Written by Pastor Ed
This Changes Everything
March 27, 2016 – Easter
John 20: 1-18
I Cor. 15: 19-26
It seems to be a cliché these days when something major happens in the world to claim that, because of what just happened, well, that changes everything. It became common after the attacks of 9/11 to justify all kinds of things – going to war, changing security measures, even justifying torture of prisoners. While it probably wasn’t quite as strong here in Canada, I’m sure it had the same kinds of consequences.
And since then it seems like it doesn’t take much of anything to produce the phrase to justify whatever response we want to make. Politicians grab it all the time, but even we ordinary folk invoke it to justify whatever it is we want to do.
“I know I said I was going to do this, but now that happened, and that changes everything!”
But what if there was an event that really did change everything? And what would it mean for everything to be changed? Would it really alter how we live?
For Christians, that event is what we celebrate today – Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. For the Gospel writers and for the rest of the New Testament writers, it is the event that changes everything.
There are accounts in all four gospels, this morning we read the account from the Gospel of John. We’ve probably all heard the story many times. How Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, saw the stone covering the entrance was rolled away and ran to tell the disciples. So Peter and another disciple, presumably John himself, had a foot race to the tomb, John being the faster of the two – interesting how he got that in there – but it was Peter who went in first, followed by John and saw that the body was no longer there, only the wrappings.
There is an interesting little note in verse 8. “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, (he had to rub it in a bit) also went in, and he saw and believed.” But it’s not clear what it was he believed since he goes on to say that they still didn’t understand the scripture about Jesus being raised. Perhaps at this point all he believed was that, yes, the body wasn’t there.
And then the disciples went home! Mary, on the other hand, stood around wondering and then has first an encounter with two angels, and finally with Jesus himself. And so it is Mary, a woman, some would contend a woman of less than favourable repute, who is the first on the scene, and who then announces to the rest that Jesus is indeed alive and she had talked with him. One can only imagine the response, perhaps skepticism on the part of the men.
It’s a story that has been told and retold ever since that day. It’s the defining moment for Christians world-wide who celebrate it today. Yet, evidently there were some in the Corinthian church who had their doubts. We’re not sure what the issue was, whether they doubted the resurrection of Jesus, or if they believed that Jesus had been raised, but doubted that anyone else would be raised. Most scholars would say probably the latter was the situation. And so Paul addresses this in his letter.
As one commentator paraphrased it, “If Jesus’ body still lay in a tomb in Palestine, then those who live the Christian faith would have to be raving idiots.” Paul has a whole drawn out argument which sets out the case for why Jesus’ resurrection means that everyone will be resurrected. It’s what we say when we recite any of the ancient creeds. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” It’s a rather bold claim, because we know that bodies decompose, get burned up, blown to bits, you name it. For many years, and for some still today, this was an argument against cremation. But it’s not really a good argument, because we know that bodies don’t last that long.
Yet we proclaim that we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. All on the basis that, in fact, Jesus was raised. And Paul says if that’s not true, then those who have died are lost – not just lost as in we don’t know where to find them, but lost, gone, destroyed. One commentator said it’s not like losing your keys in the house, where you go to look for them. It’s more like losing your keys in a vat of molten lead – you don’t bother looking; they’re gone! As another commentator I read said,
“If Jesus was not raised, then we cannot be, either, and if that is so–if even God can do no more in the face of human death than watch it happen–then those who have already died ,and one day we ourselves, are just gone. Vanished. But if God could bring Jesus back, he can do it for you as well, and he will.”
So what difference does that make in our lives? How does that change anything? Well, if we truly believe the message of Easter and the resurrection, then death loses its hold on us. If death has been conquered, and Paul asserts most vehemently that it has, then we no longer need fear death – and that makes a lot of difference.
We’re hearing a lot these days about the issue of assisted death. It’s causing a lot of controversy and discussion. And one of the arguments I sometimes hear is that life is the ultimate good and so we must preserve life at all costs. But I don’t think that’s what Paul would argue. In fact, Paul says “to die is gain.” Jesus said those who lose their lives will save them.
I don’t think either of them were advocating for mass suicide of Christians, but neither were they denying the fact that death need no longer hold ultimate fear. If you ask, “what’s the worst thing that could happen to you?” “Death,” is not the answer. If we truly believe what we celebrate today, then death no longer holds the ultimate dread that it once did.
That is why the martyrs that we read about through the centuries could face death while singing hymns or pronouncing forgiveness on their persecutors. And it’s amazing the power that gives one. If you remove the one threat that people think is the ultimate threat, with what more can they threaten you? Now, I will quickly grant that that is much easier for me to stand here and say than it is to do, which is why we need to rehearse this story again and again.
As Chuck told us last week, we need to practice, to think about situations and what we would do in those situations. Paul says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death – and that’s been done! We’re not “raving idiots.” The story has a different ending than what we might have expected, and we tell that story over and over again so that we can keep reminding ourselves that the story didn’t end with Jesus but includes all those who have gone before us, and eventually all of us as well.
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O grave is thy victory? where O death is thy sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain. (I Cor. 15: 54-58)