Gospel reading: John 20: 1-18
During Lent, some of us have been reading Stephen Cottrell’s book ‘The things he said’ – looking at all the things Jesus says on Easter Day. What’s surprising is that so many of things Jesus say are not statements, like ‘I am the risen Son of God’ , but are questions.
Easter Day is a good day for questions. We might question, first, which of the gospel accounts to believe. Perhaps it is not surprising that each gospel tells the story of the resurrection in a slightly different way – earthquakes, a group of women or just Mary of Magdala, other disciples running to the tomb, angels, linen wrappings, Jesus appearing in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, in a locked room in Jerusalem – everywhere except the tomb. The empty tomb, the amazing, startling, miraculous sight of a tomb with no dead body. There is so much to tell, such excitement, such amazement. So many questions.
Why might wonder what the purpose is of al these questions. But it’s not surprising that the excitement and joy build quite slowly. Perhaps we are too used to barrelling into church on Easter Sunday morning & immediately coming out with statements rather than questions, as we say ‘Happy Easter’ or ‘Christ is risen’.
But John’s account is more cautious, and each event leads to its own questions.
The tomb is open (what’s going on?)..t
he tomb is empty (where is Jesus?)…
the wrappings are there (not a hastily stolen body, wrappings & all, then?)..
the head wrappings are carefully put separately (not a theft at all, it seems?).
That’s enough for Peter & ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ – who go home to think about what they’ve seen.
But Mary weeps, and looks into the tomb again (maybe she wants to double check what she’s seen)…two angels ask another question ‘why are you weeping?’, but they do not tell her where Jesus is…and then Jesus himself appears – at first unrecognised, and bearing his own questions ‘why are you weeping?’ ‘who are you looking for?’.
Then, finally the real truth dawns “I have seen the Lord” – now, finally it’s time to for an answer to all the questions – time to say ‘he is risen’.
It’s not surprising that John lets the truth trickle out bit by bit, to give us chance to really grasp it.
Maybe what is surprising is that every gospel agrees that it is a woman, or a group of women, who first discover that Jesus is risen from the dead.
If someone was seeking to put together a convincing account of the resurrection, they would probably start with the testimony of a man rather than a woman. In first century Palestine, if you wanted legal witnesses to an event women did not count – only Jewish males were allowed to be legal witnesses.
But John’s gospel account starts with Mary and it reads like a gathering of first-hand accounts from those who saw or who heard from those who saw what actually happened on that Easter Sunday morning. Slowly all the questions and the fragments of story build up into a wonderful, almost unbelievable truth.
And so we approach this story today with the biggest question of all – is it really true?
Mary has come to the tomb, probably to grieve. When she sees that the stone has been moved she runs and fetches Peter & the other disciple and they run to the tomb and find it empty.
It is hard for us, who know the whole story, to recover their sense of complete shock –they have seen Jesus die on the cross, seen the body lifted down & laid in the tomb. Dead people stay put – unless grave robbers come – and that big stone was meant to stop that.
But Jesus body is gone – leaving the wrappings neatly folded – and no grave-robber would do that.
After the men have gone, and Jesus speaks to Mary she is told to return to the others to tell them that she has seen the Lord.
Perhaps it is not too surprising that other gospel writers say that at first the disciples do not believe this – this is altogether too amazing for words!
But slowly the truth dawns… Jesus is alive – others have seen him, too – and he has a message for his followers that they must spread the news of his resurrection life and power to everyone.
Jesus’ new life breaks into the grief and resignation of all who have seen him die, bringing a new message of hope, eternal life, and God’s presence in our world.
If you question what to believe – believe this: Jesus is alive, God’s love is stronger than death: death itself has no more power over humanity.
This Easter morning, let the truth dawn into your life slowly.
Jesus Christ – who was dead, has been raised from death by the power of God the father.
The love of God is so great it went to the cross in Jesus:
the love of God is so great it suffered the darkness of the tomb in Jesus;
and the love of God is so unquenchable that it could not stay in the tomb, but burst out, crushing death forever.
We can celebrate new life, a living hope and the certainty of the power of God to bring each one of us safely through death to eternal life.
To every one of our questions, he is the answer.
He is risen indeed!