The old, old story

John 20:1-18

It’s the climax of an old, old story that we heard in today’s Gospel… a story that begins in the Garden, with the first man and the first woman created from the dust of the cosmos, who betrayed the trust of their Creator and became exiles from God’s grace. God didn’t do it to them… they did it to themselves. It’s the story of Noah, a righteous man among the wicked, and of God’s overarching plan to turn humanity from the error of its ways, back to the path of truth and right. It’s the story of father Abraham whose descendants would someday outnumber the stars, but whose faithfulness and obedience to God almost cost him his firstborn son (Genesis 22:1-18). It’s the story of God’s mighty hand parting the waters of the Red Sea so that the Children of Israel might escape the bondage that had ensnared them after they failed to trust God to provide for their needs. It’s the story of God’s promise to make us Holy in spite of our stubbornness, to quench our thirst with living water and feed us with bread that never becomes stale (Isaiah 4:2-6). It’s the story of a God of abundant pardon, one who will cleanse us from our disbelief, if we’ll only allow it (Isaiah 55:1-11), and give us new hearts and new spirits (Ezekiel 36:24-28)… a God who can knit together dry bones lost in the valley of the shadow of death and give them breath and life and hope (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It’s the story a God who will stop at nothing to restore the fortunes of his people (Zephaniah 3:12-20). And it’s the story of the power of death undone: of Jesus and the empty tomb. God sent his own Son, his beloved, born of flesh and blood, to be with us and show us the way to eternal life… to show us that death is not the end.

Over the past three days we have relived the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We sat at table with him while he washed our feet… and told us to do the same for each other. We received the new commandment to love one another, just as Jesus loves us. While all of our good works and “causes” may be worthy, loving one another… and I mean really loving one another, is what sets us apart as Christians. We partook of that first “Lord’s Supper,” and then slipped away into the night with Judas to do the dirty work of betraying the Son of Man. We heard the cock crow three times and saw the look on Peter’s face as the implications of his denial swept over him. We joined the crowd in front of the judge’s bench and goaded Pilate: “Away with him! Crucify him!” And finally, we stood and watched as Jesus was stripped, scourged and nailed to a cross to die a slow and painful death. But Christ’s death wasn’t final, was it? It wasn’t the end. Mary Magdalene was the first to figure it out. The rest of the disciples also eventually came to believe, but it would take them a while… just as it sometimes takes us a while to give in and believe God’s story of abundant pardon and relentless love.

And the story isn’t over yet. In today’s reading from the letter to the Colossians, we are reminded to “seek the things that are above… where Christ is.” We are scolded a little bit for our propensity to get wrapped in the mundane, day-to-day dramas of our temporal lives. And yet, we are also offered hope. We are encouraged to be faithful… to steel ourselves… and lay aside our earthly idols… and to put our trust in that which truly lasts. Then we, too, will be resurrected with Christ to spend eternity with him in the paradise of God.

That’s the Good News in a nutshell: the Word became flesh and lived among us to give us a foretaste of the joy that awaits us if we (so flawed, yet so beloved of God) can bring ourselves to give up the fear and rebelliousness that separates us from our Creator, and give in to his will for our lives. Only then, we will begin to know the joys of God’s Kingdom… only then, will we begin to perceive the glory of the New Jerusalem. You may have heard me say (only about a thousand times) that, as the Body of Christ, we were made to be “Kingdom bringers…” made to show the world what it means to love… and serve… like Jesus. We have a lot of work to do. We live in a broken world that is in great need of hope. Scarcely a day goes by when we are not reminded of men’s capacity for violence and inhumanity towards one another, and towards the rest of God’s creation. But we must not lose heart. We are an Easter people… and amid all of the brokenness and the pain of this fallen world, we can fix our eyes on the stone rolled away from the empty tomb and hear the voice of the angel in Luke’s Gospel saying, “He is not here.” We need days like today to help us remember that this world is not our home… our home is with God… and that, in the words of the Apostle, “what can be seen is temporal, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). So the story continues, and it won’t be over until Christ hands over the Kingdom to God the Father. We are all part of that story, and our work’s cut out for us. So we’d best be about it.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

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