The old, old story

John 20:1-18

It’s the climax of an old, old story that we heard in today’s Gospel lesson… 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, thus becoming exiles from God’s grace (Genesis 3). 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 (Genesis 6-9:17). It’s the story of Father Abraham, whose descendants would someday outnumber the stars, but whose faithfulness and obedience to God nearly 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 (Exodus 14).

It’s a 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 55:1-11). 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 4:2-6), 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 of 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: 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… and balked, when he tied a towel around his waist, and set about washing 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 Jesus requires of us if we truly want to be his followers. 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 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 Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle explains that, since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead also needed to come through a human being: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (vv. 15:19-26). That’s the promise we’ve been given. But wait, there’s more! As St. John Chrysostom wrote in his ancient Paschal Homily, it doesn’t matter how long we’ve dragged our feet. It doesn’t matter how rebellious we’ve been, or the frequency of our failures… we are all invited to God’s feast… and to labor in his vineyard. And that, my brothers and sisters, is 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 God, and give in to God’s 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.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve probably said it a hundred times: we, the Church, as the Body of Christ, are made to be “Kingdom bringers”—made to show the world what it means to love… and serve… like Jesus. And 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 viscerally reminded of men’s capacity for violence and inhumanity towards one another, and towards the rest of God’s creation. But we mustn’t lose heart. We are an Easter people… and amid all 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.” (vv. 24:1-12). Days like today to help us remember that this world is not our homeour home is with God—and that, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “…what can be seen is temporal, but what cannot be seen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 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, in the immortal words of the angel Gabriel in Tom Key’s musical Cotton Patch Gospel, we’d best, “Get moving!”

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

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