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Week of Sunday April 20 – Easter Day
Gospel: John 20:1-18
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. 2So 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.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to 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.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
There is a famous experiment in which folk are asked to watch a video clip where people wearing black or white shirts pass a basket ball between each other. The subjects are asked to count the number of times the ball gets passed from anyone wearing a white shirt to another white shirt person.
In the middle of all this a bloke wearing a gorilla suit walks between the players. He's on the court for nine seconds. He stops in the middle of the court, looks at the camera and beats his chest with his fist. Then he walks off.
After people said how many times they had counted the ball going from white to white, the experimenters asked about the gorilla. Fifty per cent- a full half of the folk taking part— didn't see the gorilla! (http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/videos.html)
We too often see what we are looking for and don't see what else is happening.
Imagine a man who comes to a sign post which says, "Pot of Gold," and instead of going where the sign points, he digs the sign out of the roadside and takes it home rejoicing. Has he found the treasure... or has he mistaken the sign for the treasure?
In the Gospel of John there are seven signs beginning with the wedding at Cana where water is turned into wine. The seventh sign is Lazarus being raised from the dead. All the signs point beyond themselves to who Jesus is. He is the treasure, we might say, not the signs.
Except... there is an eighth sign. Jesus is murdered— crucified— and then raised from the dead. Is that different? Are the crucifixion and resurrection the important things... or are they pointing to something else?
I wonder if we simply celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead at Easter...
.... whether we might miss something deeper?
I think we would.
If we focus too much on the fact of the resurrection rather than that to which it points...
we might just be like the people watching the basketball video.
God may walk across the court among us, in full view, and we ...
... we may not notice!
In the first three gospels, Jesus constantly talks about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven... they mean the same thing). The Kingdom of God had a very clear meaning for Jesus' listeners. It spoke of a time when evil and oppression would be overthrown, and there would be justice and good for everyone. The old promise of the Promised Land would be true. Exile would be at an end.
These three gospels make it clear that in the person of Jesus, and in his message, the kingdom has come near! (Mk 1:15, Matt 4:17, Lk 4:18-22) In fact, if we live the way he lived and taught we will find it is among us, Luke's gospel tells us. (Lk 17:21) Already... already... we can have glimpses of the Kingdom of God in our life together.
But the Kingdom of God is barely mentioned in John! John has a different way of speaking about what Jesus is pointing us towards. He calls it eternal life. It is made clear that it is something to be experienced now.
We can have a relationship with the Mystery we call God now.
If we read John we find that Jesus refers to God as the Father, or my Father over 100 times. But after the crucifixion, after he has been raised, when he is talking to Mary, he says "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." (John 20:17)
Everything has been changed.
Our separation from God is ended.
In eternal life God becomes our father, our God.
Jesus says to Mary, "Now that you have seen me, look to where I am pointing... to our God... to our Father. Do not hold on to me; look at your God.
An aside: Some of us had, or still have, terrible fathers, and the last thing we would want is another one. If that's us, it is ok to think of God as the person and the relationship and the closeness and the love and the care we have always longed for... that's what our God means. That is what— that is who— Jesus is pointing to.
But eternal life is not what we often think it is. The word eternal is also a sign. It points beyond the popular meaning of "life forever" to something much richer. Again we need to stop holding onto the sign and look at what it is pointing to.
Eternal means more than "never ends." In this world everything ends; nothing is eternal. Eternal and eternal life as John uses them means life outside of time. Eternal is beyond time. It is life not constrained by time. In our world everything is ruled by the clock; in eternal life the clock is irrelevant.
To describe this in very ordinary terms, think about the time when it was ten to twelve and you said to yourself, "I'll just give this ten minutes and then I'll have lunch." And after a little while you feel a bit "iffy" and discover it's 3.30 in the afternoon. Time flies when we forget ourselves; time doesn't matter; we simply live in the moment.
The problem with this analogy is that at 3.30 we feel sick for lack of food! Or we get to the end of an engrossing book and have a huge letdown when we come back to the real world and have to face going to work, or another visit to hospital, or wondering how we will pay the bills, or how we will survive the dreadful relationship we live in.
But what if there was a life where despite all the muck and pain, there could be a growing sense of this "forgetting ourselves," and of "time flying?" What if instead of looking for another book, or another movie to distract us, or another hobby, or more booze… what if there was something that lifted us out of ourselves, out of time, and fulfilled us?
We have to be like Mary and let go of the old life to have that.
We have to do God's will...
… NOT to stay out of trouble, but to put us IN THE WAY of the Kingdom.
Living as Jesus lived grows us. How do we do that? He told us: Love one another as I have loved you. (John 13:34-35)
This is the reason I keep talking so much about compassion in sermons, and about giving and sharing. Loving each other is not a burden; it is a gift. It lets us see God. Loving each other takes us out of ourselves. It lets time fly. It helps us take our eyes off all the petty basketballs of life and see God as God walks past...
.... God becomes our God, not some distant idea or concept.
So let us remind ourselves:
On Good Friday we remember the world is not complete. Evil and pain are rife. To be human is to suffer these things. Even Jesus the Christ suffers injustice that robs him of his life.
If we turn to follow his way— that's what repentance means— we invite the same treatment. We align ourselves with God against the evils of the world and, if we are unlucky, it may cause us to be killed too.
And today, on Easter Day, we remember the witness that Jesus is risen; death does not win. He really is God's son. If we look at him we do see what God is like. If we keep his commandments then God will walk among us— the Helper will come. His resurrection says all this is true.
But did it really happen? Is it true?
All I can say is this: as I have followed the way of Jesus, as I have tried to keep the commandments, even as poorly and imperfectly as I have done it… life has become eternal. It has changed. The old fears are fading. The emptiness is filled, a little. There are plenty of struggles still, but there is a satisfaction and a peace that that I can only called blessed.
That much is true, and I am willing to trust the God I am meeting— my God— for the rest. Amen.