The Text: John 20:1-18
This phrase rolls off the tongue easily enough for Christians on Easter Day – but how do we know that it is true? A resurrection is not the easiest thing to believe.
We’re told that we live in a ‘post-truth’ age, that the truth doesn’t matter, that it’s relative, that it is what you make it – but do we really believe that to be true?
The truth does matter to us.
If some truth is threatened, like an issue of equality, then we will fight to preserve it. If your integrity was being called into question or if you had been slandered in some way then you would want the truth to be known. And show me a parent who doesn’t care when their child is caught lying. Instead we teach our children from a young age to tell the truth.
Jesus had come to speak and enact God’s truth. At the beginning of John’s Gospel account we are told that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ and that ‘he came from the Father full of grace and truth’ (1:14). Jesus himself said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (14:6). At his trial Jesus told Pilate: ‘everyone on the side of truth listens to me’, to which Pilate famously replied: ‘what is truth’? (18:37-38).
The truth was that Jesus had come to die for us. He had come to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, flogged and killed. Good Friday was not a miscalculation – a case of sticking his neck out too far, too soon. Good Friday was God’s Son, the Messiah, choosing to enact God’s saving truth.
It was the truth from his own lips that led to the guilty verdict at his trial before the Jewish ruling council. The truth was that we needed the innocent Son of God to die for our sin and guilt. So, armed with that truth, Jesus went willingly to the cross to suffer and die for us – to be our way, truth and life.
But I don’t imagine a single follower of Jesus went to bed that Good Friday night comforted by this truth, comforted by his death on the cross. There was no joy or hope or life for them that day. Instead there was only sadness, despair and death.
That was the reality they had to deal with. That was the new truth they were confronted with less than 24 hours after Jesus had shared the Passover with them and told them: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust me’! They had this truth to come to terms with and it wasn’t pretty.
Good Friday on its own has nothing to give us really. All it gives us is an innocent man dying an unjust death. It is not the first time something like this has happened in human history and it won’t be the last.
But Good Friday is not on its own. We don’t stop our Easter celebrations on Friday – we simply pause them in anticipation of what is to come.
That is the benefit of hindsight for us. The first followers of Jesus did not have that luxury. They were dealing with a ‘full-stop’, with the conclusion to a life story. They were involved in the funeral arrangement stage, where the next thing to be done was to see to it that Jesus at least had a decent burial.
That is what the women came to do that morning while it was still dark. They weren’t coming to see how the life of Jesus could continue. They were coming to give it a fitting end.
And even that consolation was taken from them.
They arrived to find that the stone had been rolled back, exposing an empty tomb. The body was gone. This did not change the ‘full-stop’ into a ‘comma’ for them. They did not interpret an open tomb and a missing body as a potential resurrection, as a possible continuation of a life cut short. Why would they? Humanly speaking that was impossible.
No, all it did was interrupt their plans of giving Jesus a fitting send off. In our John reading we are given an insight into the distress this discovery caused Mary Magdalene and how intent she was on getting answers. She wanted to find out where ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ were, had put the body of her Lord.
The scenario quickly developed into something resembling a primitive crime scene investigation – CSI Jerusalem. Unfortunately the detective in this case, Mary, was not an expert in investigative techniques. So she rushed to get Peter and John. They came quickly – but they needn’t have bothered. They inspected the tomb, saw the strips of linen and the folded up burial cloth, and then went home again. Thanks for the help boys!
Mary was left to continue the investigation on her own. Surely we can understand why she wanted to know the truth about the whereabouts of the body of Jesus. We know from experience how important the funeral and burial are in the grieving process. It provides a sense of closure and enables the bereaved to move on in their lives without their loved one in it.
Thank God those plans were interrupted! And we do have God alone to thank for the change of plans. They were coming for closure and for a fitting end and God gave them an open tomb and a new beginning.
The grieving process, where the bereaved were taking steps to ensure they could try and move on in their lives, was interrupted by the risen Lord himself who re-entered their lives. Jesus started with Mary, calling her by name. Later that day he would come to his other disciples, standing among them to bring them resurrection peace and joy and hope and life.
The truth of the cross meant nothing without the truth of the resurrection. They now had the complete story and it would still take some time for this truth to sink in. But you can’t tell me that this truth didn’t matter to them. It mattered all right! It mattered so much it changed the course of their lives.
With the death of Jesus they had come to a full stop and weren’t sure what to do next. With his resurrection the story was continued and it continued with the promise that it would not end. They were now moving on with their lives, but moving on with the risen Lord at the centre of their lives. Death had lost its sting; it had lost its ability to cast a shadow on their lives. They now lived with a sense of purpose that only resurrection light can bring. This purpose bursts forth from the pages of history as we hear them declaring boldly that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he is Lord!
This confession comes from the lips of a man who denied his Lord three times at his trial. It comes from the lips of a distraught woman who just wanted to find where they had laid the dead body of her Lord. It comes from the lips of countless others who should have been in disarray, but were now united in their declaration of this amazing truth.
This is a confession that has continued to echo down through the ages, all the way to this time and this place. For their truth is our truth.
We believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. But we also believe that on the third day he rose again from the dead!
That is a truth that sets us free. It sets us free to live with a renewed sense of purpose. It sets us free to serve under a Lord who not only died for us but who also now lives for us. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! So, let’s get on with life; let’s get on with it, with the presence of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus at the heart of it. Amen.