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Seeds for New Life

John 20: 1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus     Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that hadbeen on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene     But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir,[b] if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[c] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.        John 20:1-18

According to those who calculate such things, it was probably on April 7, 30 C.E., that Jesus, son of Joseph and a teacher from Nazareth, was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was springtime in Judea; the olive trees were in bloom and the hills to the west of the city were turning green. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the first flowers were pushing up through the earth and pollen covered everything like fine gold dust. The birds sang and the breeze blew, and the air smelled sweet as the world came to life, but up on Golgotha, from noon until three, someone was dying.  

Three men hung there on rough wooden crosses, two common thieves and one puzzling revolutionary with a sign above his head: “Jesus of Nazareth” it said in three different languages. 

There were the relatives of the convicts, and especially the women who loved them. It was a deathwatch, and down on the ground everyone was doing what people do on such occasions. They were thinking about the lives of the people who were dying in front of them, remembering the good times and lamenting the times when things went wrong. They were trying to find the meaning in all those times, and they were thinking about their own lives too, their own lives and their own deaths and where God–if they believed in God–where God was in the midst of it all. 

One Easter morning while at the church’s Easter breakfast, a child came up to me and just blurted out, “Robin, do you really believe that stuff about Jesus being raised from the dead?” When I did not have an immediate answer, he continued. “When you die, you die. That’s it. You do not come back. There’s no such thing as resurrection.” Period. I  winced, knowing that he had come to this conclusion too early in life…too young for such pain. 

Not a very Easter-y kind of thought. Not a fun sort of conversation to have, sitting there at a table decorated with overflowing baskets of candy, flowers and ceramic Easter bunnies. I wanted to hide.

The truth of the matter is that resurrection is nothing any of us has ever seen or experienced for ourselves. Near-death experiences, possibly; ghostly visitations, perhaps; but none of us knows firsthand what it is like to be resurrected from the dead. According to the Bible, God set it up that way. Hundreds of people witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, but not one living soul was there when he was raised from the dead. The women saw him afterward, when he was back on his feet, and his disciples saw him after that-although not for long-but no one was allowed the privilege of seeing him come back to life.

So, none of us should feel too bad about finding it hard to believe. And then there is the problem of our human minds mixing up resuscitation with resurrection. Easter is not about the resuscitation of a dead body.  That’s Lazarus, not Jesus. Easter isn’t even about divine spark that endures after the end. That’s Plato, not Jesus. Resurrection is not something we can test-like gravity or true north. It is a nonmaterial reality, a step of faith. 

There is a Lenten prayer that reads: 

Winter’s robe lies heavily upon my frozen heart dare I ask for spring?dare I ask for new life–beyond my dreams, beyond all hope? I see the signs, the willful green nudging into view budding limbs, barely patient awaiting release from winter’s dark pregnancy I feel the signs within me, too. I fear these the most, God. I fear this new life you call me to explore. I fear the pain of growth. I cannot embrace your gift of resurrection for I cannot risk the loss of myself. My hands can carry no nail prints, my forehead no scars new life carries too high a price. The ice-fortress holds fast. I dare not cry, yet I feel your tears gently, indomitably the gift is given to us all and new life is…such love breaks my heart. Yours was broken for all your children. I taste my own tears. Dear God, dare I pray for spring?

When the Biblical writers pushed the notion of resurrection, they were pushing us to believe that life is more than we can see, taste, or feel. They wanted us to realize that there is a dimension and quality of life that is all but invisible to us–something much more comprehensive than the present–that if we miss out on, we are the most pitiful people on earth. 

We do not know what resurrection will mean for us in the end. We cannot know how it will feel, work, or look.  But we do have evidence that it is so. God has woven resurrection into our daily lives so that we can learn the shape of it and learn to trust the strength of it when our own times come. 

An example of resurrection: imagine that your child, or grandchild, has surgery, even low-risk surgery. While you sit in the waiting room, you think of all the possible outcomes. After a long few hours, the surgeon comes out to tell you that everything went smoothly. Relief spreads over your face and you think about how grateful you are for the gift of that child’s life. You thank God. You feel even more love swell inside of you. Why? Because you approached death (even if only in your mind), and you experienced a profound sense of God’s presence. You experienced a taste of resurrection.

Carole Parsons is an example of the evidence of resurrection.  She lives in a cheaply furnished basement apartment in a decrepit Chicago bungalow. Every December, she invites someone for tea and Christmas cookies. Carole has little money. She suffers from muscular dystrophy. Her only daughter has multiple sclerosis. Her apartment is decorated with a scrawny, eighteen-inch Christmas tree with a few candy canes hanging from it. But when Carole sets out that plate of cookies, she inevitably speaks with heartfelt thanks about the difference Jesus makes in her life. You have the sense, sitting there with her, that Someone from Galilee has broken bread with her. Perhaps even that morning. Carole knows about resurrection.

For some, Easter is simply a pleasant rite of spring, a happy milestone on the journey from a wearisome winter to the warm days and emerging greenery of April and May. And that is enough. For some. But for Christians, that will never be enough! Easter must be more, much more. Easter means that there is a promise that emptiness is not the condition for which we were made. It means that unfinished business is not the end.

It is how God works, now and forever–not by protecting us from death but by bringing us back to life again– because life, not death, is God’s will for us. Every moment of our lives carries the seeds of that truth. Those who miss it are of all people most to be pitied. And those who believe it? Our hope shall never die.