John 20:1-18 – Resurrection – The Invitation.

A reflection by Dan Spragg.

 Early in the morning they were awake. Their world turned upside down. All that had been building for the past three years, overthrown in a matter of days. Now, only darkness. No wonder there was no messing around with her! I get the sense that her tone while Mary was talking to the Gardener could well have been, well, strong to say the least… ‘Tell me where you have put him!’ she said. Angry, or anguished, or both. After chaos had come, Hate and oppression and evil had slammed into them with a violent force. She thought she was speaking to the gardener. And then he said her name. “Mary!” And she saw who it truly was!

It is no coincidence that this scene is located in a garden. It is no coincidence that there is a gardener. It is no coincidence that this story begins with, ‘Early on the first day of the week.’ The authors of these biblical stories were very clever, they were very intentional about how they told the story. In their Jewish tradition, the people who were hearing the story would always ask, where have we heard that before? And they would comb their scriptures and their collective memories to locate the other mentions of the same. So, mention a Garden, and a Gardener, on the first day of the week, and they would immediately say, where have we heard this before? Why, a garden? Why, a gardener? Why, the first day of the week?

Easter is often referred to with metaphors such as: Light coming out of darkness – There are millions of people all around the world this very day who woke or will wake before dawn so that they can watch the sun come up and celebrate the light that always breaks through the darkness. A few of them are with us today!

Another one is, the new life symbolised with Easter eggs – eggs are a source of new life.

And Easter bunnies – apparently that tradition arose well, because bunnies have lots of babies.

Seeds are another form of new life – seeds have to be buried in one form or another before they can sprout their new growth towards the sky. The tree grows, it produces new fruit, and the seeds fall to the ground, they are buried, and new life is formed again.

Early on that first day of the week, in a garden, life comes from death.

So where have we heard this mentioned before? Right at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 1, there is that amazing poem that describes another garden. One where the Spirit descends on the chaos and on the very first day, light is formed out of the darkness, our world takes shape, all that we know seen being formed with a sense of presence and life, creativity, and work to do. In this Garden of Eden there is a sense of everything working together as it should. Of our place in the world, balanced, of our lives in harmony with all that there is. Of us walking with God, of us working together as co-creators, as partners. And of play, of fun, of eating, of evening and morning and it all being declared good. It isn’t long however until we also see the amazing potential we have for evil. It’s not long into the story and we are blaming others for our own mistakes. We are full of arrogance and self-centeredness. It’s not long before we kill, and instead of creating a world of goodness, we create one where there is far too much evil and hate. At the beginning of the story, our world and our place in it is described as a Garden. Birthed on that first day. And in the garden we are to tend to its care and its development. We exist as stewards, curators, co-creators, contributors. As ones who bear the divine image, ones who contain a spark of God within us, we are to live within this ecosystem, as part of it, balanced and whole. But it doesn’t work out that way for we often choose a different path.

Jesus came along, a good amount of time after this poem was written. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus came as the one in whom we can see God most clearly. If we want to know God we look at Jesus. It is as if God has a name and a face. Jesus came and talked about something called the Kingdom of God. And he said it was near, and at hand. It was coming, we could reach out and touch it. The vision of the Kingdom that Jesus taught was one that resonated a lot with that very first telling of God’s story. Which isn’t surprising, why would it be a different story? It is one in the same, the big arc of God’s story reaching across all time and space. Jesus painted a picture of a reality where all people were valued, all people found their place. Their place as loved and liked by God who wanted them to live life to the full, and to love and be loved. He also painted a picture of the way to that reality. It would be found in unexpected places. Where the last were first. Where those who think they don’t deserve love in fact are the first to receive it. A place where we don’t have to earn our place. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, hope, joy, love; these are the currencies of God’s Kingdom. And by living under the rule of these, by trusting in God who is the source of it all, this is where we would find true freedom. Jesus was all about the invitation to this party. He said,

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[1]

Then he was killed, mostly because he upset the people in power. The elites of the day didn’t like what he was saying because they were convinced their way was best, and because he was suggesting they give up their power, their influence, their control, all for the sake of others. And so, rather than admit their own inadequacy, they blamed him for disruption and silenced him once and for all. Jesus is the fullest revelation of God we have. In this Easter act, he also revealed the reality of our human condition, the beauty and the beast if you like…

The word ‘sin’ has some strange connotations. It has baggage for many of us, we often don’t quite know what to do with it. Recently I heard it rephrased. An author who was trying to write about sin wanted to use a different word. Typically sin has been interpreted as tied to moral behaviour. Which is why we are uncomfortable with it. It has been used, among other things, as a weapon of guilt. But the original intention of this word was not tied to behaviour. It was intended to describe something deep within our humanity. Here’s the redefinition I heard recently – I’ve had to modify it a little, but I think you will understand… Sin = the human propensity to stuff (f***) things up.[2]

One of the most profound things about Jesus and the cross, is what it reveals to us about our innate ability to stuff things up! In Jesus we were confronted with and offered and invited into a way of grace and light and life to the full… and we nailed him to a cross.

But of course that’s not the end of our story. The Spirit of God it seems, likes to plunge into the darkness and birth new life. Out of a hole in the ground, a new day was dawned. On that new first day, in a garden, with a gardener. Resurrection is about God’s power over death. Resurrection is about God’s yes to life. Resurrection is a new creation, planted right in the middle of the existing one. A new garden, full of new possibilities, of new horizons. And Jesus still invites us into it, as a here and now thing. Here and now we are invited, to live with him and find true freedom. To participate in the ongoing creation of the world, where we work for the goodness of all. But now doing so in the knowledge of who we truly are and in who we know God to be… the God of grace. Grace being God’s yes to us, before we do anything. Our love and acceptance as we are. God’s yes to us, despite what we have done, or before we have done anything. No proving ourselves. No working to earn enough points to be loved. No striving to achieve status. No need to create the perfect image of ourselves. No need to live in insecurity, or anxiety, or denial. Simply because on that very first Easter Day, on Resurrection Day God said, no matter what you do, no matter what comes your way, I will always say yes to life, light always will follow the darkness. Love will always win over hate.

On that first resurrection day, the risen Christ called Mary by her name, and she saw who he really was. There is something in having a name, there is something profound in someone calling us by our name. It is to be seen. It is to be known. On resurrection day, God says, ‘I will always call you by name, and see you for who you truly are. My good creation, a loved and liked, child of God.’

And this is the story, we are invited to live in. For ourselves. For all others. For the sake of our beautiful world.

We are invited into the story of a beautiful new creation.

Bursting forth in the middle of the very mess and chaos of life itself.

[1] Matthew 11:28-30 The Message Translation.

[2] I heard about it listening to https://www.richroll.com/podcast/nadia-bolz-weber-428/ – From memory I think it is this book: Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.