John 20: On Resurrection

This is a version of the sermon I preached on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 at Broken Bow United Methodist Church. It’s part of an ongoing series running through Easter exploring the Gospel of John.

Today’s sermon is based on John 20.

You can worship online with BBUMC through Facebook, the church website, or YouTube.

I love watching those woodworking videos on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Have you seen any of them? For quite a while in my feed, projects blending wood and epoxy resin are the thing, like this table.

Debbie the church admin says they electrocuted the wood somehow, then cleaned out the burns before filling them. Or there’s this egg: it’s part craggy, dyed wood united with epoxy and then turned on the lathe.

Or, there is no shortage of colored pencil and epoxy lathe projects.

And then there’s this bowl: a jumble of scrap pieces in a bowl, then pour in the epoxy, then turn it on the lathe until it looks like this. It’s so satisfying to watch these artisans bring their vision into reality.

Today is like that: today is the reveal day for the artisan’s vision. We’ve been studying the Gospel of John for the past couple months, and today’s the day we’ve been building toward. All the glory references, all the, “When I’m lifted up, I’ll draw everyone to me”-type sayings from Jesus: today’s the day that vision dawns on us. It’s Easter! Christ is risen! Alleluia!

As we’ve noted many times, John, inspired by the Spirit, picked and chose the stories of Jesus that would be most convincing and heart-moving, so that, having heard the gospel, we’d all believe Jesus is God’s Son, and in believing, be filled with God’s eternal life (Jn 20:30-31). That’s his goal, his vision. All the signs of the first eleven chapters, and all the teaching of the next eight chapters, lead to today’s peak event: the tomb of Jesus is empty. Praise the Lord!

This should be the full reveal, like in the woodturning videos when the final glossy coats have been applied and the finished piece is on display…but, nobody in the story gets it right away. Mary doesn’t see it, even though she’d likely been around for many of Jesus’s messages about being raised. Peter and the other disciple don’t see it either. Sure, John the evangelist says the other one “saw and believed,” but in the very next sentence says, “They didn’t yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead” (vv. 7-8). And even the odd – “Don’t hold onto me…” exchange with Mary and Jesus – has the air of, You don’t really get it yet, go tell the others…and you’ll all see…soon. Jesus’ resurrection is supposed to be the big reveal of God’s power, grace, and vision. Apparently, seeing resurrection takes some time, sometimes. The disciples will eventually, over forty days, see more clearly what Jesus’ resurrection means.

Maybe it’s like that for us. I recognize that it’s Easter, and we’ve been journeying through the whole Gospel of John, and we’re in worship here and online today, but I think seeing resurrection, and what Jesus’ resurrection means, is challenging at times — it takes some time for us too. As we’re well aware, resurrection, as a concept, defies everything we know to be true about life – this was true for Mary, Peter, and John the Evangelist, and for us. Any of us who’ve grieved – in the past year, or ever – know the grief of a tomb that remains all too full. Literal resurrection, is hard sometimes, but so too is any other vision of resurrection.

In all honesty, it’s probably easier for us to see the tomb, the brokenness, the despair, and the hopelessness, sometimes. Unlike the artisans who craft tables, eggs, and bowls, we can struggle to see the life beyond the pieces. At best, sometimes, we feel cracked and broken. At worst, we feel like cut off, cast out, good-for-nothing leftovers. We experience holes of grief and shame and regret so big that we’re sure nobody really wants us, loves us, or believes in us. And, if none of that is true, if things are better than that in our lives…well…thanks be to God. Perhaps that’s how the other disciple can “see and believe” and not yet understand. Resurrection takes time sometimes, in our lives too; and yet, that says more about us than it does about God.

The disciples that first Easter, and we, today, may struggle to understand or believe. We may run to others with messages of fear and uncertainty. We may believe that the cracks of our lives, the brokenness of our sin, the wounds of our pasts, will leave us worthless, used up, and beyond God’s grace. But Easter, and resurrection, are God’s proclamations, God’s declaration: “I will make all things new!”

God raises Jesus to new life, like an artisan pours epoxy over colored pencils or broken hunks of wood, with vision to see an alternative future. God raises Jesus, proclaiming that from the tomb’s emptiness, God’s love pours out on all the broken spaces of our lives. God raises Jesus as a proclamation that every cast off part, every broken crack, every rough and tumbled spot, is filled with God’s grace that makes us new.

John the Evangelist knew what we here also know: there is no proving resurrection, but there is story after story, and image after image, that lead to belief that leads to resurrection life. And that takes time sometimes. I’ve seen this belief and conviction grow, little by little, in Gaby and Maren, as we’ve studied, questioned, and grown over the past three years. I might have liked a little more argument, but that’s not their personalities. And yet, I’ve seen them grow in grace and godliness. I’ve seen them grow in comfort at praying aloud in public – though they’d still prefer not to. I see, in them, Jesus making them new. And if Jesus is making them new, then Jesus can do that with us too.

When hope and courage sprout where grief once made its home, resurrection faith grows. When peace bubbles up where anxiety pressed in, resurrection faith grows. Where forgiveness begins to take shape where resentment, hurt, betrayal, anger, and wrath once swirled, resurrection faith grows. Where middle schoolers ask questions and explore practices, resurrection faith grows. Where adults sense God’s calling doing something new in them, resurrection faith grows. Where new practices of worship, prayer, study, service, and generosity lead us, bit by bit deeper into the presence of God, resurrection faith grows. 

And wherever these fruits grow, God’s resurrection love is declaring over us: Nothing will stop God’s mission of making life anew in Christ, raised from the grave. God, the master artisan can see it all. May we see and believe and live God’s resurrection vision.

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