New Life

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 20:1-18 

April 17, 2022

Main Idea – Jesus gives us new life.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,  Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed…(John 20:1)

We often celebrate Easter as the culmination of Holy Week and the Season of Lent.  The story of Easter is the grand finale of our four Gospels.  But Easter is not an ending, it is a beginning; a new start, a new world, a new creation.   The writer of the Gospel of John understood that Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension inaugurated a new age.  John’s Easter account is loaded with images of creation and new beginnings.   On this Easter morning, John, and we, proclaim that Jesus offers us new life.

The story starts in darkness and disorder just as creation does.   At first there is no sign of life. Mary Madgalene comes to the tomb with eyes blurry with the tears of grief.  She does not expect a miracle.  For her, life as she had known it was over.  The teacher whom she loved was dead.   The Gospel does not tell us what drew her there on that morning.  She just had to be there.  In all four gospels, Mary Madgalene is the first to the tomb and her grief is intensified by what she finds there; an empty grave.   She shares this distressing news with two of the disciples; Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who run to the tomb to see for themselves.  Even though they see the empty tomb, they remain in the dark, unchanged, for John tells us, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (v.9).  They return to their homes unaware of the resurrection.

But Mary remains.  She doesn’t understand what is happening yet either but her grief has already changed her life.  She cannot return to her previous way of being.   

The first flickers of new life appear with the angels; heavenly light given as on the first day of creation.  They do not proclaim Jesus’ resurrection as the angels in the other gospels do.  Instead, their presence in the tomb, seated where Jesus’ body had once laid,  is evidence of the inbreaking of the promised new age.  The angels speak to Mary, saying, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (v.13).  Usually when angels speak, they start with “Do not be afraid” because  their dazzling appearance is so overwhelming.  But these angels do not say this because Mary is not afraid, in fact she seems underwhelmed or at least so focused on her grief that she takes no notice of the angels’ glamour.  She does not ask them about what might have happened.  She just answers their question and turns away.  

New life for Mary begins when the one she thinks is the gardener speaks her name. During his ministry Jesus had said “I know my own and my own know me.”  I call them by name “and they listen to my voice.”.  (John 10:14,16)   “Easter began the moment the gardener said “Mary!” and she knew who he was.  That is where the miracle happened and goes on happening – not in the tomb but in the encounter with the living Lord.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Christian Century, 5/1/98,  

This image of Jesus as the gardener is just so perfect,  because Jesus Christ, Incarnate God, is THE Gardener;  “All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being is life…” (John 1:3-4a).  Here was Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God who, in the beginning, hovered over the face of the deep and declared “let there be light”, who created humanity out of dust, who made a covenant with Abraham, who led Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, who cared for the exiles in Babylon, who brought life and healing to so many in Galilee, and who chose to suffer and die on the cross so that all might be reconciled to him.   This is the gardener who Mary meets that morning.  

The expansiveness and the intimacy of God is profoundly experienced in this moment as the Creator of the Universe speaks tenderly to a beloved and grieving friend. Mary’s world has been reformed, resurrected along with Jesus, her despair has turned to joy.

But Jesus’ creative work isn’t done yet.  He says to Mary “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (v.17)  In this statement Jesus reveals the purpose of Easter.

Jesus did not return to resume his old life, like Lazarus did.  Jesus’ return heralds the new life, the new creation, made possible through his death, resurrection and ascension, which made permanent that which was revealed about God during Jesus’ life. With his return to God, Jesus reveals that “the believing community now knows God as Jesus knows God, that Jesus has opened up the possibility of new and full relationship with God.” (Gail O’Day, New Interpreters Bible, vol. 9, p. 845). Let’s think about that for a moment, we can know God as Jesus knows God. Jesus is the Son of God and we too are children of God. This is the new age, the new creation.  

Just as God called forth creation out of nothingness, so Christ calls Mary and all of us to a new reality and a new vocation; to proclaim the Good News of God’s love, which is the cornerstone of our faith.  In the first creation, Adam and Eve were turned out of the Garden.  In the new creation, Mary leaves the garden rejoicing and testifying that she has seen the Lord.

Jesus is the gardener, who brings about the new creation.  The apostle Paul puts it this way; “ So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! “ (2Cor 5:17)  We are a new creation.  We are not bound by our past.  We need carry nothing but the assurance of God’s love for us.  

We are ready for new life, yes?  The burdens of the past two years have been exhausting.  The pandemic started during the season of Lent in 2020 and we have been waiting for Easter all this time!  This new life is not a resumption of our lives pre-2020.   Mary and the other disciples’ lives do not return to what they had been before.  Jesus does not return to resume the life he had been leading.  New life entails letting go of the old life and this can be hard.  All of us have aspects of our lives we would be happy to leave behind but we also must honor our grief about what has been lost and recognize our reluctance to let go of the familiar, even that which is not life giving.

So today, in the midst of Easter joy, we are invited to hand over our griefs and our exhaustion to Christ who speaks to us tenderly, just as he spoke to Mary.  We are invited to let go of fear, let go of bitterness, let go of complacency and inertia.  We are invited to embrace the new life in Christ, which is bursting forth all around us, like the green grass and flower buds erupting from the muddy earth.     

On this Easter morning we can proclaim that, in Christ, we are a new creation.  We can experience Christ as Mary did.  We can experience God as Jesus did.  We can move forward into the future, secure in God’s love for us.  Thanks be to God.  

Let us pray…..

Living God, we praise you for Jesus our Christ, who lived and died and lives again so that we might know you.  We rejoice in Christ’s victory over death and evil and all that separates us from you and each other.  We thank you for the joy of new life and for your unending care and guidance of us.  Empower us to share the Good News of your love throughout our communities and our world.  Amen and Alleluia.