“Stuck on the island of Patmos on the Lord’s day.” That’s how John describes himself moments before he encountered the risen Lord. Patmos was a kind of Alcatraz for the Romans – a place where prisoners go and are never heard from again – but as John stands on the shores, contemplating his grim future, he turns around to see “the Living One…(who) was dead and behold, is alive forever more,” (Rev. 1:17-18). What John discovers is that God has a plan for, not only him, but the whole world. There is a new day coming. God has a plan for the ages.
Salvation is often portrayed, in evangelical circles, as the acquiescence to a series of good beliefs – Jesus died, Jesus rose again – but the resurrection reminds us is that Easter is, at its core, about a personal encounter with One who is alive and active in this world. Saul (turned Paul) was one who came late for Easter, who was “abnormally born,” as he put it (1 Cor 15:8). The conversion of Saul is a window into how active Jesus is for the gospel today. Who do you know that is late for Easter? What hope do you have that they will ever find it? Take heart in the story of Saul, that even though your friends are far from God, He is still pursuing them. He still has a plan for them and He will not rest until He has found them.
Anyone who has attended a funeral knows how solemn, and sometimes devastating a moment that can be. So Mary has come to the garden to pay her respects and finds, to her amazement, that Jesus’ body is gone. There can only be one explanation: someone has stolen it. But this is no ordinary funeral. On Easter, things are not as they seem. This is a different garden and there is something that Mary doesn’t know. And what she learns, that first Easter, is good news for everyone like her who search for hope.
When we come to church, we often hear people saying (like the disciples did), “I have seen the Lord!” while others, like Thomas, find ourselves farther from belief than we wish. This can produce isolation, shame, and unworthiness that propels us from the community of faith. This sermon will work to unravel some of that shame and doubt while exploring what happens when Jesus shows up and invites “those who have not seen” to “yet still believe.”
Most of us have too high, too ambitious an opinion of ourselves – “even if all the others fall away . . . I never will” (Matt. 26:33) – which makes failure doubly hard for us. But the living Christ has a very different view of us, both before and after we fail, so he is never surprised and he is never finished. In fact, he still prays for us. For all who have blown it, at one time or another, the resurrection offers a “new birth into a living hope” that we can begin again.
For many, Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the anticipation of our own someday. Like Martha, many of us have confined the resurrection to a day in the future when we will rise from the dead (John 11:23-24), and it is that as well. But the resurrection is a reality that we can live in now, for Jesus says, “I am the resurrection…” and he said it before he raised anyone, including himself. The resurrection is the beginning of a new story, a new world and a new way of living in it. It’s a mindset, an awareness that heaven has broken in and the old order has been cast out. Easter is only proof of that.