Sermon for Resurrection Sunday - John 20:1-18
On the first day of the week, that is Sunday, Mary went to the graveyard to see the tomb where her Lord was laid. On the first day of the week she came to a place where no resident walks away in order to have a quiet moment with the one who loved her enough to free her from 7 demons that infested her body. On the first day of the week she came to the realm of the dead to find the expected, but instead found the unexpected. The tomb open. The body gone. Fear set in. She thought maybe graverobbers had come and stole her Jesus. She knew he was dead, which was horrible, but this apparent desecration was worse. On the first day of the week she was surprised and forlorn. Not trusting what he said to be true. That he would be betrayed to the religious. Condemned by lies. Handed over to death by the state. Only to rise the third day for her and for you. The tomb was empty, is empty, because he made it so.
On the first day of the week you come to this place. You must. On the first day of the week you come to the house of the Lord for one hour of your week to find something. Expecting the usual. That which you want to find. A favorite song. A nice story. Have me tell you about your awesomeness. All this stuff you expect to hear, or want to hear, only you shouldn’t. On the first day of the week, you should be able to start your week with something unexpected, just as Mary did. Coming here to hear nothing but the unexpected. That all you did last week to make yourself better, to be good, to live a life worthy or to be enough for whomever cares, and it turns out that it wasn’t, and you know another week is coming. And all I can tell you is that you are never going to be enough. Because you weren’t and won’t. I know this because you will die. I will bury you, or the next pastor will. Death being the curse upon us for all our attempts to make ourselves lord and god of our own universe. Death being the one humiliation God gives to us sinners so that we might know who’s the boss. Death being what brings us together this morning, and death being the reason why he is not in the tomb anymore. Death being the reason that he rose. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to preach to you saying, “I forgive you.” But on the first day of the week, when you are prepared to try and strive to win whatever race you think you are in, Jesus Christ rose from the grave to grant to you that which you cannot win, life out of death.
On the first day of the week, Mary fled to the disciples. The ones who must know what it was that had happened. Jesus had only told them a million times. Betrayal. Trial. Death on a cross. Rise the third day. But they didn’t believe her. They don’t believe him. On the first day of the week they run to the grave. See it empty and John says that he believed. Yet, these disciples did nothing with it. They went home. On the first day of the week they left a despondent child of God sitting in the graveyard, and did not tell her what it was they believed, for she is still so despairing that she thinks the Lord is the gardener. It takes him speaking her name for her to know the truth. On the first day of the week the Word of God speaks a word, eyes are opened, and the believer finally believes.
On the first day of the week, whether you are a believer or not, it is a day for you. One of the dangers for the church is that the most religious can sometimes become the most unfaithful. The story becomes rote. The life of Christ becoming an ancient mythological novella rather than an historical victory for the sake of your soul. Some of the ones who struggle the most with doubt that Jesus is for them, that his death he died for them, that his life he lives anew for them, are those we think to be disciples. The Gospel, the good news that your sin is gone and death has no more power, is not just for the lost but also for the found. The fear for a pastor is the church that takes Jesus for granted. A church that comes to this Easter, this first day of the week, and the truth of Christ, and becomes complacent rather than joy-filled. That you were dead. You are dead. But now in Christ you live in him. For if he lives, which he does, you will live also. The good news of Jesus Christ for you.
Show of hands, how many of you have been to Europe? Keep your hands up. Now, how many of you have been to France? Keep them up. Ok. How many of you have been to Paris? Now, how many of you have seen the Cathedral of Notre Dame? Wow. Did you know that you are in a minority now? Eight hundred years ago, it took generations of men over 100 years to build that church. With many modifications to it over many centuries, and the fire that destroyed much of the interior, most of us will not live to see it rebuilt to its former glory. At least I doubt it. Now those of you who have been there could try and explain the experience. It might be hard, but it will do for now. Telling us of what you saw. Filling us with wonder. It won’t be the same as you being there in person but you telling me will just have to suffice, and your enthusiasm and awe over such an amazing architectural marvel, a holy place of worship, should bring something of the real deal to me in your memory of it. Not something imaginary. A real place that was built to house worshipers of a real Jesus. On the first day of the week it was to be expected that people would gather in that cathedral for Easter mass today. To gather for prayer and praise. To receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin. But now, on the first day of the week, the one hundred thousand people they were expecting have had to go somewhere else. They have gone somewhere else for worship and Christ was still there, because he lives. On the first day of the week they found Jesus waiting for them as risen Savior because no fire, or loss of church building, could keep him from being their God. Their Lord. Theirs and yours. So, tell me of that beautiful church you saw once, but even more, what of the beautiful Savior that it was built for?
On the first day of the week Mary goes searching for Christ and he finds her weeping in a graveyard. She just wants to know where the body went, but now, on this first day of the week, Jesus comes to her, opens her eyes, lifts her head, speaks her name, and she sees her Lord. Her experience with him before his death and the tomb was not enough. Now it is for him to grab her and bring her to faith and life in him.
On the first day of the week, as it should be on each day, Christ stands as your God. As your Savior. As Lord over you, over your sin, over your past, over the race and the busyness you find yourself consumed in every year. On the first day of the week, we gather here regularly to be reminded of that because, come tomorrow or the next day, you will return to the grind. To the world. To the old way of life. Of doing. Of being, often forgetting your Jesus is with you. So, if you think Sundays are not special, remember – on the first day of the week your Savior was dead but rose to life for you. Dying to redeem you from the life you are living now that is not life. To free you from the next thing. The next piece of busyness you find yourself in. To grant you a different life. A contented life of freedom from the race. No need to outrun death, for it has lost. No need to try and make up for your past what-if’s, for they are forgotten in Christ. Others may remember, but there is no other Jesus but this one who died on a cross and rose that you might have this first day of the week as a place of refuge from all that the world tries to take from you. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia and Amen.