Today is a New Day

John 20:1-18

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. 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!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

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.

Resurrection Sunday has come and with its arrival I am finding that I have some mixed feelings. And it isn’t just because I know that I have tasted my last Cadbury Crème Egg for another year.

I read this story today from a different perspective than I would have last year, which I think is a good thing. It is easy to hear the same story year after year and eventually become a little bit numb to the actual events that took place almost 2,000 years ago.

We often say that Jesus entered into what we might call “formal ministry” around the age of 30. And for three years he traveled from town to town, performing miracles and teaching a new way of seeing the world and living this life. He challenged the religious authorities and the status quo so much that a movement began among the people; a movement which still bears his name today. This socio/political/religious movement ultimately led to the crucifixion of an innocent man at the age of 33.

The reason the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection hit me so hard this year is because this past December I turned 33. Believe me, I am not half the man that he was. I’ve failed to do the things he has done and I have failed to do the things that he called us to do. And I’ve been in ministry for three times as long as Jesus was. I call myself a follower of Jesus, but far too often I fail. And it isn’t just Jesus that I let down. I fail my wife, my children, my neighbors, and my church on a daily basis.

When my wife and I were first married, almost 10 years ago, we soon found out that we have some different interests and different ways of communicating. I am a homebody, who would much rather stay at home in my sweatpants than spend a night out on the town. I have very little interest in traveling half-way across the country to her home state of Nebraska. I know that there are some wonderful people living in the Cornhusker State, but they are very accessible by telephone and email.

Early in our marriage when my wife would ask me, “Do you want to go to Nebraska for Christmas?” I would answer in a very matter-of-fact way, “Nope.” What I didn’t understand back then was that when she asks me if I want to go to Nebraska for Christmas, it is her way of saying, “I’m going to Nebraska; you would be wise to do the same.”

Sonya has made too many trips without me, even flying unassisted with two young children. I have failed to listen to and understand my wife far too many times. I have failed my wife.

Some of you know that I am the primary care-giver for our two children. I take them to work with me some days and work from home other days.

Hadley just turned one and she loves to be held and snuggle with her stuffed animals. Paxton is three and he wants to be outside exploring or inside reading books while taking frequent breaks to build towers out of blocks.

But I have work to do. There are phone calls to be made, emails to compose, sermons to write, and Facebook to distract me. I am taking on more and more responsibilities at the District and Conference level, which is really good for my career.

Far too often I find myself starting a movie for the children just so I can get a little bit of time to do some work. I have failed to give my children the love and attention that they need and deserve.

Last weekend we celebrated Hadley’s birthday. As we all known, there is only one good way to celebrate a 1st birthday: by ordering pizza and breadsticks. My parents and sister-in-law were in town so they went back to our home after church last Sunday and I was sent to pick up the celebratory cuisine.

I got to the pizza place little late, but that was okay because the food wasn’t ready yet. So I waited. And as I waited, I thought of my family sitting at home and how a good host shouldn’t allow their guests to grow too hungry. Really, I was thinking of them and not my own growling stomach.

When the pizza finally came out of the oven and was placed in a box, I turned a 180 and headed the car. As I walked out the front door I saw something somewhat common in our fine city: a homeless man was stopping a passer-by on the street to ask him for some change.

I didn’t go out of my way to avoid the man. He was on the other side of the street and a little further down the road from where I was parked. But I did not look at him; I did not acknowledge his presence. I did not see him for the beauty intrinsic in each human being. No, I had pizza that I had to get home for my hungry guests. And I might have even snagged a breadstick for myself for the drive home.

As I drove away I realized that I had missed my chance to be a neighbor to this man. Two large pizzas and an order of breadsticks sat on the seat beside me while he was looking for spare change to purchase his next meal. We had plenty of pizza left over for the next day, so surely I could have spared a slice.

I failed my neighbor when I chose to hurry home rather than offering him a piece of pizza. I failed to love the person that God had placed right in front of me. I failed my Lord when I failed to help another.

Failure weighs upon a person. So as I compare my 33 years to the 33 years that Jesus walked this earth, my failures seem even greater.

Our text this morning tells of Mary Magdalene arriving at Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning while it was still dark. I’m pretty sure that Mary was feeling the weight of failure that day as well. She had put so much hope, so much stock in this Jesus guy. He was the one that she had been waiting for her entire life. He was the Messiah, or so she thought.

On that Sunday morning, it was so very clear that Jesus was not the Messiah Mary had hoped he was. And she wasn’t alone in feeling misled.

Back in the Upper Room there were about eleven men, huddled together in fear. These men were feeling the weight of both fear and failure. The disciples had left their businesses, their fishing boats, their homes, and their families behind. And for what? A dead man in a tomb? A man humiliated, stripped naked and put on a cross for all to see? I have no doubt that the disciples felt like failures that day as well.

And to top it all off, when Mary Magdalene gets to the tomb on Sunday morning to prepare the body of Jesus, she finds that she was not the first to arrive. Someone has come and stolen the body of her friend. So she goes and tells Peter and John. They run to the tomb, and verse 8 tells us that Peter “saw and believed.”

The text then tells us that they did not yet understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead, so I assume that when we are told that Peter believed, the writer is saying that he believed Mary that Jesus’ body had been taken. Their messianic expectations did not include death and resurrection. In their eyes the three years of following Jesus had been wasted.

If that was the end of the story, we probably would never have heard about this dead Nazarene. Or maybe someone would put this narrative in a book and call it a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. But that isn’t the end of the story. It’s only the beginning.

You see, for Mary, Peter, John, and all of the other followers of Jesus, Easter was not the end of a failed experiment. It was the turning point in God’s plan for humanity. In the midst of their pain, sorrow, and mourning, Jesus bursts out of the tomb and he says, “Why are you crying?”

Obviously, they didn’t get it. That seems to be the consistent storyline with the disciples, just as it is in my own life. We miss the point, we fail, we make mistakes. But there is good news:

Resurrection means that today does not have to be like yesterday.

When her spirits were shattered and all hope had been thoroughly exhausted, Jesus bursts from the grave and says, “Today does not have to be like yesterday.”

We have a say in the matter. Resurrection is an invitation to join together in partnership with Jesus and his millions of followers around the world to make today a much better place to live.

Perhaps the most effective and most subversive act that we can perform is to pray along with Jesus, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” This is our way of inviting God’s resurrection power to work in our lives and our world. Because today does not have to be like yesterday.

This 33-year-old failure standing before you today likes the sound of that. I have failed to be a good husband. But today does not have to be like yesterday. I have failed to be a good father. But today does not have to be like yesterday. I have failed to serve you, the church, the best that I can. I have failed to love my neighbors. I have failed to follow Jesus. But today does not have to be like yesterday. I am inviting God’s resurrection power to work in and through me to make today a brand new day.

The resurrection of Jesus does not mean that now everything is going to be perfect; that all is just hunky dory. But resurrection does mean you get to start again. You get another try. And if Jesus was able to conquer death, perhaps maybe, God willing, we, together, can defeat whatever is standing in our way as well. And one day the Kingdom of God will be fully known on earth as it is in heaven.

I am the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified and rose from the grave. I know that it is probably wrong for me to compare myself to the Son of the Living God. But I also know that as his follower, I could do a lot better. Resurrection tells us that we get to try again. Today does not have to be like yesterday.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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One Response to Today is a New Day

  1. Becky says:

    Kevin,
    Just found your blog in my search for MCUSA pastor openings…it’s amazing what google does with a search but enjoyed reading your sermon from this sunday. I must admit I missed most of the sermon at our church being in the nursery with Sarah so it was nice to get a taste of the resurrection theme from your point-of-view. Thanks for posting this.
    -Becky

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