Lesson 16: Ressurection I

Jesus shows the disciples his sideAny casual reader should be able easily to see the extensive differences between the four gospels’ reports about the empty tomb on Easter, even though we hardly ever hear preachers address them. They disagree about both who was there and what was said.

But let’s skip these obvious differences. Too often we focus on them and miss the more critical changes John makes. To ignore these is to miss the important way he modifies the Gospel message. We should be asking why he dates Jesus’ Ascension and the Church’s Pentecost on Easter Day.

Most of us don’t even notice he does this. He very carefully tells Mary Magdalene not to touch him in the scene outside of the tomb, saying that he has not yet ascended to the Father. Then he invites the apostles to touch him when he appears in the Upper Room later that day. John is saying something has changed in those few hours.

Jesus has already ascended and returned to deliver the Holy Spirit he promised in the long conversation at the Last Supper. He grants them peace and breathes on them, saying clearly, “Receive the Holy Spirit. You now have the power to forgive sins on my behalf.” In other words, now we are to go and do our part in healing this world.

We have adopted Luke’s timetable, perhaps because it more easily fits into an ordered liturgical calendar. And in doing so, we miss John’s important change.

He was addressing the early church’s frustration that Jesus had not returned to judge the nations and rescue his people. For Pete’s sake, he has not fulfilled that expectation for over 2000 years. Throughout his Gospel, John proclaims Jesus has not abandoned us. Immediately after his death, blood and water flows from his side, signifying the means of grace, baptism and Eucharist, are now available. On Easter day, he already returns to deliver the Holy Spirit that makes God present among and within us just as much as the Incarnation did.

We are not left in anxious, frustrated waiting. Right from the beginning transformation takes place as Jesus gives us what we need to have the Life he promised in spite of our circumstances. In 20:30, John makes clear he writes so we can believe Jesus is the Messiah and have Life. In I John 3: 2,3 he writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” In 14: 12-13 he made clear when we share his Spirit and live in the image of God, as Jesus did, we are able to do even greater things than Jesus did.

John believes we should be growing in grace, becoming more and more like Jesus. Simply to wait for God to act is a cop out. Besides that, it misses what God is doing among us right now. I think it is probably significant that John carefully places these incidents in the Upper Room on Sundays, obviously referring to celebrations of the Eucharist meal where Jesus’ Resurrection appearances are not to be taken lightly. They even lead doubters like Thomas to proclaim, “My Lord and my God.”

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Matt says:

    So, I got this email from you this morning, and I glanced at it and was like, “oh my gosh! The major problem! Not appreciating the laity! Disrespecting their intelligence! Not addressing their questions! Declining attendance!” So then I opened the lesson, fearful of seeing all the stuff that I was avoiding and doing wrong laid out in front of me. And to my surprise, I discovered that you’d basically cribbed my sermon from Sunday. 🙂

    Differences between John’s gospel and the others? Check. Main reason for the differences: addressing the fact that Jesus hadn’t come back? Check. Fact that the Upper Room story IS the Pentecost spirit-receiving of the John church? Check. Point of John’s gospel being that we are to go out and essentially be more and more like Jesus (I used the old “love one another” thing) in the world, as opposed to just hunkering down to wait, and quotes from the John epistles to reinforce? Check and check and check. Even highlighting that oft-ignored moment where the gospel writer lays out the reason the gospel was written, and how it’s NOT to provide an account of what happened, but “so that you may believe and have life” (ok, that one was a previous sermon, but it’s kind of all one sermon anyway)? Also check.

    Ok, so I’m just bragging. 🙂 But I found it amusing that this was your lesson for this week, and that was my sermon. And I did lean a little more cynically on the differences, because the sermon was on the “I am the gate, others are thieves and bandits” text; I basically said, that’s the John community saying, “look, stop teaching that we’re supposed to hunker down and take care of each other and wait, because we have a new revelation about all the stuff that Jesus said and taught, and it’s that we’re supposed to go out and love and forgive sins and exercise the power of the Spirit in the world. To be a true sheep, you must listen to THIS voice. All previous teachings are excluded.” 🙂

    Anyway, I’m glad to know that, as most always, we’re in the same ballpark.

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