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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter Sunday 04/16/2017

If you were here Friday night, in listening to the Passion according to St. John, you heard Jesus say, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Pilate’s response then is, “What is truth?”  It’s the big question, one that philosophers, theologians, poets and others have wrestled with forever.  For us, on Easter Sunday, we get our answer as we proclaim, “Alleluia!  He is risen!”  For us, that is the truth, Jesus the crucified and risen Christ is the truth, the truth of our faith, the truth to which we testify.  Without that truth, Easter is just a pleasant early spring celebration with nice flowers as the earth comes back to life after the sleep of winter.  It’s the Easter Bunny and candy for the kids, candy for grownups too and a chance to have a special dinner with the family. 

For us though, Easter is about the truth of “He is Risen!” and that becomes the truth and the message that we proclaim not just today but in one way or another it’s the message we proclaim all year, Sunday after Sunday.  All of the gospels contribute to that message but John’s gospel in particular adds layers of meaning to the entire story of Jesus, and in the case of the Easter story, it’s especially important to search through those layers.   

In the first verse of today’s Easter gospel, John says it was the first day of the week which doesn’t seem like a big deal but then, in verse 19 that immediately follows today’s reading, John again says it was the first day of the week.  It is the kind of detail that you might not pay much attention to, seeming as it does to be relatively insignificant; but after awhile you learn that John puts things as he does for a reason and when he repeats a phrase like “it was the first day of the week” you can be pretty sure that it’s more than a minor detail.   It isn’t just a part of who, what, when and where reporting or, in other words, he’s not just telling you that Easter happened to fall on a Sunday as opposed to a Tuesday or a Wednesday.  What John is pointing to, is that part of Easter truth is that this first day of the week represents the first day of God’s new creation.  In his resurrection account, John is giving us the beginning of a new creation story. 

John begins his gospel with echoes of the “In the beginning” creation account of Genesis as he starts with “In the beginning was the Word,” and with that he is just beginning to make creation connections.  In Genesis, on the sixth day, which would be Friday, the day on which human beings were created in God’s image, on that Friday, God finished all his work.  In John, on Friday, from the cross, Jesus, God’s son cries out, “It is finished!”  In the Genesis 1 account, God then rests on the seventh day.  In John, on Saturday, the day between Friday and Easter, during the pause between chapter 19 and chapter 20, the dramatic events of the previous days are over.  Things are quiet, the story is on hold, corresponding to the Sabbath rest of God.

Things are quiet except for one thing; they are quiet except for the Spirit.  The Spirit that moved over the waters of creation at the beginning of Genesis now, during this pause in the gospel, moves over the created, but fallen world ready to renew it, ready to begin a new chapter.  The way John tells it then, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb while it’s still dark and in the early morning light she encounters Jesus in the garden and in so doing, she mistakes him for the gardener.  Mistaking Jesus for the gardener is yet another puzzling, even somewhat humorous detail if you read this the way you’d read any other story; but remember, this is John and it’s his story of a new creation.  With the gardener, he evokes images from Genesis 2 and the Garden of Eden and the Lord God walking in the garden.  In this new Easter creation account, Jesus, the Risen Christ, is the gardener.

It’s all part of John’s imaginative way of conveying Easter truth, the truth that God’s new age has broken into the present time.  That is the reality, the truth of the Easter proclamation that “He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!”  It’s a world changing truth, one that redefines the boundaries of life itself, but it’s also a truth that has down to earth implications for us here and now. 

Our tendency can be to see Easter truth as “Jesus is raised, therefore there is life after death,” or “Jesus is raised, therefore we will go to heaven when we die.”  Those are both announcements of good news and they are both connections that are made very early as part of Easter truth and Christian faith; but the Easter stories in the gospels themselves and the oral traditions that inspired them don’t take us there, at least not right away.

What we get in all the Easter accounts, maybe most creatively in John, is the story of a radical break with history as it had been, with life as it had been.  In the resurrection of Jesus, everything is redefined.  He is Risen!  God’s new creation has begun, God’s new age has broken into the present.  That is our truth and we, as his followers have a job to do in living and proclaiming that truth, the first day truth of John.  It means understanding Jesus not just as the teacher of a new ethic or even the representative of a new religious possibility or even as our ticket to heaven.  It means seeing him as the gardener in this new creation where new life and new possibilities emerge out of what can seem to be hopelessly broken situations.

Easter is the proclamation of a new reality, but it’s a reality that can’t be perceived in the usual ways.  Many years around this time there are TV shows and movies and magazine articles that dramatize the events of Holy Week and Easter, sometimes claiming to uncover something new so they can better report what really happened.  Sometimes such things are interesting, and they can make clearer the history of the time and what life was like in that ancient world.  The trouble is, the gospels aren’t intended to report history as usual and all the Jesus movies essentially reduce Jesus to being another chapter in history as usual.  What we proclaim at Easter is about God breaking into history as usual and changing it, doing something new, starting something new on this first day of the week that becomes the first day of God’s new creation.

To perceive that means looking at things in a different way.  It’s not just historical inquiry.  It’s not just trying to make sense of the resurrection as a highly unusual event in the world as we know it.  It means opening the windows of the mind to see and imagine what is possible in God’s world, to imagine the resurrection as the defining event of the first day of God’s new creation as John invites us to do.

As we do that, Easter isn’t just a nice early spring celebration, it’s a new way of looking at the world, a new way of looking at life.  It’s a way that remains always hopeful because He is Risen!  Reality has been redefined!  It’s no longer about death, it’s about resurrection!  It is the first day of God’s new creation and with that we once again say, Alleluia!  He is Risen!

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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