Resurrecting Easter – April 4
A sermon based on John 20:1-18
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on Easter April 4, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott
It’s so good to see so many you here this morning. It seems much longer than a year since last Easter when just Laura and Christa and I were up here recording the 2020 Easter service. We’ve been through a lot with the global pandemic since then. And happily, today, this Easter, we find the promise of not just Christ’s resurrection, and a resurrection of in-person Easter services, but the promise of a universal resurrection of more normal lives as God, working through humans, has the pandemic significantly diminishing.
Health care workers, drug manufacturers, and leaders at many levels of the government, as well as regular folks helping by masking up and social distancing ( like you are this morning), all those efforts have been Christ’s hands working through caring people to end the pandemic. And that end, this Easter, is happily in sight, if we continue the good work, the God work. What a blessing all that is! For sure we still have Covid worries and work to do and protocols in place and the service is shorter, but it feels so good to stand up here on Easter and hear the litany “Christ is Risen . . . Christ is Risen indeed!” with more than just my dear friends Laura and Christa!
I took the title for this morning’s sermon, Resurrecting Easter, from a book that John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan wrote. Dominic Crossan is arguably the finest New Testament scholar alive, but this particular book is not well known. Its premise is a thorough examination of art, literature, history, theology and scripture regarding the instance of the resurrection – and two traditions that evolved. One tradition which the book briefly covers is the resurrection of Jesus the Christ alone on Easter. That’s the individual resurrection tradition of the Western church we’re familiar with. The other tradition (more focused on in the book) has Jesus the Christ uprising with all humanity. This is the “universal resurrection” found in Eastern Orthodox churches where all of humanity in all of history is involved in Christ’s resurrection . . . uprising.
Like the Crossans I have chosen the word uprising carefully because it implies both a rising up and a rebelling against. God has Jesus and his Way not only rise up after his death, but continue to up-rise against the earthly ways of violence and oppression – the terrible sins of inhumanity to humanity which separate us from God. See Jesus’ Way, and the Easter reality of his continuing experiential existence, can be understood to be about lifting all of humanity out of the depths of the tombs of death and darkness both literally and figuratively– and in life on earth, as well as in the afterlife. Whereas Adam was thought to have severed humanity from the image of God, for Christians Jesus is thought to resurrect humanity and reunite us ALL with the image of God.
And actually, today’s famous Easter story from the Gospel of John aligns with that idea. In Genesis Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden where God’s the Gardener. We often think Mary was mistaken in supposing Jesus was the Gardener, but she can be heard to have supposed right on a cosmic scale. 1. John tells us at the start of his gospel that Jesus is the Word that was with God in the beginning and spoke creation into being. Christ is God incarnate on earth– the persona of God who was the Gardener of Eden. That Gardener was found by Mary outside the tomb on that first Easter morn when Eden returned, as Adam’s blunder was undone by Jesus.
In the artwork on universal resurrection Jesus takes males and females out of Hades rising them up to heaven as he himself arises, reconnecting them with the image of God that Genesis claims we are all made in– and the God Paul says we have our being in. I mention the artwork (and provided an 11th century example in our bulletins) because there are no Bible verses describing the moment of the resurrection. The Bible only describes the before and after. There’s a lifeless body wrapped and entombed. Then we are told there’s an empty tomb and encounters with the risen Christ outside it. There’s no account of the first moment Christ arises.
While the details of the greatest moment in Christian faith are not in the Gospel accounts, the moment has been imagined and depicted in later artwork and writings. And while the there is no explicit written record of the resurrection moment per se, a universal resurrection has Biblical anchoring including in retrospective reckonings you’ve likely read or heard and wondered what was going on. The Apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer, connects Adam and Jesus to the fate of all. In I Corinthians 15 (20-22) Paul wrote, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as ALL die in Adam, so ALL will be made alive in Christ.” Acts 24 (15) also reports Paul expressing the idea of universal resurrection, “I have a hope in God,” Paul says “ . . . that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Chapter 27 of Matthew also has others arising with Jesus, retrospectively. In the crucifixion story just as Jesus dies verses 51 and 52 record “At that moment . . . many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs . . .”
What’s really interesting is that once we open our eyes to this notion of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter being a resurrection of others, and all, we can also find dozens of Bible verses backing the universality of salvation itself, that is, humanity is not just uprising to go to heaven or to hell but to a universal salvation and reuniting with the image of God we are made in. All can be heard to be heaven bound as a result of Easter. In the famous Advent reading from Luke, we are told in a quote from Isaiah that “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6). In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist declares Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And sure enough, later in John 12 (32) Jesus declares “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL people to myself.” In the Nativity story from Luke (2:10) the angel of the Lord proclaims that THE “good news of great joy [is] for ALL the people.” In 1 Timothy (4:10) the author declares “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of ALL people . . .” Even Revelation (21:4) can be heard to predict universal salvation “God is among mortals. He will dwell with THEM; THEY will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . .”
Such New Testament assertions dovetail with Hebrew Scriptures. And not only with the Isaiah quote from Luke, Genesis 12 (12:3) indicates that all three Abrahamic religions began with the promise that through Abraham “ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I chose Psalm 65 as our invocation because it includes the claim “O God . . . to you ALL flesh shall come.”
I focus on all of this on Easter morning because much of our regular news day-in-and-day-out highlights the ugly divisions of our age over politics, religion, class, sexuality, gender and skin color, but the Easter news, the good news, the real news is that we can find heaven breaking in – for everyone – if we look around. That Gardener outside the empty tomb 2,000 years ago can be found today working in so many ways in so many people. For Christians all of the hands and feet and voices working to end the pandemic can be understood as the resurrected Christ working in millions and millions of human beings.
That work can even be seen to evidence that we are on the precipice of new age, a glorious continuing of the Gardener’s work in resurrecting the Garden of Eden. All of the care and compassion so many have shown during the pandemic suggests we can, and that most of us have, united across the divides– in ways never before seen on a global wide scale. People mattering to people– such love in action is what we call Christ at work. That care and compassion is love. And God is love.
Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Gardener, Jesus the Word who was with God at the beginning lived and died for love. And that Jesus arose on Easter to provide a way for all to have new life and be reconciled to God. That Gardener, whom we call Jesus, is alive across the world, as is Jesus’ Way. Easter provides the promise of Jesus’ resurrection– part and parcel to that promise is a better world for all. We can understand that better world as a place where all are resurrected and all are saved from lesser ways of being; and all experience heaven breaking in on earth while living, even as all experience heaven being promised to humanity forever. Easter is evidence of what the Bible repeatedly calls God’s steadfast and enduring love. That no strings attached love is for you and me and everyone else for eternity.
Thank you Jesus!
AMEN and HAPPY EASTER!
1. Resurrecting Easter by the Crossans was, as I note in the sermon text, influential in my thinking for this sermon. I highly recommend the book. It is eye opening both intellectually and spiritually. I want to also point out that if you find some or all of this sermon objectionable, please do not blame the Crossans, as the sermon is not a summary of their work, I used it as a jumping off point. Their book is a brilliant and important work that needs to be read on its own.
2. I develop this idea after listening to the 2021 Pulpit Fiction podcast for this Lectionary text. I highly recommend Rev. Robb McCoy and Rev. Eric Fistler commentaries found https://www.pulpitfiction.com .
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED