“Resurrection and Rock ‘n Roll”
By Rev. Dr. Orville James
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Readings: John 20:1-7, 10-16; Acts 10:34-42
So last week we had Easter Sunday; but for the community of Christ, Easter is actually a season; on the Christian calendar, Easter lasts seven weeks, somewhat mirroring the time Jesus’ first followers took to accept, absorb and process what had happened, and sort out their thinking, until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and launched them into the world to proclaim Jesus as Risen Lord. Listen:
“We are witness to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…”
That’s the apostle Peter, preaching fearlessly after Easter; but remember, that’s months later. He didn’t get there right away; none of them did; some doubted, others hid; they stumbled and fumbled to understand. It was the women who were bravest and first to begin to believe. But it took everyone time… weeks actually and multiple events and experiences of the Risen Lord.
I confess to you that I’m intimidated by all that. I strain to do justice to the incredible impact of the Easter event, because Easter changes everything! Ask people around the world what they think is the biggest day of the year for Christians and most will say, Christmas. That’s what our society has settled on: A romantic early winter festival whitewashed of the politics and danger of the actual birth event. Christmas is a nice beginning to the Jesus story, but the true answer about the biggest day of the Christian year is, Easter. This is The Event that launched the new beginning, the new world, the new creation. If it hadn’t been for Easter, nobody would ever have dreamed of celebrating Christmas.
Jesus had been executed on Friday – a sacrifice to evil, sin, and death. It seemed as all was finished, yet – here we are 2000 years later – obviously it wasn’t finished. Something happened, and the repercussions are reverberating into this 21st Century. So, we go back again into the story of that early morning. Still in the darkness, the first day of the week, eyes red from crying and a sleepless Sabbath night. Women at the tomb; perhaps to bring more spices for embalming, perhaps to grieve and mourn, perhaps just to be there, because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.
Mary Magdalene goes to the garden tomb. If someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people discovering the empty tomb and seeing Jesus, they wouldn’t have dreamed of giving the starring role to a woman, let alone Mary Magdalene. She’s never mentioned in John’s gospel until her appearance with the other Mary’s at the foot of the cross, but her place here is spectacular. She is the first witness and proclaimer, the apostle to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And later, an even greater privilege: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.
The Gospel of John tells the story in two parts. In part one, there is a lot of running back and forth. Mary discovers that the stone has been moved and runs to tell Peter and John. Peter and John run to the tomb, discover that it is empty, and then, presumably, run back home. No one has said anything about a resurrection. Mary clearly believes someone has stolen the body. She’s worried because there was no opportunity to anoint the body and give Jesus a proper burial.
Then, in part two, when things settle down, Mary returns to the garden tomb a second time. Perhaps she wants to be alone with her grief. Two angels ask her why she weeps. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Still no mention of resurrection. Mary is still focused on doing what needs to be done to honour and care for a dead body. Then there is the experience, for which words simply seem inadequate. Jesus is there. She thinks it is the gardener, asks him where the body is. Jesus says her name, “Mary,” an intensely personal moment, and she knows something indescribable, something impossible, unthinkable has happened. He is ALIVE. Jesus is Risen.
Mary is in a strange new world now. Old certainties about life and death have been shattered. It didn’t take long for people to understand that if Jesus was raised from the dead, the future looks very different. God is doing a new thing, an astonishing thing. In the resurrection, the promised new creation is happening. History has new possibility now, with stunning implications, about lifestyle and mindset. This calls for a big re-think, and re-set!
When the power of God transformed the battered, cold corpse of Jesus up, and out of the grave – all that had put him there was, in an instant, defeated and dismissed, as no longer dominant. That means hatred, oppression, injustice, and death have been confronted, and overturned. The worst that human beings can do, happened to Jesus, and was shown to be powerless in the face of the love of God.
Things like justice and peace and compassion and human dignity are not just the idle dreams of the naïve and hopelessly optimistic, but the realities upon which God is founding all of life in this universe. We are glimpsing what the final state, the ultimate condition of the universe. Therefore, you can trust and live and work for a better world, for peace, and justice, because in Jesus Christ peace and justice has triumphed over death.
You see friends, if Jesus is alive, Easter is not just about something that happened long ago, it’s a reality now. If Jesus is alive, God continues to create and redeem and save the world. Mary, Peter, and John, you, and I live in a new world now, full of hope and possibility. I think that means that God is calling us to start rolling up our sleeves, living and hoping and working for God’s new Easter creation. Doesn’t that mean that, ultimately nothing else is as important.
Jesus died, went all the way into the valley of the shadow of death, and if God raised him up and defeated the power of death, things are very different for us and forever.
Tom Wright was a bishop, a high leader in the Church of England. He had the significance of Easter explained to him while riding in a cab. The taxi driver looked back at the Anglican bishop in his mirror. His face was a mixture of amusement and sympathy. They were stuck in traffic, and he’d asked, what his rider did for a living. Having told Wright that he was a Roman Catholic himself, he said, “Ah, you Church of England people. You’re still having all that trouble about women becoming priests and bishops, aren’t you?”
Now, this was a dozen or 15 years ago, when the Anglicans were debating the parameters of women’s leadership in the Church, so Bishop Wright had to admit that his cab driver was correct.
“The way I look at it,” the cabbie said, “is this: if God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, all the rest is basically rock’n’roll.’ EXACTLY.
What does THAT mean? What’s he saying? Well, if Christ has been raised, then everything else is kind of irrelevant; all the rest is kind of beside the point. As the Brits would say – it’s been sorted. It’s basically just rock’n’roll. God has won the decisive battle over the forces of darkness, and God will win the final victory that results. So, let’s just acknowledge that everything else can, in principle, be worked out.
Okay, but that little phrase “in principle” might still leave a few question marks rattling in our heads. Granted there still are things we’re curious about and can be debated over. Some things that, in Jesus vast and diverse team, we haven’t yet come to unified agreement, or don’t have clear answers. Yet, if Jesus is raised, do any other questions matter? Maybe not so much! And certainly not very many.
C. S. Lewis, in his masterpiece A Grief Observed, wonders, “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Easily, I should think. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask are like that.” (To God)
They’re un-answerable and irrelevant.
How did the resurrection happen? Who moved that stone? What happened to Jesus body?
The point is: half the questions we ask are like that. And the bigger point is, God is at peace about unanswered and unanswerable questions. So maybe we can feel free to be at peace, and not fret about them as well.
The stone was moved. The women arrived to discover that the stone had been moved aside.
The question isn’t so much, “Who moved the stone?” OR even: “What happened to the body?” Because those seem to be the questions Lewis is talking about. It’s sort of like asking, “Is yellow square or round?” Doesn’t matter. Not an important question.
But in this Easter season, we’re here to celebrate the Resurrection. If Jesus is raised, then what DOES matter? Are there questions that matter even more, because we now see clearly what God has been up to all along?
For instance, If Jesus is raised, can we do what we want, OR… are we called to a new kind of life? There’s a question that matters!
If, in the Resurrection of Jesus, God is up to something, then what matters is our response, our involvement, our participation.
Do we dare sit here as passive observers of the Resurrection event? Spectators? Not really part of the Reign of God that was begun on Easter morning? Dare we avoid active citizenship in this new reign (Jesus called God’s Kingdom) where hatred, oppression, and death has been confronted and defeated?
Or in God’s majestic, mysterious intervening in history, shouldn’t we be launched into a new life, and new lifestyle? Surely, we shouldn’t look at Jesus’ Resurrection, and say to ourselves “I’m going to kick back in my LA-Z-Y Boy chair, and wait to go to heaven? NO! The cabbie had it right – If God raised a man from the grave and launched a new and glorious form of life – then anything else can be dealt with, and in fact, awaits God’s team working out.
My friends – God has done it! Christ is Risen. The rest is rock ‘n roll – and it’s up to us what tune will be played in this world. What song will be sung. So, in your living, in the lifestyle you choose, in the kindness you give, in the peace you carry, and the joy and justice and generosity you live by – ROCK ON my friends, Rock on!
By your power you raised Jesus Christ to rule over us.
We praise you that he unmasks powers that claim our allegiance,
And puts down tyrannies that threaten to destroy us.
We thank you that he alone commands our lives,
And gives us freedom to love the world.
Glory to you for the gift of his life!
Glory to you for his saving death!
Glory to you for Jesus Christ,
Who lives and reigns as our risen Lord,
now and forever. AMEN.