April 5, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
John’s account of the resurrection is filled with seeing and believing.
- Mary Magdalene comes and sees the empty tomb, and believes that they have taken the Lord somewhere.
- Peter and the beloved disciple hear Mary’s account and come and see. Peter doesn’t yet believe, and the beloved disciple believes, but does not yet understand.
- Mary Magdalene sees the angels, but still believes Jesus has been removed.
- Mary sees Jesus, but believes that he is the gardener.
- Finally, Jesus calls her by name, and she sees and she believes.
When Mary Magdalene goes to the disciples to report what she has seen and what she believes, she has no cellphone photos, no evidence, only her testimony to what she has seen and heard and believes.
And this is where we are today. We have no photos, no DNA evidence, no eye witnesses we can ask. We have testimony. We have the testimony of our primary witnesses in scripture. We have the testimony of generations of the faithful in our church. We have the testimony of the church throughout the ages. And we have the testimony of those moments when Christ speaks our name.
What is remarkable is how many times in John’s account seeing leads to believing, but believing the wrong things. It is only after Jesus speaks, calls Mary by name, that her belief and her seeing line up together.
I am reminded how often things look differently at different times of life. The same building, the same roads, the same passage of scripture, all seem very different than they did just a few years ago. And yet there still speaks a word from the Lord that brings faith.
In Acts, Peter is giving his testimony. Immediately we see how different it is than his night of denial of Jesus; how different than his lack of belief or understanding at the empty tomb; how different it is than his tearful repentance on the beach with the risen Jesus.
But there are other differences. When Peter first walked with Jesus, it was to the lost children of Israel that they went, and now Peter testifies that there is no difference between Jew or Greek. In Acts, we discover that Peter is still growing in his faith. Even as he and John went to prayers in the Temple, he healed crippled beggar with the words:
I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
We read “raised him up,” and we think of all those Jesus raised. And we remember the same words used of Jesus. “He in not here, he has been raised.”
We remember when Peter dreams of food. The great banquet of food, both kosher and non-kosher, clean and unclean, laid before him in his vision. When he protests that he has always followed the rules, God explains that the old distinctions of clean and unclean do not apply in this new age. (And some of us, when eating barbeque pork, still give thanks for Peter’s dream!)
Upon waking, Peter is asked to go to visit a Roman Centurion, one of the bad guys, one of the unclean, one of the outsiders, one of the occupiers of Israel. And from a dream about food, Peter realizes that the same message is true of people. And so he goes immediately to meet with this man.
From the first time we meet him in the Gospel, Peter’s faith in Jesus has been growing, and he sees things differently, understands them differently, at each point of his journey. I find this to be good news. Because this means that just because you and I see things differently, that does not have to mean one is faithful and one is heretic. We are at different points in our journey. Just because we understand things differently does not mean one must outshout the other. We are still growing in our faith.
How has your faith changed over the past decade? When has Jesus called you by name and you saw it was really him?
One of the remarkable things about the resurrection is that things do not go back to the way they were. It is not the cosmic reset button. Instead, Jesus tells Mary that he is not done yet. The late Fred Craddock, one of America’s preeminent teachers of preaching, puts it this way:
…even for disciples like Mary, Easter does not return her and Jesus to the past; Easter opens up a new future. The earthly ministry is over; now the ministry of the exalted, glorified, ever-abiding Christ begins. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (16:7). In fact, the one who believes will do even greater works than Jesus did, “because I am going to the Father” (14:12). Therefore, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me” (v. 17). Rather, she is to go and announce his resurrection and his ascension to the presence of God, from whose presence the Holy Spirit will come to lead, comfort, and empower the church.
We are not returned to the way things have always been, or to business as usual. Death no longer wins, because Jesus has been raised. We are empowered to be the church, because Jesus ascends to God.
Or put another way, a risen people will do the work of Jesus Christ in the world, because we were raised with Christ.
Glory to God. He is risen. He is risen indeed. And so are we.
Thanks be to God.