"These Eyes Have Seen"
Scripture: John 20: 1-18
Sermon: “These Eyes Have Seen!”
Alleluia, Christ is risen! That is what we all shout today. That is the truth of this Sunday morn. Yet, on that first week, when the world was still dark, that’s not what Mary, Simon Peter and the other disciple with him expressed when they saw the empty tomb. Mary saw that the stone was moved, and thought that the grave had been robbed. It was the two disciples who actually entered inside the tomb first, and then the gospel of John says they saw and went home! How can you just go home? As if they had a hot breakfast waiting back at home that they had to get back to. Reminds us of the two disciples in Luke on the way to Emmaus. “Some women told us that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but we already planned to have supper over in Emmaus, so we couldn’t change our reservations.” It is Easter! And Easter changes everything, whether we expect it to, or not. We just can’t go home the same.
The point is for the disciples and even Mary, is that none of them expected an empty tomb on this morning. Mary and two other women with her, had come to prepare the body with oils and perfumes. None of them expected the resurrection of Christ. The word “saw” (or form of) appears seven times in the passage I just read to you from John. Ironically, they did not understand what they saw. Why? Because it wasn’t expected. They did not know what they were seeking. So, the disciples went home. They were ordinary people, like you and I, in the midst of Easter morning, but not knowing that their world would be changed by the resurrection. You see, you can’t explain a resurrection. The Resurrection explains us! The disciples experience Easter and yet they still tended to live adjusted to the same old world, with little recognition that it had changed! Death and defeat are much more explainable.
Because there is no immediate recognition of all that had happened in the gospel of John, we get a little more of the excitement of Matthew. I think this is why we have more than one gospel telling this story! The gospel of Matthew says that when there was Easter, the whole earth shook. Easter is an earthquake with doors shaken off tombs and dead people walking the streets, the stone rolled away by the ruckus and an angel sitting on it. Easter shakes us up! It changes everything. Whether we expect it, accept it, or believe it, God still rises. Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed.
Easter is about God! A God who creates a way when there is no way. One preacher writes that “God did on Easter in invading the tomb what God did on Christmas in a virgin’s womb.” Made a way when there was not a way. You don’t explain that—you witness it. You see it for yourself, and you are changed. In the gospel of Luke, we get prophetic words as Jesus was circumcised in the temple. Simeon took Jesus in his arms, raised him up and said, “For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see.”
What do we see on this Easter? We see that Christ has risen! We know that this changes things, but how? Do we go about our business like Easter didn’t happehn today, or do we live like Easter people, every day! William Sloane Coffin, who was one of the great preachers of our time, wrote that by all appearances, many are living in a Good Friday world. But through the darkness and suffering covering the nations, it is Easter that breaks through, defeating evil, and enabling love to never die. “The Easter message says that all the tenderness and strength which on Good Friday we saw scourged, buffeted, and stretched out on a cross—all that beauty and goodness is again alive and with us now.” If only we will see it and recognize it!
When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus in the garden, she wasn’t looking for the resurrected Christ. She wasn’t expecting that. When she assumed she saw the gardener, she asked if he knew where Jesus was laid. It wasn’t until he said her name, “Mary,” in that wonderful way that he always said her name before, that she recognized the One she saw! The shepherd had called his sheep by name, and the sheep knew his voice and joyfully responded with love.
A friend of mine used to wrestle back when he was in high school, and he was quite good. He told me of a time during a championship match, when the shouts and cheering from the crowd were deafening. Though I don’t know much about wrestling, I gathered from his telling of the moment that his opponent had him in a hold that was very difficult to get out of. In the midst of the loud noise all around my friend, he heard his name spoken. Very calmly—“Scott.” He recognized that voice, the voice of his coach. The one who had coached him this far, who had mentored him throughout his days, who had encouraged him in all endeavors. The one who knew him by name, and told him what to do next. My friend followed his instructions, made his final wrestling move and won the match. What was amazing was that out of all the yelling and screaming from the crowd—he heard his coach’s voice & recognized him.
For the disciples, especially Peter, recognizing their Master may not have been the most delightful insight to have. For they had fled Jesus when he needed them most. They had fallen asleep when Jesus yearned for their support. They had denied him, Peter denying him even three times. Now, under those circumstances, you see someone like Jesus rise from the dead, you think “oh, no…I’m really in trouble now!” This resurrection bit is not what they were expecting, nor maybe even hoping for. I can’t escape now my utter denial of Jesus. I can’t hide the fact that I ran. But Jesus did rise from the dead, only not to condemn and question the disciples, but to forgive the very ones who had forsaken him. The world is about forgiveness, as it turns out, not about vengeance. That is Easter. That is the light of Christ that breaks through the darkness of our world. God took the cruelty of the cross and made it the means of triumph. God (the same creator who mad light from darkness, a world from void), took the worst we could do—all our death-dealing doings, and led them out toward life. The resurrection did happen, and we are changed. We live as forgiven people, called to forgive and love others. Christ is risen indeed!
Wendell Berry, a farmer and theologian, writes a poem worthy of quoting regarding living a life of resurrection. Explaining that to live a life of resurrection, means that life only makes sense because of Jesus Christ. Because he came in the form of a human being, and died a suffering death on a cross to overcome all of our sins. A life changed because Easter happened. Bits of the poem read like this:
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Practice resurrection! Every day of your life. Practice doing the things that don’t make sense, unless Jesus indeed rose from the dead. The resurrection changes things. Expect it. We are Easter people now, not Good Friday people. We are forgiven people, not forsaken people. The stone has been rolled away, the clothes neatly folded The Scriptures have been fulfilled. Christ the Lord is risen today.