Life Beyond Life
TITLE: Life Beyond Life John 20:1-18
When Jesus rises from the dead, the disciples don't get it. They've been with Jesus day after day up close and personal, but the crucifixion shakes them. On the third day, before dawn, in the dark, Mary gets about everything wrong. She assumes the grave has been robbed. She doesn't know where "they" have laid him. She thinks Jesus is the gardener.
She begins the day in fear, confusion, and tears. And then she finds new life standing before her. It is not what she expected. An unlikely movie from last year expresses it. Ratatouille is an animation in which Remy, the French rat, lives underground in pipes and sewers as rats do. But one day, all the rats get swept away by a surge of water and Remy gets separated from all his friends and family. Late at night, hungry, lost and alone, he starts climbing up the dripping, slimy pipes to get his bearings. He reaches street level and continues up between walls of buildings, through cracks, along girders, out on a balcony, up the vines of a pillar, and finally onto a roof where suddenly he is looking out over the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris at night. He says, "All this time I've been underneath Paris. Wow!"
Jesus promises life beyond life even better than Paris. There will be no more tears. He promises that those who believe in him shall never die. This spring, many of us will celebrate the anniversary of a death. We must remember that at the graveside and ever since, there is a profound assurance that our loved one is living life beyond life, the promises are true, and one day, we shall join them and all will be well.
But Jesus does not speak of life to come on Resurrection Day. He tells the disciples to start living new life now. When Mary calls him the old name, "Teacher," and reaches out to hold him in the old way he says, "Don't cling to me." As a woman, her testimony would never count in a court of law. But Jesus says, "Go testify -- tell the good news to the others." Start living your calling now. Soon, he will go to the disciples still hiding from their old enemies to say, Start living new life now. "Just as God sent me, I send you." Present tense.
Don't spend your life underneath Paris. Jesus walks out of that tomb to bring life beyond life now.
That empty tomb changes everything. If there is no tomb, no hero dead and buried, then there is no place to go to keep the old life going. In the world before Jesus walked out of the tomb, people could always use monuments to the dead to deflect their own moral responsibility for violence onto someone else and to do violence to someone else, as Rene Girard observes. "Never again," said Slobodan Milosevic in 1987, in the Field of Black Birds where a Serbian commander was defeated. He started a revolution. The defeat he vowed to avenge on that field took place in 1389.
But if the tomb is empty, if the one who has been killed comes back living and forgiving there's no place to go to hate and destroy for those who follow him. An empty tomb can wake a person up to the violence of the world and our part in it like the cock crowing woke up Peter.
On Resurrection Day, Jesus offers life beyond that life. It begins with each one, like Mary, who chooses to follow him into new life.
Christian counselor Dennis Linn got a glimpse of that one day when Hilda came to him crying because her son had tried to commit suicide and he was involved in drugs and prostitution and worse. She ended her list of her son's "big sins" with, "What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to him if he dies wanting nothing to do with God?"
Linn's image of God had always been like his old Uncle George, strict and vengeful, all about punishment and consequences. So he thought, "God will probably send your son to hell." But he didn't want to tell Hilda that so instead he asked, "What do you think?"
"Well," she replied, "I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell." Sadly, she concluded, "Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting God would certainly send him to hell."
Although Linn agreed with her, he didn't want to say so. So he used another strategy he'd learned in seminary: when you don't know how to solve a theological problem, let God do it. So he said to Hilda, "Close your eyes. Imagine that you are sitting next to the judgment seat of God. Imagine also that your son has died with all these serious sins and without repenting. Your son has just arrived at the judgment seat of God. Squeeze my hand when you can imagine that."
After a few minutes, Hilda squeezed his hand. Then Linn asked, "Hilda, how does your son feel?" She answered, "My son feels so lonely and empty." He asked Hilda what she would do. She said, "I want to throw my arms around my son." And she lifted her arms and started to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly.
Finally, when she had stopped crying Linn asked her to look into God's eyes and watch what God wanted to do. And she saw God step down from the throne, just as Hilda had, and embrace Hilda's son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son, and God, cried together and held one another.
That tomb is empty because God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. That tomb is empty because God wants to give us life beyond life, life where we hold one another in our arms -- now. Whenever you do -- Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!