Scripture: John 20:1–18
“Hawk Heaven,” they called it. The most popular sports bar in the heavenly realms was the place where all of the Jayhawk fans in heaven went to watch the game—and let’s face it, almost everyone in heaven is a Jayhawk fan. Well, the Jayhawks had done it again, and had won another national championship! And there might have been a little bit of heavenly interference on that last 3-point attempt by North Carolina, but it didn’t matter. There was much rejoicing at “Hawk Heaven” that night.
Long after the game, as the bar finally started emptying out, and folks started to head back to their mansions for the night, a table of four patrons weren’t quite ready to leave. But before long, these four realized that they had something else in common, beside the Jayhawks. They were all there: Friday. Saturday. Easter Sunday morning. Each of them had had a front row seat to the events of those days, and had stories to tell.
Nicodemus. Mary Magdalene. Peter. And the one that the Gospel writer called “the disciple who Jesus loved.” These four began to tell about their experience. About what they saw. About their stories. And the question that each of them began to discuss was a simple one: when did you know? When did you know that Christ was alive?
Nicodemus was the first to speak.
“Oh, I was much later than all of you. Even though I should have known much earlier. You know that I first met him three years earlier, when he began teaching in Jerusalem. I was terrified to be seen in public with him, because it could have cost me my position on the Council, and my family, and maybe even my life. I knew then that Jesus was special, but I had no idea that he would be resurrected. In hindsight, it is a little embarrassing. I mean, I am supposed to be a teacher, an expert on the story of God’s revelation to humanity. And not only that, but he sat there and told me about being raised up and born from above and basically laid it out for me. But I was as flabbergasted as everyone else when I heard the news. Raised from the dead! I couldn’t believe it!
“I think that part of my disbelief was my fear and grief. I had learned from him discretely. I had valued him quietly. And when he died, I grieved silently. As he was buried in the tomb, I was buried in my grief. Along with Joseph, another silent disciple, we made arrangements for him to be buried with honor, and used our connections to convince Pilate to let me take the body. I observed all of the burial rites: spices, myrrh, aloes; head to toe burial cloths. It was my way of showing my devotion to him, even though I couldn’t do it publicly. I remember I was so terrified that night. Terrified that someone would make the connection that I was involved. Terrified that my grief and my fear and my anger would somehow be obvious so to everyone else. I did my part, kept it quiet, lived within my grief.
“But when I finally figured it out, that the rumors were true, I couldn’t keep my joy to myself! I was finally finished being a silent disciple. I bubbled over with joy and excitement and energy! Jesus was alive, and I was ready to worship him, and I didn’t care who knew it! When I heard about the Risen Christ, it changed my life forever!”
The Disciple’s Story
The Gospel called him “the Disciple who Jesus loved,” but he preferred DJL, even though everyone rolled their eyes when he said it. He shared his story next.
“I grieved, too, for sure. Standing there at the cross. Hearing The Master’s voice, telling me to care for his mother. It was all so surreal. I made sure that his mother was cared for that night and the next, and was still feeling more than a little numb. Mary, when you showed up that next morning, and told us that the grave was empty, I just had to get there. I had to see it for myself! But I wasn’t going to slow down so that Slowy-McStumblemeister could keep up.”
As he said it, Peter turned beet red and punched him on the arm: “Hey, I hadn’t slept in three days!”
DJL smiled as he continued…
“When I got to the tomb, I peeked inside, but I couldn’t bring myself to go all the way in. I was still numb and more than a little terrified at what I might see. It was like my brain and my heart were having a chess match. I believed, but I didn’t understand. Emotionally, I had all of the faith and the trust in the world that Jesus had been raised, just like he said he would be. But my cognitive functioning couldn’t put it all together. I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?”
In unison, everyone around the table said “NO.”
“Let me put it this way. St. Anselm, some thousand years later, talked about ‘faith seeking understanding.’ He knew that sometimes we intuitively trust, even though we don’t have the logic or cognitive awareness to know why we trust. Our hearts get it, and our brains are still catching up. So, when did I know? It depends on what you mean by ‘know.’ My brain was still trying to catch up, while it was my turn to stumble away from the tomb, not sure what to do next.
But I will tell you this: they call me the Disciple that Jesus Loved, but in that moment, standing outside of that tomb, I knew I was loved. I couldn’t understand or explain it, but I felt it. I was forever changed by his love for me…to go through that torture, that pain, and emerge on the other side victorious. I can’t even tell you how much gratitude I had in my heart in that moment.”
Peter had been bouncing in his chair, looking for the right moment to jump into the conversation. When there was just the slightest of pauses, he dove right in.
“Oh, of course I knew right away! 100%! That’s why they call me 100 Percent Peter!”
The rest of the table groaned: “no you didn’t…don’t try that stuff on us!”
“OK, so maybe I didn’t know 100%. But I hoped against hope that it was true. I mean, think about how you would have felt. Three times. Three times I denied him, after I had promised that I would never do such a thing. As I stood at a distance, looking at the cross, I felt like I had crucified him myself. Driven the nails myself. Cast lots for his clothes myself. Everything about me was dripping with shame and guilt and grief. Of course, I had to go there that morning and see…myself. No, I wasn’t as fast as ‘track star’ over here, but I ran as fast as my boat-bound legs would carry me. I needed to know that maybe, just maybe, at the other end of my failure, there might be redemption. I had to know. The whole way running there, gasping for air, that’s the only thing I could think of. I had to know.
“I got there, and this guy was just standing there, numb and dumb and not sure what to do next. So, I did what I always did and jumped in with both feet. I ran into the tomb and saw the grave clothes and the angel and the pretty obvious lack of body, and ran out as fast as I ran in. I still didn’t know what to make of it all, but I did know this: I would have run through a brick wall for Jesus in that moment. I was ready to take on the whole Roman Empire if I needed to. And, of course, I did. Well, we all did. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
When did I know? In the doing. When I ran to the tomb. And when I jumped out of the boat and swam to Jesus. And when I stood up at Pentecost and preached that sermon. Of course, I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but when did that ever stop me? Act first and figure it out later…that’s why they call me 100 Percent Peter. When did I know? How did I know? In the doing.
Mary of Magdala was the last to speak. Like always, the boys all crowded ahead, but when they had all had their say, the first person to know, the first preacher of the Good News, got a chance to tell her story. And what a story it was…
“I didn’t really sleep all that night. I tossed and turned, and finally gave up and started toward the tomb in the dark and early hours of the morning. I know it wasn’t a good idea. It wasn’t safe for me to be out alone, especially not in a secluded place like that garden. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to be close to where he was. Even if I couldn’t see him, or he couldn’t see me, I could be close. I made my way in the dark, hurting and broken-hearted and grieving. So, you can imagine my surprise when I show up and the stone is moved and the Master is gone! I wasn’t scared before then, but I sure was in that moment! Whoever took his body was not going to be happy to find me poking around, so I took off and found you all as soon as I could. Breathless and afraid, I told you my story.
“Of course, before I could catch my breath, the two of you were out the door and running—one of you a little faster than the other. And before I knew what I was doing, I turned around and followed you out the door! About halfway there, it all caught up with me. The emotional exhaustion. The lack of sleep. The three trips back and forth to the tomb already that morning! By the time I had made it back, you all were gone, and I more or less collapsed in the garden. I wept and wept. I felt totally alone.
“Now, I know that I should have figured it out quicker. Of course, grave robbers wouldn’t have folded the grave clothes. Of course, the fact that there were two angels should have told me that this was good news. Of course, it wasn’t the gardener talking to me. I know that I should have figured it out. But do you want to know when I knew? It was when he called my name.
“When he called my name, I knew that I was not alone. When he called my name, I knew that I would never be fully alone. When he called my name, I knew that I mattered.
“Which, isn’t that the case for all of us? We all have our own “I have seen the Lord!” We each came to the tomb differently. With fear and trembling. With a disjointed heart and mind. With a stumbling but passionate faith. Grieving and alone. We all came differently, but we all came. In the end, it doesn’t matter when we knew. What matters is that we come to the tomb, and Jesus does the rest. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We just have to show up. And Jesus does the rest.
“Jesus takes all of the power and glory and the Resurrection hope and Easter joy, and places it carefully in our trembling hands. And he places his hand on top of ours, and calls us by name, and tells us ‘I went to Hell and back for you, and I would do it again! Because you matter.’”
Let us pray.
Before they could make it out the door, one last patron burst into the room. “Hey guys! Did I miss anything? Did we win?”
Of course, it was Thomas, always late to the party.
And they all laughed and told him they would tell him the story on the way to the t-shirt tent. And on the way out they all told him; “Yeah, we won. We all won.”