We gather once more at the edge of the cold tomb. The disarray of the last few days is starting to sink in as we try and make sense of this life, this moment, this story which is both new and familiar. At its heart, Easter is about a human experience, our human experience, one that draws us into a story about searching, sadness, fear, and action, which brings surprise and joy. Today is a human story, not just because it's about people who lived many centuries ago, but because it's about us today, a today that makes about as much sense as the first Easter morning. Life is upside down, patterns changed, questions loom, unknown reigns, and here we are, gathered again at the tomb searching for Jesus. The Jesus of our new creation.
Finding good news in the midst of this world right now has become my daily challenge, to counter all the death and fear that's around us. This is no different than from the time of Jesus. Death, fear, oppression, isolation were all around the disciples in the very moments we are experiencing now. While they may not have had a pandemic that kept them apart from each other, they had Rome and the violence of state sanctioned crucifixion. Rome had their number and was ready to pounce on the next troublemaker just as quickly as the crosses could be reset on Golgotha. Why do you think Peter denied Christ and Judas betrayed him? They wanted to save themselves. They wanted to save themselves from the pain, the isolation, the death, which is how we see the disciples come with Mary to the tomb this morning. They come to confirm what they know, but find something more. Some scholars suggest that when the beloved disciples “saw and believed” their belief was not that about the resurrection, but rather they saw and believed that the news that Christ’s body was gone was real. And their sadness at that news is crushing, in the same way our stay at home orders keep us distant and feel soul crushing. Our tangible connection to the one who brought us together, our teacher, our master, our friend is gone. We saw and believed that loss as we entered the open tomb this morning, there was no rejoicing as they went home. They just left. We assume then that it's all over, there is no hope. Tomb robbers have taken the body, this was all a sham, just another false prophet peddling some veil of tears for us to follow. Yet what they encountered was so much more than they could have assumed at first glance. I find it fascinating how much we assume to know about how God acts in our lives. Trusting in the resurrection is the hardest level of faith, because it makes the least sense. We need to see tangible proof of something in order to definitively prove something did or did not happen. Yet God is bigger than our doubt, and this morning in the empty tomb is creating something new before our very eyes.
This newness, this beginning might feel familiar, both in the Gospel of John and in scripture generally. Maybe you’ve guessed it already, Genesis and the garden, God's new Creation, this jewel called Earth in God's scepter we call home. But today also goes a step further, in connecting that new creation to this new creation being built up around us, one started at Christmas. You see, in Genesis, in the garden, it was Adam and Eve and God. We, Adam and Eve, listened and lived within the boundaries, and God provided. There was a distance still, a distance which was filled with temptation, a temptation that saw us driven out of the garden. Now we are in this garden tomb of new life, this new creation which is focused directly on the person of Christ, the same Christ that we hear at the beginning of John's gospel, a gospel we read at Christmas which links humanity and the incarnation together forever in God. Everything came into being through Him, and nothing existed without Him, John says in the first chapter. Christ the incarnation is the light that no darkness can overcome and today not even the darkness of our world or this grave can extinguish Christ’s victory. But what is our victory, what is our new creation in this time of isolation? Jesus says come and see.
It's important to hold onto the knowledge that when Peter and the beloved disciple came to the tomb, they left without the joy of the resurrection. They didn't go screaming from the rooftops, they just confirmed what they knew already, Jesus is gone. This is what brings Mary back to the tomb again, she just wants her normal back. So as she grieves the loss and isolation of her known world, she meets her gardener, Jesus, the gardener who is about to tend within her a whole new creation, a new creation she has to see for herself, a new creation which is born today within us. But how?
Good Friday showed us, as Christians that we must and should strive and desire to return to more than just the normal, as my colleague Rev. Aaron Miller challenged us in his sermon, because normal is about settling for what is rather than working for what can be. And this challenge which is keeping you and I seperated on this holy and joyful morning is giving us space to put into action the new life, the new creation which is taking hold of us right now.
- What if one of the positive legacies of COVID-19 is that we learn how to be together again, like really be together. The kind of together where we no longer need privacy hedges around our house, where we pop over for tea to a friend without an appointment, where the cult of productivity is finally exposed and relegated to the false doctrine of human experience it actually is. Where our phones or earphones were no longer shields against the world around us. What if we choose to live together differently?
- What if one of the positive legacies of COVID-19 is that we embrace healthier ways to live and be? Where our dependence on substances to help us feel normal is replaced with good friends, real soul stirring love, regular exercise and life giving balance between our work and our rest. Where our self worth isn’t about achievement, but our humanity. What if we choose to be differently?
- What if one of the positive legacies of COVID-19 is that we finally eradicate homelessnes, poverty, racism, hate, violence, and hunger from our streets. Where everyone has a home to suit their needs, food in their stomachs and clothes on the back? Where economic profits are used to help us all become better human beings, not just those who already have everything. Where what connects us is our shared humanity. Where ceilings and barriers no longer exist between genders, immigrants are family not strangers, where hate and violence are finally relegated to the depths of hell where they belong? What if we choose to love differently.
What if, indeed. However, this morning is no longer an “if” but a “when” because of what we see in the garden at the tomb. We can’t go back to Good Friday and undo what happened. We can’t go back to Palm Sunday, or Epiphany or Christmas. Christ is with us, Christ is alive, Christ is risen, and there is no darkness, no fear, no isolation that can stop us or his message of light, inclusion, love and hope in this world now. The tomb is empty folks, Christ is alive. The grave clothes are still here, Christ is unbound and unencumbered by our fears. You and I are standing in the beginning of a new creation, a new creation that will not be silent, that cannot be silent, in the face of what we are facing.
So church, this Easter morning, where are you at? Are we going to settle for what was, or are we going to work for what’s to come, a life in this new garden with our gardner Christ who’s tending our souls into the beauty of God's kingdom. Our world and Jesus Christ our Risen Saviour is asking for your response. How will you live this new beginning, in this new creation, today?