The Day of the Resurrection
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 20:1-18

IN THE DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN, THE CITY WAS SILENT; THE DOORS WERE BARRED AND THE WINDOWS SHUTTERED. THE AIR THICK WITH THE TENSION OF THE PAST FEW DAYS, NOTHING STIRRED. THE ONLY SOUND TO BE HEARD WAS THE SOFT SCRAPPING OF A WOMAN’S SANDALS ON THE COBBLE STONES AND DIRT PATHS OF THE CITY. SHE MADE HER WAY IN THE DARK, OUT OF THE CITY TO THE HILLSIDE NEAR THE GATE TO THE LITTLE GARDEN WHERE ALL HER HOPES AND DREAMS HAD BEEN SHATTERED A FEW LONG DAYS AGO. WHY SHE WENT THERE, WE CAN’T SAY; PERHAPS JUST TO BE NEAR TO THE ONE SHE LOVED AND RESPECTED, AND HAD FOLLOWED FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS. PERHAPS JUST TO WEEP AND MOURN FOR THE ONE WHO GAVE HER A NEW LIFE, AND WHOSE OWN LIFE HAD BEEN RIPPED AWAY IN DEATH. SHE CAME ALONE, BECAUSE THE OTHERS WERE AFRAID OF BEING ARRESTED AND CRUCIFIED LIKE THE ONE THEY HAD FOLLOWED. THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN TO HER WAS DEATH BY STONING, AND SHE WAS WILLING TO RISK EVEN THAT TO BE NEAR HIM ONCE MORE.

SHE WAS SHOCKED BEYOND BELIEF WHEN SHE FOUND THE GUARDS GONE AND THE STONE SEALING THE TOMB REMOVED. SHE DIDN’T STOP TO LOOK INSIDE; SEEING THE STONE REMOVED WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH DESECRATION FOR HER TO HANDLE. SHE THOUGHT HIS ENEMIES HAD MOVED HIS BODY; THEY HAD CORRUPTED THE BURIAL RITES SO THAT HIS REMAINS WOULD BE MADE RITUALLY IMPURE, AND HIS BONES COULD NOT REST IN PEACE. SHE RAN TO TELL PETER AND THE OTHER DISCIPLE, AND THEY, IN SHOCK, RAN OUT OF THE CITY TO THE TOMB. THE YOUNGER ONE GOT THERE FIRST, BUT WAITED FOR HIS SENIOR TO ARRIVE AND ENTER THE TOMB BEFORE HIM. WHAT THEY SAW MYSTIFIED THEM. WHY WOULD THOSE WHO TOOK HIS BODY UNWRAP IT AND FOLD THE GRAVE CLOTHES SO NEATLY, WITH THE HEAD COVERING ROLLED UP BY ITSELF? PETER SAW THIS, BUT DID NOT UNDERSTAND. JOHN SAW AND BELIEVED THAT THE BODY HAD BEEN TAKEN. NEITHER UNDERSTOOD WHAT THEY SAW, SO THEY WENT HOME SHAKING THEIR HEADS.

MARY HAD FOLLOWED THE DISCIPLES BACK TO THE GARDEN, AND WHEN THEY LEFT, SHE STAYED BEHIND TO WEEP OUT HER GRIEF. WITH A COURAGE ALMOST BEYOND HER, SHE DARED TO LOOK INTO THE TOMB. THERE SHE SAW TWO BEINGS IN WHITE, SITTING ON THE SLAB WHERE JESUS’ BODY HAD BEEN LAID, LIKE THEY WHERE HAVING A CONVERSATION IN A PLACE OF DEATH. THE QUESTION THEY ASKED OF HER MIGHT SEEM ABSURD; “WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?” IT WAS AS IF THEY COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHY MARY DIDN’T GRASP THE UNBOUNDED JOY OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED; BUT MARY, FOCUSED ON FINDING THE BODY OF HER LORD, COULD NOT SEE WHAT WAS IN FRONT OF HER EYES. BLINDED BY HER TEARS, SHE TURNED AWAY TO SEE SOMEONE WHO WAS STANDING BEHIND HER. HE ALSO ASKED HER WHY SHE WAS WEEPING. THINKING HE WAS THE GARDENER, SHE, SOBBING, BEGGED HIM TO TELL HER WHERE THE BODY OF JESUS HAD BEEN TAKEN.

JESUS SAID TO HER ONE WORD; “MARY!” THAT WAS ALL IT TOOK FOR MARY TO GO FROM TEARS OF GRIEF TO TEARS OF JOY; ONLY HER NAME. “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD,” JESUS SAID, “I KNOW MY SHEEP AND MY SHEEP KNOW ME – JUST AS THE FATHER KNOWS ME AND I KNOW THE FATHER.” IN AN INSTANT, MARY CAN SEE THE TRUTH, AND CRIES OUT, “RABBOUNI – DEAR TEACHER.” IN SO DOING, MARY CLAIMS HER PLACE AS A DISCIPLE OF THE RISEN LORD, AND, UNDERSTANDABLY, WOULD HAVE EMBRACED HIM AND HELD ONTO HIM FOR, LITERALLY, DEAR LIFE. MARY HAD MISTAKEN JESUS FOR AN EARTHLY GARDENER, BUT NOW HAS BEGUN TO SEE HIM AS THE TRUE GARDENER WHO IS BRINGING A NEW WORLD, A NEW LIFE, A NEW CREATION INTO BEING AS HE HAD DONE BEFORE AT THE BEGINNING OF TIME.

IN THE FIRST CREATION STORY, BECAUSE OF SIN, GOD DROVE ADAM AND EVE OUT OF THE GARDEN. NOW, HAVING CONQUERED SIN BY HIS LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION, JESUS SENDS MARY OUT OF THE GARDEN REJOICING. SHE IS SENT OUT TO TELL THE SHEEP OF THE LORD THAT THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME THE LIGHT, AND THAT DEATH HAS NOT TRIUMPHED OVER LIFE. SHE IS SENT TO THE OTHERS TO CARRY THE WORD TO THEM THAT, “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD.”

AS JOHN TELLS US AT THE START OF HIS GOSPEL, “THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, THE GLORY AS OF A FATHER’S ONLY SON, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.” THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND, NOW, IN THIS SHATTERING OF ALL THAT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH, THE FLESH HAS BECOME WORD AGAIN. HE WHO WAS IN THE BEGINNING, AND THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE, IS REVEALED AS THE END TOWARDS WHICH ALL THINGS NOW MOVE. IN HIS GLORIOUS RESURRECTION, THE ALPHA HAS BECOME THE OMEGA, AND NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. “WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?” ASKED THE ANGELS. THE TIME OF TEARS IS ENDED, AND THE NEW CREATION IS BORN.

“WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?” CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT THE TOMB IS EMPTY AND THE CHRIST OF GOD HAS RISEN FROM THE DEAD? THE TIME OF TEARS IS OVER, AND THE TIME OF JOY HAS BEGUN. THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE NEW CREATION, HAS BROKEN INTO THIS WORLD, AND ITS SIGN IS THE EMPTY TOMB. NOT YET IN ITS FULLNESS, FOR WE WILL STILL SUFFER ALL THE PAINS AND SORROWS OF THIS LIFE, EVEN THE END OF THIS LIFE ITSELF. YET THAT EMPTY TOMB, AND THE PRESENCE OF OUR RISEN LORD, IS THE JOY THAT UNDERLIES THE LIVES OF ALL THE SHEEP OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD. CHRIST IS RISEN! DEATH IS NOT THE END AND THE GRAVE HOLDS NO TERROR FOR US. WE CAN GO DOWN INTO THE DUST OF THE GRAVE WITH THE SURE AND CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE THAT IN HIS RESURRECTION IS OUR OWN RESURRECTION; AS HE IS RISEN, HE WILL CALL US BY NAME AND RAISE US UP TO BE WITH HIM FOREVER.

WHEN MY SISTER, VIOLET, WHO WAS ONE OF THE NICEST PERSONS I HAVE EVER KNOWN (HEY, EVERY FAMILY HAS TO HAVE AT LEAST ONE) HAD HER SECOND CHILD AT AGE 29, THEY DISCOVERED ADVANCED TERMINAL COLON CANCER. SHE VOLUNTEERED TO GO THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH TO BE THE SUBJECT OF EXPERIMENTAL TREATMENTS – THEY WOULDN’T HELP HER BUT MIGHT HELP OTHERS. I WAS TEACHING AT WEST POINT AT THE TIME, SO OVER THE COURSE OF THE NEXT YEAR, EVERY CHANCE I GOT I DROVE TO ROCKVILLE, MD. TO BE WITH HER. MY VISITS WERE LIKE A TIME ELAPSED MOVIE OF HER WASTING AWAY. ON MY LAST VISIT, WE TALKED ABOUT OUR FAITH, AND SHE STRONGLY AFFIRMED HER FAITH IN JESUS AS HER LORD AND SAVIOR. SOMEHOW, WE BOTH FELT A WARM PEACE ENFOLD US. AS I LEFT ON SUNDAY MORNING, HAVING LOST TRACK OF EVERYTHING BUT VIOLET, I DECIDED TO STOP AT WORSHIP ON MY WAY HOME. WHEN I WALKED INTO THE CROWDED CHURCH, I WAS SHOCKED TO FIND IT WAS EASTER MORNING. THE HYMNS, THE RESURRECTION LITURGY, EVEN THE SERMON ALL CONFIRMED THE CERTAINTY THAT, AS CHRIST IS RISEN, MY DEAR SISTER WOULD ALSO RISE AGAIN.

“WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?” THE ANGELS ASK. CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT EMPTY TOMB MEANS EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED? LIFE HAS TRIUMPHED OVER DEATH, THE MERCY OF GOD HAS CRUSHED THE POWER OF SIN. FEAR AND DESPAIR HAVE BEEN SWEPT AWAY BY THE GLORY OF THE EMPTY TOMB. HEAVEN AND EARTH HAVE BEEN JOINED BY THE ONE WHO BROUGHT ALL THINGS INTO BEING, AND, BY HIS RISEN PRESENCE, THE JOYS OF HEAVEN NOW BLOSSOM IN THE LIVES OF THOSE HE HAS CALLED BY NAME.

CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! THIS IS OUR FESTIVAL DAY! RING THE BELLS! SHOUT FOR JOY! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! GOD HAS MADE ALL THINGS NEW IN OUR RISEN LORD, AND HE HAS MADE US ONE WITH HIM, AND THROUGH HIM, ONE WITH THE FATHER IN HEAVEN. REJOICE! REJOICE! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

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