Happy Easter! Again, Christ is risen! He truly has! I want to welcome everyone to Holy Redeemer this morning. Welcome if you are a regular parishioner, especially if it has been a while since you have been physically in church. I’m happy you feel safe being with us today. Welcome to visitors. A special welcome if you haven’t been to church in a very long time. I hope you will become a regular attendee. If this is your first time in church ever, I welcome you too. I pray today can be the beginning of your loving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Every day something newsworthy happens. Every day can be eventful. Some days a severe weather event hits a region, or a famous actor or member of royalty gets married or divorced. Some days a political crisis arises, or war begins. Some days a medical discovery is made, or a new virus is unleashed. Significant events can happen any day.
Then there are days when something groundbreaking occurs. Something happens that will change the world. It might not be noticed right away, but eventually, it impacts the world forever. A groundbreaking event can be Julius Caesar’s conquests that established the Roman Empire, the start of the Protestant Reformation, the American Revolution, and the Moon Landing. Inventions of new machines such as the Gutenberg printing press, the Wright brother’s airplane, Edison’s lightbulb, and Steve Jobs’ iPhone were all groundbreaking events.
Today we celebrate the most extraordinary groundbreaking event that ever happened. The impact of this event is still transforming our world. This morning billions of Christians across the globe have been gathering to celebrate a Jewish carpenter from an obscure village who lived two thousand years ago. Consider it. Jesus of Nazareth, who only lived thirty-three years, never wrote a book, didn’t hold political power, wasn’t an entertainer or champion athlete. Someone who never invented any machine, didn’t own more than the clothes on his back, never made much money, and never traveled more than about one hundred miles from home, yet we are here celebrating His life. How can that be possible? How do we even know His name after all these years? It isn’t logical. He should have receded into the dustbin of history long ago.
For historians, the greatness test for any person is what they left behind. Did they cause people to start thinking in new ways? According to that standard, despite what you might feel or believe about Jesus of Nazareth, no other human has had a greater impact on the world. For twenty centuries and here on this Easter morning, His influence has been felt by believers and unbelievers as well. It all began with the groundbreaking event of His Resurrection, which we celebrate today.
I’ll be delving into the story of that Resurrection according to the Gospel of John, but first, we need to go back a few days. We need to look at the previous Friday. It was the day the Romans and Jewish religious authorities executed a bloodied, beaten, and humiliated Jesus on the cross. They put him to death on trumped-up charges out of fear and jealousy over His success.
At the end of that day, two of Jesus’ well-connected friends asked to claim His body. They took it off the cross, cleaned away the blood and filth, anointed it according to Jewish practices, wrapped it in cloth, laid it in a tomb, secured it with a stone, and believed Jesus’ death meant His influence in the world was over.
The next day was the Jewish sabbath day, an important one because it fell during the Passover festival. According to the Law of Moses, a Jew could do no work that day or even travel more than a very short distance. For that reason, and out of fear that they might suffer the same punishment as Jesus, the disciples hid away in the Upper Room to grieve. Together, his disciples mourned their hopes and dreams for their life with Jesus and worried about their futures.
In the dark on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, an unlikely disciple of Jesus because she had been a great sinner, came to the tomb and found the entrance stone rolled away. She surmised someone had removed Jesus’ body. That wasn’t a baseless conclusion, considering the controversy surrounding Jesus. It was conceivable Jesus’ enemies might steal His body to degrade Him even more.
Mary ran back to Jesus’ followers, a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and artisans. She told Peter- the leader of the apostles- and the beloved disciple what she had found, and that she thought someone had stolen Jesus’ body. In excitement, they both ran to the tomb to see for themselves, and the beloved disciple, who is young and able to run faster than Peter, gets there first. He looks into the tomb and sees the burial shroud. He doesn’t go into the tomb. Out of respect for Peter’s leadership, he waits for him to go into the tomb first. He sees the burial cloths and the one that covered Jesus’ head rolled up and placed in a different spot from the others.
John details his description of the tomb because it doesn’t seem to make sense. If robbers had taken Jesus’ body, they would have done so in haste. They would have been quick about it so no one would detect them. They would not have bothered to unwrap Jesus’ body. They would care less about being neat. Robbery doesn’t seem to be why Jesus’ body isn’t there. It is puzzling, and something isn’t right about it all.
The Beloved Disciple follows Peter. He sees the confusing situation. He sees the same scene Peter and Mary Magdalene saw, but his reaction is different. He recalls Jesus predicted that He would die and raise on the third day. That is absurd. It defies logic, reason, common sense, and science. No one has ever risen from the dead. The idea Jesus has risen doesn’t defy the Beloved Disciples’ experience of Jesus, though. He had a living, loving relationship with Jesus that helped him believe something groundbreaking had occurred. His devotion to Jesus allowed him to come to accept Jesus had overcome death just as He had promised. The Beloved Disciple came to believe Jesus’ promise that those who place their faith in Jesus can also overcome death.
There is another fact that no historian or theologian, nor any critic of Christianity has been able to explain. It is that Jesus’ disciples always proclaimed their belief that Jesus’ Resurrection didn’t depend on an empty tomb perplexing as it was. The Apostles based their belief Jesus rose from the dead on His coming to visit them. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus among them convinced them He was alive in their midst and is alive today.
The Apostles had no ulterior reason to make this claim. It didn’t win them power or financial reward. Their belief Jesus rose from the dead had the opposite effect. They faced threats, were bullied, beaten, persecuted, and imprisoned for believing Jesus rose from the dead. Except for the Beloved Disciple, they would all be killed because they refused to renounce their belief in the Resurrection. They refused to change their story and intended to tell it to others. They wanted everyone who would listen to hear the Good News. The news was that they didn’t need to fear death anymore because Jesus had conquered it, and those who professed faith in Jesus also would conquer death.
It wasn’t the death of Jesus that the disciples rallied around but the belief He had risen from the dead, and it was that core message they proclaimed. As they preached and witnessed this groundbreaking message, other people began to believe it, and they learned of Jesus’ other groundbreaking teachings.
One was that women and children have value. Up until Jesus’ time, women and children were at the disposal of the male figures in their lives. They faced the whims of the behavior of their husband, fathers, brothers, or other male family members. Children were a nonentity and ignored and mistreated by adult males in Jesus’ day. Both groups were considered the property of their male relations. Jesus had different teachings, and He welcomed women like Magdalene, Martha, and her sister Mary. He even spoke with the woman at the well, read the disposition of her soul, and she shared the truth she learned about herself with her townspeople. Jesus broke new ground when he invited children to learn from Him too. When the apostles tried to drive children away from Him, Jesus rebuked the disciples and welcomed the little ones to receive His love.
The way Jesus cared for the sick was also groundbreaking. He healed lepers who called out to Him. Jesus drove evil spirits out of people suffering from mental and spiritual illnesses. He healed foreigners and the slaves of Roman officials. Jesus broke ground in His concern for the poor and lowly. Jesus saw dignity and value in every human being, no matter their background or degree of sinfulness.
Immediately after Jesus’ death, it appeared that the little impact Jesus made would wither away. His closest friends and followers hid away in fear, and they felt convinced his impact was lost. That is what always happens when the leader of a movement is gone. When their charisma can no longer be depended on to hold the group together, the movement dies out.
Jesus defied that fact. He inverted it. The movement Jesus founded grew and grew, and Jesus had a more significant impact after His death. Jesus’ Resurrection proved he was who he claimed to be. Jesus could do what Christ claimed He could do. He was God and could do anything, even rise from the dead.
Finally, the most crucial groundbreaking claim Jesus made was that we would rise from the dead too. Jesus’ friends and followers with a personal relationship with Him will rise on the last day. That is what makes Easter so groundbreaking for everyone. We all know that the mortality rate is still 100% despite great medical advances. Death is inevitable and will come for us all. That is bad news for sure, but the good news is that we have nothing to fear. When we have a loving, trusting relationship with Jesus based on daily prayer and our closeness to the sacraments, we will receive the gift of everlasting life. Our role is to receive the gift of life that came to us in baptism. Nurture its growth and live life in faith.
That is such a groundbreaking gift that the Church doesn’t only celebrate Easter one day but for a whole season. We celebrate the groundbreaking gift of the Resurrection for fifty days. For the next few weeks, I’ll lead you to a better understanding of how groundbreaking the Resurrection is for us in my homilies, and I hope you will make plans to be here in church to hear them. If you have family members, friends, or neighbors you feel will benefit from learning about how groundbreaking the Resurrection was for the world, invite them to come with you.
Jesus’ Resurrection was the most groundbreaking event of all time. It’s up to you to claim your part in it.