empty tomb and the empty grave clothes, but there is no statement of belief-just the general comment in verse 9 that; "as yet they did not understand the scripture." Peter's is kind of an agnostic response. He is uncommitted, checking out the facts, and awaiting proof. Eventually, once he has that proof, courage and proclamation are unleashed. Through Peter, much of the early church is born.
The 'beloved' disciple saw and believed. Hope and witness are unleashed.
There must have been others too. Crowds of people had followed Jesus. How many had their faith crushed and their hopes die along with him, never to be brought to life again? Their stories are not recorded in scripture, There wasn't even enough hope left in them to draw them to the tomb. For them, the stone may as well have stayed in place. (However, they may have heard the witness of the believers, or experienced Christ themselves at some point. There is always hope, we just don't always see it right away.)
All levels of belief (or lack of) will be present in the church on Easter morning to hear the proclamation; He is risen indeed! And that is good. We don't all have to be at the same place in faith. Some of us are like Mary, waiting and needing to hear our names called rather specifically. Some, like Peter, are a little skeptical, but want to see proof, we want this hope to be true. Some are lucky, and belief comes easily and joyfully. Some are, sadly, unable to believe that life is possible out of death. For them, the stone has not yet been rolled away.
For the ones who come to the tomb and see it empty, no matter where they are at in faith, they witness to what they have seen. They tell others about the stone, about the clothes, about the missing body. And they listen to each other. Mary tells of her encounter with the gardener who knew her name, the beloved disciple shares his joy, Peter tells what he knows and waits for more. Eventually, they all believe and their lives change. Instead of hiding and crying, they proclaim joyful good news of life.
If we believe, deeply and truly that the stone is rolled away and Jesus is alive, what is unleashed in us?
He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!