Reading: John 20: 1-18
We went to a memorial service recently. On Waitangi Day actually. We were able to take some of our friend’s ashes and scatter them in the garden of the church in the city.
The interesting experience for me happened when we first arrived. We were walking around the grounds and I passed the gardener who was on his haunches digging away in one of the beds. Amazing – I thought – on a public holiday too. He had an old floppy hat on, and typical non-descript gardening gear. Not your Sunday best.
When I walked past him a second him he got up – and I discovered I knew him very well. And had done so for over ten years.
I couldn’t help at that moment thinking of Mary at the tomb.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (v15) – she asks Jesus where his body was.
It raises questions for the curious mind. What was Jesus wearing?
His burial gear was in the tomb.
She doesn’t recognize him at all.
Did he look like a gardener?
Or is this the stuff that happens when you’ve lost a loved one and your mind plays tricks on you.
Grief does strange things. I remember a good friend who died at 19. I was his youth leader. Yes, I know you find that strange – I was young enough once to be a youth leader.
I’d seen Duncan after he died. I went with his parents to support them at the viewing.
So, I knew my mind was playing tricks when I thought I saw him a couple of times in a crowd. Or in public place.
It’s like a fog when you grieve.
The responses of all the disciples are understandable over that weekend.
They knew he was dead.
It would have torn their hearts in two.
Sometimes we live in that kind of fog – of protracted grief and sorrow – not only because we mourn our loved ones – because we have all kinds of losses we still mourn.
- For immigrants – the country of our birth.
- For those of us who feel the weariness of aging – we mourn our youth.
- For those whose marriage had died – there is mourning for lost love.
- For those who feel alone – there is grieving for the years when we really enjoyed intimate close friends.
- For those who suffer – we mourn the loss of those care free days when getting out of bed was pain free and worry free.
- For children changing school or moving home there are real losses too.
They all have their own kind of fog – those emotions.
Which makes the Easter story even more powerful. Even when people in their pain cry out that God is unfair and that if he were so loving he would understand our agony and do something about it – Easter tells us that he does and that he did.
He does understand, and he did do something.
Jesus took all this mess and agony on the cross.
He really does understand our pain.
And like Mary in the garden – our focus can be wrong.
Mary didn’t need to go to Specsavers.
You often see what you expect to see. Or you don’t see what you have ruled out as a possibility.
What changes this?
He calls her name.
Joh 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
It is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole of Scripture.
In her complicated life hearing Jesus speak her name before was a sacramental moment of grace – she was drawn into a new life and community by this amazing appealing attractive man who drew all kinds of people to himself – the ones needing healing, the ones who made holes in the roof – those Greeks who were wanting to see him – tax collectors, outcastes, rejects.
Many heard him speak their name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
She knew that voice. No wax in those ears.
This is that intimate voice and a personal address.
Not a distant cosmic Lord but a close, loving address from someone who knows our deepest needs, our histories, our dreams and our losses.
It sounds a bit like John 10 – that passage about the Good Shepherd:
“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Thereafter the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).
It’s not surprising that Mary recognizes the risen Christ when this Good Shepherd’s voice is heard calling her name.
Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you’ve brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today.
Maybe for the first time – or maybe if it’s a long time since you heard his voice.
He really is alive and speaks today.
For Easter to be real we all need to hear the good shepherd speak our name.
We become part of this Easter community. That is what church really is.
A people of the resurrection who know Jesus now. And who know His voice.
A people whose grief is healed, whose fog is lifted, and who know what their purpose is – glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and sharing the good news of Easter every day.
- That Christ has died.
- Christ is risen
- Christ will come again.
For now, we live in that waiting zone, living for him until he comes. –
We watched “Risen” this week. Some of our home group managed to go along to the movies together.
I was quite intrigued and moved all at once.
The story is told from the point of view of a Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes. His job is to find the body of Jesus which they are told has been stolen.
Ultimately he sees Jesus with the disciples – and realises that this is the same man he saw dead and buried.
It did make the idea of resurrection very real. Startling. Unnerving. And exciting.
You have to have some sympathy for Thomas who for some reason or another wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to most of them.
That Sunday night Jesus shows up – and Thomas is invited to check out those wounds.
He is response is a profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas’ life changes radically. We have it on good authority that he eventually takes the Gospel of Christ to India. Like the others (apart from John) he eventually gives his life as a martyr and witness to the gospel.
What’s more intriguing is Thomas’s name. He is called Didymus – the twin.
There’s a good chance his actual name is Judas Thomas (meaning Judas the twin). He can be forgiven for changing his name or sticking with Thomas. I had a conversation with someone this week who is changing their name for the sake of English speaking people who can’t pronounce a foreign name.
At breakfast this week we will be asking the question “what’s in a flag?”.
So what’s in a name then?
Not too many are given new names by Jesus. Simon the reed becomes Peter the solid rock.
Most keep their names.
But they become known by the name that is eventually given to followers of Christ.
Christian names traditionally given at Baptism are also symbolic of a new identity in Christ.
Scripture bears this out. These are key verse we should know:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (new creation)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinn for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
John 3 (born of God – from above)
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent,n nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’
Ephesians (old self are replaced with new self)
21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
THESE ARE KEY QUESTIONS AT HIS EASTER TIME:
- What are we known by?
- How do people see us?
- How are we really changed?
- Are we really different?
TODAY’S READING FROM JOHN TELLS US MORE ABOUT THIS NEW LIFE.
- We receive His peace. (PEACE)
Paul tells us this too: We are justified by faith – we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The peace with God is foundational – and relational. And then there is inner peace:
We have a peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4)
Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
He spoke about peace before his departure in John 14:27 and 16:33:
Joh_14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Joh_16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
He speaks peace to them at each resurrection event. (I am sure he would have as when dead people show up it is very troubling).
Joh _20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Joh_20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Joh_20:26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
- He gives us his Spirit (POWER)
This word for breath – like the word for gardener last week – is very unique. It appears in Genesis when God breathes into Adam – and Ezekiel 37 – where life is breathed into the dry bones (dem bones dem bones…) ἐμφυσάω – emphusaō – means a puff literally. For those who have asthma – you will understand how vital that puff is. I don’t have too much trouble with my asthma. I did have a serious attack last year. Without being over-dramatic – it was one of those Psalm 31 moments – “my times are in your hands”.
Without that life – we are dry bones indeed. Dead. Without that power – we have no confidence or boldness to go out – which is what happens next. The power is immediately given for the task. The peace, the commission, and the power all belong together as we see in verses 21-22:
Joh 20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Joh 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
- He sends us out (PURPOSE)
This is a Trinitarian mission statement. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (v21).
We still have some streets to cover in our task of handing out the “Hope” booklets. Have a look at the map in the foyer.
It’s easy to leave it to the pastor or elders. Or to support missionaries who go across borders.
The thing is – we are all sent.
That’s why we talk about “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic (sent) church.
Matthew 28’s great commission is just another way of looking at the passage today. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…”
Mat 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- He makes us a forgiving people (PARDON). We take on the Father’s nature, and the son’s (father forgive them – his words on the cross).
It fits with Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer: Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Or in the traditional Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do we? Often we don’t because we are angry or offended.
This is probably our weakest point. Christians have to be careful. Gossip and scandal are both unhelpful. We are often the ones who shoot our wounded.
Fortunately, we have a wonderfully merciful and loving God.
If only we could be more like Him. Actually we can – with his peace, power, purpose and pardon!
Forgiveness is not only our weakest point – it’s also a most misunderstood point. Listen again to this passage:
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)
What do you make of that? Listen to it in this translation: John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSV).
The church is God’s family – and some things just are not ok. You can’t tolerate evil. Or rebellion. Or deliberate or wilful sins. The health of the family is at stake. (Matthew 18 has a process for that reason – first confront the person, then take a couple of witnesses to confront them – and if that doesn’t work tell it to the whole church. Exclude them because some things are just not on.)
Tom Wright helps us here as he writes about this passage: They are to pronounce, in God’s name and by his spirit, the message of forgiveness to all who believe in Jesus. They are also to ‘retain sins’: to warn the world that sin is a serious, deadly disease, and that to remain in it will bring death. They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world. Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2436-2439). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
When there is genuine sorrow for sin and repentance and restitution – then you don’t have to retain those sins. Simple hey. It’s all about the body – the family – and the harm people can do. It’s not about our being unforgiving for personal wrongs people have committed to us. (And we always add this point – that forgiveness is a process – especially when there has been abuse. It may take a long time to reach there. And it does not mean we forget what people have done, or that we should not put up boundaries when people are toxic.)
Listen again to what Wright says of the commission to the apostles: They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world
What a challenge to be people of the resurrection and the cross.
Christ did not die for nothing. He died because the wages of sin is death. He died. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. We live.
How can we not be changed?
READINGS: Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
So how’s your garden coming along?
Anything like Eden yet?
It all started in a garden. Eden. That perfect place of friendship – paradise. I doubt that there were weeds and thorns at the beginning. In fact, listen again to Genesis 3:17-18: To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
Gardens are these interesting places – potential for chaos, lots of things that die – but life comes through their death. There are even experiments where electricity is being generated in cemeteries. And crematoria are being plugged into the electricity grid in some countries. Bizarre as it may seem.
When our children were young we lived in a place called Oslo Beach. And to get to our house each afternoon we had to drive past a crematorium and cemetery.
Our daughter used to pester me – “when can we visit the grave garden”. After weeks of this I turned into the place after school and we visited the old man who ran the place. And looked inside the oven. No it wasn’t occupied at the time. There were some questions about granny and what had happened to her when she died. And home we went. No more requests after that. That was our visit to the grave garden.
Today we read about another grave garden.
It’s not surprising that we find life springing from this garden. The other gospels don’t mention the garden or a gardener.
MARY – IS LOOKING FOR A BODY
It’s not really surprising that Mary assumes Jesus is the gardener. (The word “gardener” is an example of hapax legomenon. You don’t find the word anywhere else in the New Testament or LXX.) (κηπουρός – garden warden in John 20:15. In John 15:1 the word is γεωργός – soil worker)
It is unique to John – as is Mary’s encounter alone with Jesus.
The most intriguing line is this one in verse 17:
“Don’t cling to me” is the best translation it seems. The word means to fasten – in a reflexive sense to attached yourself to someone or something. Cling is a good word.
I remember an old lady at a funeral I conducted who held on to her husband’s coffin as it was being lowered into the grave. Don’t cling to the past?
Not touch. It would be okay for Thomas to do as much touching as he wanted – poking around in the holes made by nails and spear.
But not for Mary. She had to focus on a new beginning.
She knows he is not the gardener when he says her name. Suddenly she turns from looking to a body to looking at the man. The one of whom Pilate said: “Behold the Man!” (John 19:5).
- This is the second Adam – who unlike the first resists temptation.
- The Man Jesus who is the one to whom we all must turn.
He speaks her name – and she turns. Listen to verse 16 again: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Memories of his teaching flood back for John’s readers from John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. And John 10:3 He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
The word “turn” is also subtle. It can also mean convert.
JESUS’ REASONING WHEN HE TELLS MARY NOT TO CLING TO HIM
Don’t cling to me.
The reason he gives to her is this: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them… (v17)
Not yet returned to the Father. Literally Jesus was “not yet ascended.” What does this mean? Clearly his day was part of a greater story which we summarised on Friday in the saying together of the Apostle’s Creed. Did you notice which line was left out?
Mary is unmoved by this concept or idea of why she should not hold onto him. Once she hears Jesus’ voice she focusses on his words
She is Apostle number 14 really. “Go to my brothers and tell them…” She is the apostle to the apostles!
And the message is fascinating. There is a new opening in the family now through Christ’s death and resurrection: ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
John is taking his readers back to the beginning – to chapter 1:
Joh 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Joh 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
Joh 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
And then back in chapter 19 verse 18: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary does not seem offended by being rebuffed by Jesus. It’s all about getting word out.
And she does. She is a witness to the resurrection and sent by Jesus to tell the boys.
The irony in this passage is that they are still a bit muddled in this way. Listen again to verse 12: Joh 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. Joh 20:2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Joh 20:3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Joh 20:4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
They’re still competing – typical boys. It’s quite amusing really – how John points out who won that race. The “other disciple” is John! He is speaking about himself.
One of the early church fathers had a more delightful explanation of this race: “Ishodad of Merv traces John’s greater speed to the fact that he was unmarried.” Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John XIII – XXI (New York: The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1970) 985
WHAT ARE WE DOING IN THAT GARDEN?
It takes more than one look in the garden. Mary saw the stone was rolled away. She assumed grave robbers were at work.
It took his voice to get her attention to notice other possibilities.
Peter and John have their race – John wins but only sticks his head in to look. Peter goes right in. Typical Peter!
There is something challenging about walking into a place where the dead are kept.
OUR TOMBS ARE NOT EMPTY
Our tombs are not empty – that makes it really hard for us when we face death. We have to hold on to hope and be prepared to wait to see our loved ones again.
We were not witnesses of this resurrection. But remember what Jesus said to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe (to Thomas) Joh 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Joh 20:28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Joh 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
WHAT WILL YOU TAKE HOME TODAY – THIS EASTER?
The shift in relationship because of the resurrection is the key. Tom Wright puts it like this:
This passage gives us a moment like that. It’s a moment when it becomes clear, to the careful reader of John’s gospel, that something extraordinary has taken place, not only to Jesus –though that’s extraordinary enough– but to the way the world is, the way God is, the way God and the disciples now are. Up to this point Jesus has spoken about God as ‘the father’, or ‘the father who sent me’, or ‘my father’. He has called his followers ‘disciples’, ‘servants’ and ‘friends’.
Now all that has changed. Feel the force of verse 17: ‘Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my father and your father, to my God and your God.’ Something has altered, decisively. Something has been achieved. A new relationship has sprung to life like a sudden spring flower. The disciples are welcomed into a new world: a world where they can know God the way Jesus knew God, where they can be intimate children with their father. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2346-2353). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
- Jesus is the new gardener
- There is a New Eden
- New cultivation of the fruits of the spirit will begin
- And a new family!
Wright continues: Mary’s intuitive guess, that he must be the gardener, was wrong at one level and right, deeply right, at another. This is the new creation. Jesus is the beginning of it…
Here he is: the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order, into flower, into fruitfulness. He has come to uproot the thorns and thistles and replace them with blossoms and harvests. (Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2367-2372). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
It’s a new creation. And it’s for everyone. The reading from Acts today is Peter speaking at the house of the Gentile Cornelius. This family is all inclusive. This is how the passage ends:
Act 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,
Act 10:40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
Act 10:41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Act 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
Act 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
It’s a tree that he was hanged on – says Peter. A new source of life, offsetting the consequences of the fruit from the forbidden tree.
The 8th century Old English Poem (written therefore before William the conqueror and genuinely Anglo-Saxon) called “The dream of the Rood” has the poet describe the Rood – the cross – in his dream like this:
“It seemed to me that I saw a very wondrous tree (v5) lifted into the air, enveloped by light, the brightest of trees.”
Later the cross is described as the “tree of glory, on which Almighty God suffered for mankind’s many sins…”
At the end the poet continues: May the Lord be a friend to me, (v145) who suffered here on earth before on the gallows-tree for men’s sins; he redeemed us and gave us life, a heavenly home. Joy was restored with blessings and with bliss…
What do we take with us? You can opt for a chocolate egg if you like.
But the crosses we made last Sunday speak more to me. A new tapestry – a weaving of colour and beauty – comes through that cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross – “Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.”