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The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey
The Rev. Canon John Thompson-Quartey is Canon for Ministry Development and Congregational Vitality in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA


John Thompson-Quartey: On Being God's New Creation

John 20:1-18

Easter - Resurrection of the Lord - Year C

April 21, 2019

 

To John, our Gospel writer, the Good News of Jesus Christ begins not with a baby in a manger, but from the very beginning of creation. You can tell by the way John begins his gospel: "In the beginning was the word."

The first three words echo the creation story from the book of Genesis, and John was very intentional about starting with those words. John sees the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ taking its roots in the beginning of creation.

"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:4-5)

Let us hear once again how John chose to tell the story of New Creation. "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark..."

Can you hear echoes of the creation story from Genesis? "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep..."

John's gospel tells us that because it was the day of preparation for the sabbath, the body of Jesus was taken from the cross and placed in a garden tomb. John goes on to tell us how Mary Magdalene - mournful, broken-hearted, and fear-stricken - returned to the place she last saw her friend and teacher, while it was still dark. But as soon as Mary Magdalene saw that the stone which covered the tomb had been removed, her first reaction was to fear the worst; that the body of Jesus had been stolen.

Mary runs back to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Peter and the Beloved disciple ran back to the garden tomb. Peter, always the pragmatic one, observes the situation, confirms that the dead clothes had been left behind, and then goes back to his home, perhaps, still confused by what he had just seen. But the beloved disciple goes in, observes the same thing, and believes that God has done it again.

Left alone in the garden, Mary Magdalene stops to look into the tomb again, and this time she notices that there were two angels (messengers from God) sitting where Jesus had been lying. The angels asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Mary Magdalene again confirms her greatest fear, "They have taken away my Lord." She then turns around and right before her stood the risen Lord, but she did not recognize God's new creation.

Blinded by her love and attachment to Jesus of Nazareth, she did not and could not see what God had done by raising Jesus from the dead.

Again, the same question, "Woman, why are you weeping?" Did you notice that the risen Lord addressed her by the generic "woman"? Some biblical scholars have argued that by the use of the word "woman" our Gospel writer is inviting us to see Mary Magdalene as a representation of all humanity at that moment. So, essentially, we can reframe the question to read, "People, why are you crying? Whom are you looking for?"

The challenge for Mary Magdalene, and for us, broken-hearted and grief-stricken from the events of Good Friday, is that we keep looking for a living person in a graveyard.

So, why do we keep looking for life in graveyards? What prevents us from seeing the power of God at work in the world? Perhaps, for many of us, life has been so daunting at times that life in graveyards have become a common phenomenon, and we don't or can't even recognize God's work in our lives and in the world. We are so wrapped up in grief and fear that we somehow forget the words of Jesus that he will be with us always even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20) Yes, we were witnesses to the atrocities of Good Friday, and we saw the Lord of life bludgeoned to death. And for some of us, everyday living has become a very long Good Friday.

So, on this the eighth day of creation, when God revealed God's new creation in the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene was not prepared for what she was about to witness. She was too distraught and overcome with grief to see what God had done. It wasn't until Jesus called her by name, "Mary!", that her eyes were opened. The Magdalene can now see the new reality. Jesus lives!

The moment of identification by name becomes the rebirth of Mary Magdalene. The former mournful, fearful and grief-stricken Magdalene who entered the garden looking for a dead person, has received new birth and is now face to face with the risen Christ. In that moment, Mary Magdalene became a new creation. With this new birth, she can boldly proclaim, "I have seen the Lord!"

God has done a new thing: by raising Jesus from the dead and by transforming Mary Magdalene from a mere disciple into the first Apostle. That is "one who is sent." By raising Jesus from the dead, God has put an end to the systems of domination that colluded with the authorities to execute Jesus of Nazareth. The systems and instruments of death that have dominated the lives of God's children have been overthrown, and Jesus is Lord, even over death.

And so, the Apostle Paul is right in saying that, "for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. ...For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." (1 Corinthians 15:22-25)

Elsewhere in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, "So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Mary Magdalene came in darkness to the tomb looking for Jesus, and she came face to face with the risen Christ, the Light of the World. John writes in his prologue, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)

Perhaps many of us will be in church today looking for Jesus of Nazareth. But he is not here. He has been raised. Jesus is alive!

Mary Magdalene received new birth in the new garden of Eden. Being born again in the garden in the company of the new Adam (that is, the gardener turned Jesus), is about saying YES again to the God of Redemptive Love. And saying Yes to God means having the courage to say NO to the powers and systems of domination that strip the children of God of their human dignity, and labels them as unworthy of God's love.

It is saying No to the former self of fear and anxiety and Yes to a new self, with the courage to face the world and boldly proclaim, "Jesus lives!" and "I have seen the Lord!"

Indeed, we have seen the Lord of life, the Lord of our salvation, the Lord of forgiveness, and the Lord of redemption. Easter is about celebrating God's new creation which turns our world's assumptions about life and death on its head. When the powers of domination condemned the Lord of life and crucified Jesus on Calvary, God raise Jesus from the dead to say to the worldly powers, "You do not have the final word."

So, death where is thy victory?

Mary Magdalene now knows that Jesus lives. Not in the same flesh and blood that she was used to, but now in the experience of love which she felt when she heard her name.

Jesus is no longer among the dead, but he is a living, loving reality which permeates and transcends the lives of all who have come to believe. So, whatever woke you up out of bed this morning, welcome to God's new garden. You may not be prepared for what you are about to witness, but do not be afraid. Know that in this new Eden, God has done a new thing!

Here in the garden, you are known by name by the living, loving, liberating God just as you are. And that's okay. Welcome home!

Here in the garden, you are loved, without regard to where you've been and what you've experienced. Welcome home!

Here in the garden, you are invited to come face to face with the risen Christ, so that your life will never be the same again. On this Easter morning, God has made you a new creation, and we all know that the world can use some new creation. We are all made into a new creation so that we can love like Jesus!

So, welcome to the garden, where you are known by name, and where a table is spread before you. Come as the guest of honor, but do not leave the garden unchanged by that which you have experienced. Be the living presence of the loving Christ in the world.

Go and tell somebody, "I have seen the Lord!" For in your testimony, you may bring others to faith, just as Mary Magdalene did.

Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 


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