Friday, March 21, 2008

Eight Meditations for Holy Week and Easter from John’s Gospel 8. Easter Sunday, March 23. The Empty Tomb and the Risen Lord.

[The Gospel and Epistle of The BCP: John 20:1-10 & Colossians 3:1-7]

Over the last week, in seven meditations on John’s Gospel, we have followed Jesus from his Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through events in Jerusalem, to his Crucifixion and Burial. Now we prepare to realize and rejoice that he is fully glorified, truly risen from the dead. In the Gospel from, John 20:1-10 we come to this realization, and in the Epistle, from Colossians 3: 1-7, we see are made aware of some of its doctrinal and practical aspects. Thus Sunday, the first day of the week, is also the Eighth Day, the beginning of a new epoch and era!

THE GOSPEL: The evidence of the Empty Tomb

This Gospel passes over the great day of the Jewish Feast (Saturday) as if it had no importance. However, on the first day of the new week, the third day after the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, we read of Mary Magdalene (with other women?) arriving at the tomb, to discover to her horror that the stone sealing the entry has been removed. Jumping to the conclusion that this means that the body of Jesus has also been removed, she ran (imagine a Jewish woman fully clothed running!) to tell both Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who were in different locations (cf. John 16:32).

Finding the two men, she tells them what she (and other women?) saw and what she believes about the body of Jesus. Like Mary, the two men also run to the garden tomb near the place of the crucifixion, with John getting there ahead of Peter. The Beloved Disciple looked in and saw only the linen sheets without a body in them. Peter was not content to look in, he went in! He saw the linen sheets and also the napkin that had covered Jesus’ head folded.

Whatever had been done in the tomb had been done in a calm and orderly way!

Yet Peter at this stage seems to have drawn the conclusion that the body had been stolen (cf. Luke 24:12).

Then the Beloved Disciple went in and he came to a different conclusion. He SAW and he BELIEVED. That is, what he saw led him to conclude instantly that things were as they were because Jesus had been raised from the dead! He believed that Jesus was no longer dead but risen. And he believed that the risen Lord had left the burial sheets behind as a sign that he had burst wide open the bonds of death and was alive for evermore. Thus he became the first of the long line of disciples who believed the Gospel without actually seeing the Resurrected Lord in person.

The faith of the Beloved Disciple is the climax of the narrative. For him, the reality of the empty tomb illuminated what he had learned from O.T. prophecy and what he remembered from the words of Jesus during his ministry (2:19-22; 10:18; 16:16ff.).

Much more will happen on this first day of the week, this Eighth Day, but it begins with the discovery of the empty tomb and the faith of the Beloved Disciple in his Lord. We do well to begin with John and his faith and then expect to see (as we read on in John 20) the Resurrected Lord (as they all did) later that day!

THE EPISTLE: Lift up your hearts at Easter and each Lord’s Day

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. [Colossians 3:1-4]

The message of Easter Day begins with the proclamation that God the Father has raised his Incarnate Son from the dead, and has changed his mortal body into an immortal, spiritual resurrection body of glory. By the action of raising and exalting him, the Father has thereby also accepted all that Jesus, the Son, has done in his obedience to his Father, and in his fulfilling the divine will for the salvation of the world.

The same message continues by spelling out how the Resurrection of Jesus, the Son, affects millions of other persons, in particular those who believe on his Name and become his disciples. The resurrected and exalted Jesus is the Head of the new creation, Lord of the Church, the King in the kingdom of heaven, the High Priest and Mediator by whom forgiven sinners come to the Father, the Prophet who proclaims the Word of God by the Spirit though his servants, the Judge who will return to earth to judge the peoples, and the Second Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The Death of Jesus was different from the death of any other person, because he died as the Messiah, the Representative and Substitute Man, that is the Second and New Adam. His Resurrection was unique both in its reality and in that he was raised as the Messiah, the Representative and Substitute Man. In him, as it were, when he died, when he was buried and when he was raised were all the elect, all those who would believe upon him, when they heard the Gospel proclaimed (see further Romans 5 – 6 & 8).

With this background, St Paul begins to make sense when he writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ…” He does not doubt that as baptized Christian believers they were “in Christ” when he was raised from the dead; and further that in their baptism/conversion they received the new life of the Spirit, resurrection life. “Then” is not a word indicating doubt but of a fact of redemption.

So he continues: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Since the elect of God have been raised in and with their Lord to the highest possible place to which they could ever ascend—the closest proximity in Christ to his Father in glory—this amazing fact ought to give powerful direction and strength to their lives, what they aim for and what they say and do. “Things above” contrasts, of course, with “things that are earthly”. The Greek verb used points to the orientation of the human will, and here the will is being guided in the direction of “the things above.”

What Paul is saying is of such importance that he restates it in a related but different way: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” The apostle urges them to let their thoughts dwell on that highest of realms where Christ is enthroned as Lord. Meditating upon, and contemplating Christ the Lord, in his exalted glory, is a powerful motivation for living for him in ways that please him on earth.

The Christian is to be in the world; not of the world; but for the world in the sense that God is for it. He can only be so if he is genuinely “heavenly-minded”.

Having made his exhortation for Christians to live in the light of the fact and message of Easter, the Apostle recalls the doctrine which was taken for granted when he began the exhortation: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus Christ is One Person, the Second Person of the Holy Spirit, and he is made known in two natures, divine and human. Those who are united to him by the Spirit and in faith are—as it were—enclosed within his glorified human nature and thus “are hidden with Christ [the Incarnate Son] in God, the Trinity.”

And to this mysterious but profound teaching he adds the word of hope: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” St Paul looks to the end of the age when Christ returns to the earth to judge the living and the dead. He will not come alone but will be accompanied both by the holy angels and his redeemed saints in their resurrection bodies of glory.

So it is that the message of Easter Day is the message for all Lord’s Days, which are festivals of the Resurrection of Jesus. Further, the application of the Easter message is for every day until the same Lord Jesus returns in glory!

“You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

A Prayer

O God our Father, You who make us glad with the yearly festival of the resurrection from the dead of your only Son, Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who celebrate this Paschal Feast, may die daily to sin, and live with Christ evermore in the glory of his endless life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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