Scripture Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24 | Acts 10:34–43 | John 20:1–18
“I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18)
These words from Mary Magdalene, spoken around two thousand years ago, announce again to us today the Good News beyond all hope! The news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified, died, and was buried… has been raised and lives again: the firstborn of the resurrection! Two days ago, with Mary, we looked and saw Him on the cross, bearing our sin and shame… suffering for the sake of the world… and pouring out God’s holy, reconciling love for us all. Two days ago, we saw Him buried, but today we see and empty tomb. Today we know our Saviour lives, and will forevermore.
Today is the fulfillment of all that has come before it: the promises of God to renew and rescue His broken world; the mission of His Son to draw all people back to Himself; the suffering of the cross, to bring forgiveness and salvation. All the works of God come to a head today… to make all things new. Today, Jesus Christ has been resurrected, from the dead. And with His rising, the Living God has begun Life anew.
It’s impossible to capture all that Easter morning means in one sermon. A lifetime isn’t long enough to completely understand, never mind actually speak about, what the resurrection of Jesus entails. But when Mary first said those joyful words “I have seen the Lord”, God’s light has begun to open our eyes to the truth of this Good News, helping us to begin to grasp what the Risen Lord has done… what He’s been up to all along, and which He will one day bring to completion.
We heard more than hints of this work in our reading today from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, who wrote these words at a time when Israel was heading towards disaster: towards losing everything, and being led into exile. And yet, God gave Isaiah even then these words of hope:
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:7-8)
Tied up with God’s promise to redeem and rescue His covenant people, Israel, is the promise to destroy that “shroud that is cast over all peoples… he will swallow up death forever.” The destruction of death. How can that be? How can we even imagine it? The end of that thing which comes to us all… which causes so much grief and fear. For that to happen, the world as we know it would have to be remade… yet this is exactly the hope that the Living God gives to His people, and which the Risen Christ brings to life in His own resurrected body: nothing less than New Creation breaking into the midst of our Old one… revealing God’s plan and power to raise up His people along with Him. To not abandon this world He loves to darkness and destruction, but in Christ to raise it up again to share in His own New Life.
This isn’t all a simple way of saying that we will go to heaven… escaping this physical place, in order to go somewhere else entirely. The picture the Bible paints for us, especially at Easter, is the hope that death itself has actually been overcome. That what happened to Jesus at the resurrection will one day happen for us. That we will be given new bodies, like His, that can never die again… ones perfectly fitted for life within God’s re-Created world. Today we echo Isaiah’s words that the Living God has swallowed up death forever in Jesus Christ, who is the Risen Lord of Life. Today, though we face death, we need not fear it as those who have no hope. Christ has conquered the grave for us and we will share in His victory.
If our passage from Isaiah points us to this New Creation, one set free from the fear of death in the hope of resurrection, our reading from Acts holds out the hope of a New Humanity… a new way to be God’s family, again through the Risen Lord.
In Acts Chapter 10, we heard St. Peter speaking about Jesus… about what He did in His life, His death, and that He was raised again from the dead. But if we know a bit more about who it is that St. Peter is speaking to we may come to see just how world-changing this message really is. St. Peter, like all the Apostles and early members of the Church, was Jewish… a descendant of Israel, God’s chosen covenant community. As a people set apart from all the other nations of the world, Israel had often assumed that God was mostly concerned about them… rescuing them, restoring them, bringing God’s kingdom to them.
But ever since Jesus, whom St. Peter knew to be Israel’s Messiah, was raised from the dead, God had been pushing His people further out into the world. At the time of our passage today, the Holy Spirit of God had led St. Peter to do something he had never done before: visit the house of a Gentile, someone who was not Jewish. And not only that, the man, Cornelius, was a Roman Army Officer. This was someone who represented the forces ruling over St. Peter’s people, even though Cornelius himself feared God, and was kind to his Jewish neighbours. Under normal circumstances, this Roman soldier was untouchable… there were too many barriers between him and the first disciples. And yet in this moment, with the Spirit’s help, Peter begins to understand… to see that Christ is not just Israel’s Messiah… but the hope of every nation… that the Risen Jesus is truly the Lord of all.
This was the watershed moment when the Holy Spirit of God began to break down the walls of hostility between Jews and non-Jews, drawing people from all cultures and races of the earth into God’s New Family, united together by faith in the Risen Lord of all. Through the work and witness of people like Peter, God’s Spirit continues to spread the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection throughout the whole world, so that people from every nation might look to Him as Saviour and Lord. We are here today (in body, or the Spirit) because that message has been passed down to us, and today we are just one part of the worldwide Christian Church. Today, we see everyone’s invited into God’s New Family.
Which brings us to our passage from the Gospel of John, to that first Easter morning when the resurrection of Jesus was first brought to light. For the turning point of all history… it’s a bit of a messy story: people running all over the place… confused, afraid, weeping… an empty grave, a pair of angels… and what seems to be a gardener. Yet in the midst of all the chaos, the Risen Lord is there, and He makes Himself known not by some grand spectacle… but by saying the name of one who felt lost, and who suddenly was found. The Risen Lord spoke to Mary, and the world was never the same.
Mary Magdalene is rightly known as the very first apostle… the very first eyewitness to the Risen Lord, and the first person sent by Him to share the Good News with others. In that moment, she went from a grieving, distraught disciple to someone with a mission: a new purpose, a new reality, a new identity. She had encountered the Risen Lord… God’s re-Creation in the flesh… and now she had a part to play in helping others encounter Him too. Today we see that the Risen Lord is drawing not just nations but people… people like you and I to be a part of His New Creation. That in the midst of the messiness of life, the Risen Lord still speaks to us, making His presence known, and empowering us to tell the world that Jesus Christ not only suffered and died; He rose again. To show that He is alive, by living as those, who through the Holy Spirit, are already being shaped by God’s New Creation today.
Today, like Mary, we’re given a New Identity: we’re a Resurrection People. Those who exist in the world as witnesses that Jesus lives… and who are beginning to put into practice God’s New Life even now. Through the eyes of faith: we see the Risen Lord of life, and the fear of death that grips our world begins to lose it’s hold over us. We see the Risen Lord of all, and the prejudices and self-interest that threaten to shatter our world begin to crumble and give way, to God’s reconciling, self-giving love. We see the Risen Lord, who calls each one of us by name, and all the confusion, isolation, grief, and sense of purposelessness begins to be transformed, by His compassion and grace, into our new and blessed life as God’s beloved children, and into our new calling to share this Good News with our world.
Today, in faith, the world-changing words of Mary are entrusted to us. We are called to proclaim through our actions and words that we too “have seen the Lord.” That we have believed the Good News that Christ is risen from the dead, and that God has begun His New Creation in our lives. So today, and always, let us be those who will say: The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!