The Gentle Shepherd: Reading and Sermon for Easter Sunday – April 17, 2022

Today’s reading is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verses 1 to 9:

“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The Gospel of John invites us to move forward into this new beginning, which lies at the very heart of the Gospel. The crucified Jesus has risen. The tomb, which bore our Christian hope in the anointed one, as Noah’s ark protected precious life from the floods of old, is now empty. It is all true: the Christ has conquered death itself and brings us forth into the new creation. Mary’s grief reminds us that today’s passage moves us through the very human story of people searching for something. It moves us through their fear. Finally, it takes us back full circle to a sense of surprising joy. It is not too good to be true. It is true!

Mary Magdalene, a lone figure set against the darkness, builds up enough inner strength to come to the tomb and tend to the body of her dear teacher. When she sees that the stone has been removed, she does not know what exactly to think. It must have been an incredibly sad and tense time, one where the followers of Jesus had their lives turned upside down.   And just like many of us are prone to do, she jumps to a possible conclusion and runs to tell Peter what she thought had happened. Has someone stolen Jesus body? Or is the truth more stunning than Mary Magdalene can possibly imagine?

Next, we read about Peter and an unnamed disciple, who was loved by Jesus. On top of the mystery of what has happened to Jesus, we are left to ask ourselves here the following question: Who was this mystery disciple? Was he someone who is meant to represent different Jewish and Gentile elements of the Christian community? Or is the mystery disciple really meant to represent us? Whoever he was, he makes it to the tomb before Peter – but he waits so that Peter is the first to enter. Yet, what greets Peter in the tomb is not some Lazarus-like figure swathed in burial clothes. Jesus has gone, his burial garments left behind and – in the case of the cloth that had been covering his head – neatly arranged. And they believe.

But what exactly does Peter and the unnamed disciple believe? Do they believe that someone has stolen their beloved teacher’s body? No. They believe in the truth of their faith. Jesus has risen. He has risen indeed. The Gospel of John opens with the new creation. That opening narrative shaped by the formlessness of first creation begins to takes shape with Jesus’ poignant question to the disciples of John the Baptist: What are you looking for? Now, the Gospel narrative has come full circle. We have knocked and the door has been opened unto us. We have asked and have truly received. We have searched and, in the absence of Jesus’ body, we have found.

Often in life we are called to see the same, ordinary, everyday things through new eyes. At first, like Mary Magdalene emerging from the darkness of her fear and hopelessness, we might easily jump to conclusions. Yet from that darkness emerges form and light. In Christ, God showed His love for us to the uttermost. His promise was good. We, too, can be healed. We, too, can be reborn in spirit and welcomed home into the communion of the saints. Nothing is too big for God if we have faith and are willing to live anew. May God bless you all this Easter Sunday. And may the joy of this time extend and keep you through the bitter and the sweet that life holds for you in the year ahead. Amen and Amen. 

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