“Behold the Man: A God Who Rises” (John 20:1-18)

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day
Sunday, April 21, 2019

“Behold the Man: A God Who Rises” (John 20:1-18)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Behold the man who is risen, who died and now lives. His heart was stopped, but now it pulses with renewed rhythm and vigor. His blood was spilled on Golgotha, but now his veins course with a fresh supply. His lungs were stilled after that loud cry with which he breathed his last, but now the breath of life has returned. His eyes were shut in death, but now they are open and see the light of life. His hands had been nailed to the cross, but now they pick up the grave cloths and fold them neatly in place. His legs were limp as his body was placed in the tomb, but now he stands upright. His body was cold and lifeless, but now he lives. He still bears the marks of the nails and the spear: those are Christ’s holy wounds by which he always wishes to be known. Behold the man, Jesus Christ, true God and true man–he lives. He rises triumphant from the dead and strolls out of the tomb into his green creation.

And Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. And she probably hadn’t gotten much sleep these last couple of days, so distraught she must have been. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away, dislodged from its fixed location, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John, and her words came crashing out so quickly, it’s a wonder they understood her at all: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

They all went back to the tomb, Peter and John sprinting. John doesn’t tell us whether Mary ran or walked. But when the men wandered away bewildered, she was there. She stands outside the tomb weeping, grieving at the double loss: first, the one she called Lord had been crucified, and now his body was missing. The angels sitting there ask her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answers: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Then she turns around and sees a man standing behind her. He asks the same question: “Woman , why are you weeping?” And he adds, “Whom are you seeking?”

She supposed this man to be the gardener, the caretaker. This was an honest mistake. But don’t confuse Jesus with a caretaker of cemeteries. In fact, he is quite the opposite of anyone who wants to keep cemeteries neat and orderly, to have graves remain forever undisturbed. Oh, there are gardeners, caretakers for those things. But this man is not one.

There are many caretakers for the cemetery that is this world. Maintaining this cemetery is the peculiar pastime of the world. I don’t mean, of course, the tending to real cemeteries or the business of running a funeral home. Ironically, the funeral industry thrives precisely by shielding you from the stinging reality of death. First, there’s the disguising of the cold reality of death to make the body look as close as possible to the picture provided to the undertaker. Then there’s the casket and the vault, because who wants to think about what happens when bodies decompose? And then there are the euphemisms: He or she has “passed.” “She’s in a better place now.” “Heaven needed another angel.” Finally, the traditional funeral in the church has been replaced by a “celebration of life” at the funeral home. That’s all very odd and out of touch with the grim reality that death is a disrupting of God’s perfect creation.

In fact, our culture even promotes death. Mothers are persuaded that it’s more convenient to kill their unborn children than to shoulder the burden of being a parent. When the elderly or the disabled become too much of a burden, more and more nations now–and even some states in our own country–are promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide. Happiness at all costs! Convenience is our idol. And nothing is more convenient than doing away with our problems.

The Didache, one of the earliest documents from the early church, describes the culture of death as it was back then: “And the way of death is this: First of all, it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, plunderings, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.”

You see, there is nothing new under the sun. Who has not bought into this evil way of thinking at some point? Repent. Death does not become you.

The culture of death is not an American innovation, although we’ve made it more efficient with every new technology. It is as old as creation, ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. It was a culture of death that drove the first humans to rebel against the source of life, their Creator. “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” And with that, you shall forever be more inclined toward death than life. You will see death as the unavoidable end to your lives. You will seek to destroy both the Creator and his creation. And you will die, physically and eternally.

Even so, in spite of that command and warning, our parents ate of the forbidden fruit. And then what happened? They fled from the gardener. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid, fearing for their lives. The God who had created them with his word; who had formed Adam out of the earth; who had planted a garden and put his humans in the garden to care for it and tend it; now strikes terror in the hearts of these be-your-own-god rebels. And it’s understandable. He is life, and they chose death. Adam became the first gardener of death, and the mere existence of the gardener of life made him afraid.

Ever since then, the tension between Creator and creature has been a clash of life versus death. But that didn’t stop the divine gardener from tending to his garden. So it should come as no surprise that when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, he exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener walking the rows. Behold the man who tends his garden, who pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of his word, the good news of the victorious reign of life swallowing up the old regime of death. He promised life, but it would come through death–namely, his own death. The death of this man of life would come at the hands of the caretakers of death, the gardeners of this dying world.

And so when Mary Magdalene beholds the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was buried in this garden, she makes the honest mistake of assuming he is just another caretaker of cemeteries. But that, he is not.

Oh, Jesus is a gardener alright, but of a completely different sort. Behold the sower of gospel seed. Behold the vine who gives life to the branches. Behold the gardener who nourishes us so that we bear abundant fruit. Behold the gardener who one day will raise up our glorified bodies from where our dead bodies were planted in the ground. What a harvest that will be!

So here we are now, today, still getting used to the dawn of his resurrection, living in the fresh rays of a new day–of a new creation, really. It’s Easter morning, and we’re basking in the glow of life, life overcoming the shadows of death, life undoing the culture of death through sacrament and song. Here in this garden of life called the church, today we are beholding the man who rose from the dead to obliterate death’s stranglehold on his good creation.

So today join with Mary Magdalene in her pious mistake. Suppose the crucified and risen Christ–the grain of wheat fallen in the ground, buried but now broken forth in the bloom of life; the eternal sower; the gardener of Eden and of the paradise to come–suppose him to be the Gardener. For he is the gardener of his new heavens and new earth, the caretaker of the culture of life–new, resurrection life.

Behold the man who is alive and who gives life. Believe in his bodily resurrection. And, because of him, believe in your own resurrection, already begun in the waters of Holy Baptism, to be completed when he returns. Behold the man who overcomes the culture of death by immersing himself into it and dying at its hands. Behold the man whose death has destroyed death. Behold the only man who has the authority to take his own life back up again. Behold the man who lives, and, in him, you will live also. In Christ, behold your future.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

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Published in: on April 20, 2019 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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