"Picture This"
Tim Carson
Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · April 5, 2015
Easter Sunday
 
Psalm Litany
Based on Psalm 118
 
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous.
Christ is risen!
We shall not die, but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
Christ is risen!
The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
Christ is risen!
This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!
 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
 
Pastoral Prayer
Nick Larson
 
Risen One, Great God of power and might, you are holy and yet you are present with us. In Christ, you came among us to be our true divine companion, to know our humanity and to make us whole. In Christ, you suffered even the pains of death, but nothing could take away the fullness of your life.

Today, we stand together, recognizing that in Christ you rose to new life,
breaking the bonds of death once and for all so that all creation might live into the fullness of hope.

Help us to celebrate your presence with us in Christ and in one another that they might be our holy offering of praise and thanks and that our lives might always proclaim your life shared with us in Christ.

Teach us now to see you through the great mystery of our faith, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, upon our time together this morning, and through the celebrations of families around our city, our nation, and our world that unite us as one in your Spirit.

Guide us, as we embody your love and joy in the days and weeks to come in all our lives and in your world. 
 
Help us to walk with one another in mercy and peace, in justice and joy, in faith and perseverance, in blessing and in want, each and every day that your abundant grace might flow in us wherever we walk, until we dwell secure in your love all our days.

Through Christ, with Christ, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we pray together your holy words, which you taught us, saying...
 
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
 
The Scripture
John 20:1-18
 
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 from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
 
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “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.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
 
This is the Word of the Lord for us today.
Thanks be to God.
 
The Message
Picture This
Tim Carson
 
All through this journey of Lent, we have been exploring the ways that we can “reframe” the faith – in its many dimensions. And now on Easter, we are exploring the greatest reframing of all, reframing the entire picture, the ultimate game changer. And what better Gospel to read than John, the great reframer of all things spiritual.
 
When you think that John was the latest Gospel written among all the ones, we have, – at the very end of the first century, two generations after the events had transpired – he brings a perspective unlike the other New Testament writers. Why?
 
John had witnessed the Christian faith growing and changing throughout the Mediterranean world. He was aware of different Christian movements and sects that had arisen. And he wrote out of a very particular Christian community, most likely in Damascus, Syria. And John, more than any of the others, provides us with the gift of reframing the Gospel story, including the resurrection story.
 
John knows that the resurrection faith gets born in the heart in a spiritual way, and that faith shapes how you understand the course of history. John knows that our encounter with God, in the present, shapes everything about what was or will come. And John knows that things are not as they appear; powerful forces exist beyond what the senses can know. Let’s explore how he helps us reframe the resurrection faith.
 
What we have heard, this morning, is actually two resurrection stories conflated into one. Much of the details – who discovers the empty tomb, encountering the risen one, the response to that – are drawn from John’s earlier sources, the first three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. You hear echoes of their stories in his. But John doesn’t just leave it at that. He reframes it all and for a very important reason. Let’s take a close look.
 
In the first story, Mary Magdalene visits the garden tomb on the first day of the week before daylight. In other Gospels, she is accompanied by other women, but not here. She comes solo. The stone is rolled away. Assuming that grave robbers have taken his body, she runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and reports. There is still no talk of resurrection, because an empty tomb doesn’t automatically bring about resurrection faith.
 
Then there is a footrace to the tomb – this is unique to John and it’s not accidental. They run like crazy and the beloved disciple makes it to the tomb first, but in deference to Peter lets him go in first. He soon follows him in. As they both look at the folded grave clothes only the beloved disciple believes because of it. They both exit the tomb and go back to where they were staying in Jerusalem.
 
So we come to the end of the first story, soon to be followed by the second, a story that again features Mary Magdalene. None of the aspects of this story are accidental. They reframe earlier synoptic stories in a very particular way for particular reasons.
 
The footrace (presented only in John), the order in which the beloved disciple and Peter enter the tomb and how they respond, is a reflection of a first century struggle to identify the authentic tradition and who has the authority to be trusted and followed.
 
Peter is representative of the apostolic tradition based in the Jerusalem church. The beloved disciple is emblematic of the John’s community, perhaps a form of late first century gnostic Christianity. Mary Magdalene? We’ll come back to her in a moment. And none of this deals with the apostle Paul, his missionary church starts and representing of the Gospel to the gentiles.
 
Here at the most important doctrine of the Christian community, the resurrection faith, John is painting a mural of the tug of war that existed in the church of the first century, a tug of war for preeminence. You see, the beloved disciple (John’s character of faithfulness) wins the footrace not because of athletic prowess but because John is making a point: he gets to the tomb first.
But, in humility, he defers to Peter, who enters first but does not believe because of what he has seen. Only the beloved disciple believes.
 
John is letting us know that there is a kind of seeing that does not result in faith and another kind that does. Both Peter and the beloved disciple presumably saw the same thing, the same evidence, the same signs, but one believed because of it and one did not.
 
Isn’t that how it is for us? We look at the same thing but some believe and others don’t. That’s because of the way one sees and the content of the heart of the one doing the seeing.
 
Of course, John’s nominee for authentic faith, the beloved disciple, does believe. He is the faithful witness.
 
But wait, there’s more! In the second story John compiles several elements from the synoptic tradition into his own. But instead of all the women showing up to anoint the body with spices (in John’s gospel it’s already happened), Mary comes alone. We don’t know why and why under the cloak of darkness – unless that itself says something about the darkness of the world through which she walks and searches.
 
Mary alone looks into the tomb, sees the grave clothes and dissolves into tears because, as with Peter, seeing doesn’t necessarily mean believing even with the assistance of angelic beings. It’s only after she runs into one she supposes to be the gardener, one seen through her veil of tears, that she knows the risen presence for herself. She “came to the garden alone when the dew was still on the branches …”
 
Now John has added another facet to our first century mural that depicts this struggle to identify the authentic tradition, the trusted leadership. Now it is Mary Magdalene, part of the inner circle of Jesus, who stands out from the pack. It’s not just the women but Mary herself.
 
Mary is the first to witness the risen presence and continuity of Jesus after his death. It is Mary who will become to messenger to the other disciples. It is Mary who is the preeminent evangelist and mystical teacher to the others.
 
So now you are beginning to understand the mural John has painted for us, the way that competing movements within first century Christianity are making their cameo appearances in two resurrection stories: the Jerusalem movement with Peter, the movement of the beloved disciple in Damascus, and the mystical movement of Mary Magdalene. They all exist in the same time, they compete in ways for authority, and the Gospel of John prefers some to others!
 
You think our situation in the 21st century of competing Christianities, claims to truth or authority is new? Hardly! That crazy diversity was present from the very beginning. In fact, it is embedded in the pages of the New Testament.
 
The only question for us that remains is which understanding of Christ, which interpretation of scripture, which description of how Christians are to interact with their world will we choose. That’s what we are left with.
 
And it liberates us, doesn’t it? We have to run the footrace. We have to look into the tomb of history and decide if we believe or don’t. We have to determine the form of Christianity that emerges as the result.
 
We have to decide – along with Peter, the beloved disciple, Mary Magdalene, the apostle Paul and a host of others through the centuries throughout the world – what it means to run into a living presence in the dim light of day who calls us by name. We have to decide what to do with that, just like they did.
 
And that’s how John has reframed it for us and for everyone throughout the centuries.
 
Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I shared the story of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, how thirty five years ago he was assassinated for speaking truth to the oppressive powers. Today I want to share his words with you that were spoken shortly before his martyrdom. They are the words of a man who had looked into the empty tomb and believed, a man who knew the One in the garden who called him by name. Because of that resurrection faith he held a sure and certain confidence and hope. And he said:
 
“I have frequently been threatened with death. As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”
 
“I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.
                                             
The Benediction
Tim Carson
 
And now, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the guidance and love of our Father in heaven, and the presence of the Holy Spirit be with you in Easter joy now and forever. Amen. Go in peace!

 

Last Published: April 9, 2015 4:10 PM