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Sermon for March 31, 2024 – Easter

Program Transcript

In the quiet embrace of dawn, the world stirs with a promise of new life. As the sun’s first rays cast aside the shadows of the night, we are reminded of a profound truth – that the resurrection of Jesus brings forth the dawn of our own resurrection.

Easter Sunday heralds a symphony of hope, for the tomb could not contain the Author of Life. In his rising, we too find our own awakening, intricately woven with the very essence of the One who conquered death.

Through the Incarnation, we have been intricately connected—with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Bonded by love, we stand as one, sharing in the victory of the empty tomb.

As we gather in worship, hearts united with Christ and one another, we rejoice in the truth that our resurrection is bound to His. In the dance of life, we find our steps guided by the risen Christ, leading us towards the fullness of His promise.

Just as spring bursts forth in glorious bloom, so too does the resurrection of Christ herald the ultimate restoration of all creation. His plan, intricately woven into the very fabric of time, surpasses our finite understanding.

In the brilliance of Easter’s dawn, we are reminded that Jesus is not finished with us. He beckons us forward, towards the fullness of His restored creation, where every tear will be wiped away, and every heart will find its true home.

” On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Resurrection. Redemption. Restoration. May we walk in the fullness of this glorious truth.
He is Risen!


Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • Isaiah 25:6-9 • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 • John 20:1-18

“He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed.” Today is Easter or Resurrection Sunday, the culmination of Holy Week, the high point of our liturgical year, and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It also is a celebration of our own resurrection as we have been inextricably linked to Jesus through the Incarnation and brought into deep fellowship with the Father and Holy Spirit. Today’s theme is the Resurrection, and our readings offer us good news about what resurrection means. In Psalm 118, we read about the “chief cornerstone” that was once rejected by humanity but honored by God, a metaphor for Jesus’ position as the critical component in humanity’s salvation. Isaiah 25 offers a vision of the future where tears and disgrace will no longer be part of human life, but instead, a sumptuous meal for all people will be provided by their God. Paul reviews the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, preaching the good news of the resurrected Christ. Our sermon text comes from John 20:1-18 where we’ll go back to the garden tomb with Mary Magdalene, back to the graveyard where nobody wants to be, and we’ll discover how our perception of resurrection influences the way we live now.

Our Perception of Resurrection: What Do We See?

John 20:1-18 NRSVUE

You may have seen this optical illusion before: is it a rabbit or a duck? [show optical illusion and wait for responses].

The drawing was developed back in 1899 by Joseph Jastrow, an American psychologist, who used it to test how quickly people’s brains could switch between the two perceptions. Supposedly, if people were shown the picture during Easter, they typically would see the rabbit first, but if shown the picture at other times of the year, the duck was the more common first perception. The context was a critical aspect of their perception.

We understand that our perception of reality is affected by various biases, but we’re often unaware of them. Our thoughts about Easter and the Resurrection have been filtered through our biases. As we read today’s sermon text from John 20:1-18, we’ll notice how perception plays a role in the way Mary Magdalene and the disciples observed, interpreted, and responded to what they saw in the empty tomb and garden.

Read John 20:1-18

We sometimes forget that the resurrection happened in the dark, in the early morning hours. Nobody witnessed the actual event, and writer and theologian Frederick Buechner [pronounced BEEK-ner] points out how “the darkness of the resurrection itself, that morning when it was hard to be sure what you were seeing” affected the perception of Mary, Peter, and John at the tomb.

Let’s examine today’s sermon text to develop a few ideas about how we might embrace the resurrection more fully. If we let it, the way we perceive resurrection in all its mystery impacts the way we live now. The resurrection of Jesus asks us to feel our doubts and griefs to the fullest, witness our encounters with the Divine, and understand what resurrection’s re-creation means.

Feel doubts and griefs to the fullest

In v. 1, it says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “while it was still dark.” We have usually assumed that she was coming to finish the anointing of Jesus’ body with spices, but we have overlooked that she was probably also mourning the death of her hope for a different future, one free from Roman oppression where all people were valued, regardless of gender, ethnic heritage, or class.

Mary was willing to linger in a graveyard, which we might think of as a difficult place, a space without hope or promise. We can contrast Mary’s willingness to feel her grief with the disciples’ response of trying to get back to “normal,” getting on with life. After Peter and John looked into the tomb, here’s what they did:

Then the disciples returned to their homes. (John 20:10, NRSVUE)

The disciples and Mary had had “a week.” They were trying to process the trauma they had seen and the death of their friend as well as their vision for the future. But Mary made a different choice than Peter and John. She chose to stay in that difficult place and weep.

Loss and death are inevitable parts of being human, and making the resurrection a soundbite or a pat answer sometimes feels as if we are minimizing the grief we or others suffer. But there’s a problem with getting on with life when you haven’t allowed yourself the space to feel deep grief for the losses, disappointments, and suffering that are part of being human. The problem is that resurrection can’t bring healing until death and the darkest doubts are felt, held, and cared for tenderly. As we see in v. 11, the divine encounter doesn’t come until after the weeping. The weeping brings us to the end of ourselves and enables us to feel the presence of God. Buechner says it like this:

The essential message is that nothing, no horror can happen that can permanently, irrevocably quench the presence of holiness that is always there “underneath the everlasting arms.” [Deuteronomy 33:27] No matter what dreadful things take place, that remains the heart of reality. There is that wonderful thing from the British saint, Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things will be well.” That somehow remains true no matter what. That’s, I think, the message of Easter.

Mary’s weeping is mentioned four times in the passage, and this repetition emphasizes the importance of our human response to loss and suffering. Theologian Karoline Lewis writes, “For the incarnation to be taken seriously, being human must be taken seriously.” We need to feel our doubts and deep grief, knowing that the “everlasting arms” won’t let us go.

Witness our encounters with resurrection

As we read in v. 1-10, we see two different responses to the resurrection. To be fair, we have the benefit of hindsight as we read the account. We like to think we would respond as Mary did, but maybe our responses would be like Peter and John. On the one hand, we have Mary Magdalene who saw the stone had been rolled away. Her response was to run to the disciples Peter and John to tell them what she saw (v. 2).

On the other hand, Peter and John “did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (v. 9). As we read before in v. 10, they went home. The passage doesn’t tell us if they stuck around to look for clues or even took time to ponder this turn of events in light of all the things Jesus taught them. They had been through a traumatic week, and like us, they probably wanted a sense of normalcy. They wanted the calm routine of home.

When Mary decided to look inside the tomb again, she encountered two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain. Was angelic visitation commonplace in those days? The text doesn’t help us out, and Mary’s response seems pretty ordinary, more focused on her concern for the whereabouts of Jesus’ body and not the angelic beings in front of her. Next, she mistakes Jesus for the gardener until he calls her by name. What is Mary’s response to these resurrection encounters?

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 20:18, NRSVUE)

When we recognize that we’ve witnessed resurrection, we need to tell others about it. In this instance, Mary didn’t actually see the resurrection of Jesus happen, but she saw the effects of it: angelic beings, a glorified Jesus. We probably won’t witness an actual resurrection, but we do witness the effects of resurrection in our own lives, such as answered prayer, a divine intervention, or a synchronicity where we know God has been present. Rather than attributing these to mere coincidence, we can witness them as God’s grace and goodness coming through our world and into our unique situations. We can offer thanks and praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and when appropriate for someone’s encouragement, we can share our stories of hope, mystery, and divine encounter.

Understand resurrection’s re-creation

John makes the literary choice to reveal that the gardener is really Jesus to the reader before he reveals it to Mary. We watch the scenario unfold as the truth dawns on her and she says, “Rabbouni! (which means Teacher)” (v. 16). Jesus’ next words might be interpreted as harsh:

Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17, NRSVUE)

Other translations have Jesus telling Mary not to cling to him, and these might help us see that rather than implying Mary’s touch would have sullied him in some way, Jesus might have been communicating that his resurrection meant their way of interacting would be new and different. No longer was he incarnated in a human body to be clung to, but a glorified body. Their “band” wouldn’t be getting back together again in quite the same way. More importantly, Jesus’ disciples, including Mary, needed to see that the resurrection meant that the hope they had for the future would be a different type of hope, a bigger hope that would impact the whole world, not juat their little corner of it. And for us, we must understand that the healing and wholeness of resurrection doesn’t mean things will be the way they once were. Just as the healing of a deep cut leaves a scar, our healing means we’re OK but different, stronger but more compassionate.

We often focus on the promise of future resurrection for us because Jesus was resurrected, and that is a valid viewpoint. However, the promise of resurrection can seem far off, narrow, and limited. It takes our attention from living our normal human lives as Jesus did and puts that attention on some future event. Making heaven our resurrection focus rather than living the resurrection now turns our inclusion in the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into a “get out of jail free” card. As a result, we lack the ability to live the challenges of our human existence as Jesus did because we are always future-focused, unclear about our identity and role in the world today. Resurrection should impact the way we live now, not only our future state after death.

Lewis points out that the next verses show that the resurrection was only the beginning, and it was the ascension that provided the promise of our inclusion in the Father, Son, and Spirit relationship. Going back to the previous point (Witness our encounters with resurrection), Jesus charges Mary with telling the others about this promise:

But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20: 17b)

Some compare this sharing of relationship like a kid bringing friends to his home after school. They eat food out of the fridge, play video games, watch the family’s TV, sharing all these benefits as if they were part of the family. The resurrection and ascension mean that we participate in the close relationship Jesus shares with the Father and Holy Spirit. Paul writes this in Romans:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. (Romans 8:29, NRSVUE)

Resurrection’s re-creation means understanding what resurrection means for you and me, not just in the future after death but now. For Mary, her acknowledgement of “Rabbouni!” (v. 16) shows Jesus’ identity as her teacher and her identity as his student. She was no longer just a woman, a second-class citizen, and piece of property in a patriarchal society. She was a student of the risen Christ and empowered to share that with others. As fellow followers of the risen Christ, we too are more than what our culture says we are.

Our identity and value – in fact, the identity and value of all human beings – rest on the resurrection and our inclusion in full relationship with the Divine. As Paul writes in Galatians, we are unified and one in Christ:

 There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NRSVUE)

Enlarging our perception of the resurrection and its importance is our task today. If we perceive the resurrection of Jesus as only a proof of our eventual release from the grave, we will miss the broader implications resurrection has for our lives now. By following Mary Magdalene’s example, we feel our feelings (even the difficult emotions) for our own suffering and the suffering of others, witness the awe of our divine resurrection encounters with gratitude and praise, and seek to understand the re-creation aspect of the resurrection with the ascension’s promise of deep fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

Call to Action: For Easter Sunday, contemplate your own perception of resurrection. Think about a time of loss or disappointment and allow yourself to feel the grief while also noticing that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” Consider a personal story about God’s presence in your life; offer a prayer of praise and share it with someone if appropriate. Pray and ask for a deeper understanding of what resurrection is re-creating in your ordinary life, giving thanks for the ascension’s promise of inclusion and relationship.

For Reference:

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W5

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March 31—Easter: Resurrection of the Lord
John 20:1-18, “Resurrection Reality”

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Program Transcript

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W5

Anthony: Speaking of the Lord of the universe, it’s time for Resurrection of the Lord Easter Sunday. We’re going to be reading from John 20:1 – 18. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Easter Sunday on March 31.

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 had been 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. 10 Then 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, 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 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.

Jenny, why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus so vital to the veracity of the gospel?

Jenny: For me, the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus is connected to his status as the second Adam or the true Adam. The point of the Incarnation of Jesus, the coming of God, the Son as a human being, was to bring and share the life of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, with humanity, right? To adopt us as his children, to deal with everything that makes us feel separated in our minds from God and to bring us home.

And he’s mediating his relationship with the Father to us. So, we share in his Sonship. We’ve talked about those kinds of things. So human existence is transformed in the Incarnation. We’re dignified, we’re loved, and so on. So, his life affects us, and so does his death and resurrection, because it’s in his death and resurrection that all brokenness and sin and evil and all of those things are dealt with.

Everything that has diseased humanity, so to speak, is healed and restored. So, because of all of that, without the resurrection of Jesus’ body, God’s purposes for humanity would fall at that final hurdle because whatever happens to Jesus happens to us. So, without his resurrection, we wouldn’t be resurrected either.

The healing and the restoration wouldn’t be accomplished. Death would not actually be defeated. So perhaps it would be for Jesus, because of course he still would still be God the Son, even if he stopped being human. But for us, it would mean that we couldn’t truly share in his resurrection. We couldn’t truly be assured that we have been included within the life of the Godhead.

We’d be back to trying to find some other way to connect ourselves to God disconnected from relationship. That passage from T.F.’s book The Christian Doctrine of God that I quoted earlier, when it was speaking about the depths of the Father’s love and therefore his loving action towards us, he says this, “It is as this living, loving and acting God that he has come to us in Jesus Christ and unites us to himself by his one Spirit, interacting with us in creation and history, and in our human and physical existence in time and space, all in order to be our God, and to have US for his people.”

So that union of humanity with God is forged in Jesus’ humanity. And it’s lost if Jesus didn’t remain a man who was bodily resurrected. And everything that Jesus did, he did as a man as well as God. He responded to the love of the Father on behalf of humanity. He’s the faithful covenant partner that we could never be.

Our own response is to believe in that. God the Father has already accepted us, just as he has already accepted and loved Jesus, his beloved Son in whom he delights. We were accepted by God before we personally realized or believed that. And all of those things depend on Jesus’ vicarious humanity.

Alex Radcliffe, in her book, The Claim of Humanity and Cross, page 48 makes the comment, God’s unconditional covenantal claiming of humanity in Christ is an ontological event for the Torrances [paraphrased]. It affects our being. Salvation is worked out in the very depths of Jesus’ own vicarious humanity, and this transforms the very depths of our own being.

And in the bodily resurrection, not all of that occurs, but a significant amount of that occurs and would be lost if Jesus did not actually physically die and was not actually physically resurrected. So, it becomes crucial.

Anthony: We see in this passage that Mary’s grief was transformed into gospel in her particularity. It is the story of humanity. Our grief has been transformed into good news.

This seems significant. Is there anything else you’d want to add to that?

Jenny: I just think the word transformed that you use here in some ways says it all, and it was transformed into gospel, not by the gospel. Okay. Even though it was transformed by the gospel, but it became the thing that enabled her to be captivated (is the word that I’m thinking of) by seeing the fullness of what was actually happening.

What happened for her in the revelation of the gospel is that she saw that there was no need for her to grieve. Her grief got swallowed up and transformed. Jesus had not actually been taken. He was not actually lost to her. That’s what her grief had been about. And that by his ascending, she would also be transformed, because it’s Jesus’ ascension which enables Jesus’ Father to now be her Father and his God to now be our God and so on, as Jesus said it towards the end of that passage.

And all of that gets back to Jesus’ vicarious humanity, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension as a human being are all part of redeeming the human race. And I would add to that, that this is accomplished in no small measure, I think, by the Spirit and by the fact that Jesus is in us by his Spirit, and we have that union with God.

And part of that is that he now experiences what we experience with us. And so just in the same way that he can sympathize with our weakness and so on, as we were saying before, what happens to us actually happens to Jesus. And pastorally, there’s something incredibly powerful there. And it’s not just Mary’s grief that was transformed into gospel here.

And I’m adding to the to the text a little; I’m taking that lesson and looking at what it means for us in our grief. Those griefs are also shared now. Pastorally, there’s something very significant that happens by the fact that the Spirit lives with us and Jesus is with us, not just walking next to us, but he’s actually in us, as well, by the Spirit.

And our griefs and our sorrows and the various things that happen to us, they happen to him. And the way in which the gospel can speak to those things and the way in which those experiences can be transformed is also immensely powerful here. Although that comes later in the narrative of the resurrection and the ascension and so on. That happens later, but it happens very powerfully.

And I think for us in our ongoing discipleship, sometimes feeling as though it’s just about what we believe individually and all of that kind of thing, we can lose that sometimes there’s a reason that Jesus said, in as much as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.

And there’s a beautiful way, I think, that grief is transformed into gospel.

Anthony: Yes, he is risen indeed!

Dr. Richards, I’m just delighted that you are with me here, that you are a doctor. And we’re really just thrilled and proud of the work that you’re doing. Keep it up, friend. And certainly, we will look to you again here sometime soon to flesh out the details of your doctoral work here soon.

II want to leave our listening audience with this quote from Julian of Norwich. She said, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” Can I get an amen, church, to that?

I want to thank Reuel Enerio who is the podcast producer. We couldn’t do this without him. He’s the digital content coordinator for Grace Communion International. Well done, Reuel. And certainly, my best friend, Elizabeth Mullins, who is the transcriber. So, you can read every word that Jenny said here today when the podcast comes out in February. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your hard work.

And Jenny, once again, thank you. You are a blessing and we’re just so thankful that you shared the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with us here today. And we’d be delighted if you would pray over us and for us as we close this podcast.

Jenny: Thanks, Anthony. It would be my pleasure.

Father, there’s so much in the lead up to Easter that we’re reflecting on, and there are so many layers to the gospel message. And your love for us has far too much depth for us to really be able to get our heads around. So, this Easter, please work in our hearts, reveal your love to us by your Spirit.

Help us to see it and believe it, bit by bit. And help us to share in the humility of Jesus and just to rest in your delight in us, who are your children in Jesus by your Spirit so that we can love others with the love that you share with us. And we just pray that the world may see that and know that, and in doing so, see you and see your love for them. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The optical illusion pointed out that we see or perceive differently based on our context or other biases. Have you ever noticed something in a room or situation that no one else noticed? How does this highlight the influence our personal biases, personalities, temperament, education, etc., have on the way we understand the resurrection?
  • Being human means we must hold the tension between hope and the reality of suffering, loss, and death. This means we must feel our emotions deeply to experience the healing hope of resurrection. Why do we want to avoid feeling difficult emotions? What are we afraid of?
  • Telling others when we’ve experienced the effects of resurrection in our daily lives takes our focus from a future event to the present. How does Jesus’ resurrection influence your daily life now? In other words, how do you live differently because of the resurrection and the promise of the ascension?
  • The sermon suggests that resurrection re-creates our interaction with the Father, Son, and Spirit as well as with other human beings. Sometimes we tend to see God and others in a very narrow way. What value is there to viewing God and God’s work with humanity through a more expansive lens? In other words, if Jesus’ resurrection implies abundant living now, not just as a release from the grave, what does that look like?

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