John 20:1-18

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The early Easter service traditionally starts in darkness, although I can understand why we might not want to be in church at 6:00 in the morning (ours is at 8:00). In our defense (and in the defense of those who only come for the 10:30 service), “sunrise” isn’t literally the only time when Jesus shows up. John sets the resurrection story early in the morning, when darkness turns into light, because you can’t make sense of this dawning day without having gone through the depth of darkness that came before it. You can’t see how amazing God’s affirmation of Jesus’ life is without having seen Jesus be executed as political criminal – for having the gall to live like God’s reign of love and justice supersedes any human institution, whether it be social, political, or even religious. If the crucifixion demonstrated Jesus’ commitment not to answer the powers of the world according to their terms, the resurrection demonstrates that whatever human power can destroy, God’s creativity can make again.

Today is about God’s creativity, and God certainly was creative here. Even in the storytelling, God is gratuitiously creative. This one passage from John tells us about three resurrection moments: when Peter believed, when the beloved disciple believed, and when Mary saw Jesus. In the reading from 1 Corinthians, there are a half-dozen resurrection appearances!

Jesus has to appear to each of us, and in ways particular to each. How he appears to you is going to have something to do with what you need most. Our emptiness, the hole in our spirit, has a unique shape. When Jesus comes to fill it he comes in the shape we most need, and that’s not always the shape we’re looking for. When Jesus appeared to Mary, she was looking for her departed friend; she found someone who knew her deeply and could speak directly into her sorrow.

Most of you probably got that resurrection experience today, when you arrived here and people could tell you your name. It’s so powerful to be greeted by people who know you, who may know more about you than you’d like and were happy to see you at church anyway. If that experience didn’t come from me, please be patient – there are still names I’m working on. Besides, I’m not the presence of Christ here, whatever role I have in certain ritual settings. The presence of Christ here is the church, by which I don’t mean this building: if this building collapsed into the ground tomorrow, there would still be a church here. The church would come and visit, in fact – come and pay reasonable honor to this beautiful shell, then look ahead to the new shell that will rise up to hold the church. The church is the presence of Christ in this batch of people, however many or few of us there are on any particular Sunday. Christ lives in this hodgepodge of believers who seek to live out the good news at work in the world today.

That means Christ lives in you. If you’re at church today thinking you’re visiting a tomb, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re looking for Jesus’ body, if you’re concerned about where it might be and how a corpse could get up and walk around, you’re missing the point. Those are fascinating questions, but Easter is not about what happened two thousand years ago to a Judean peasant crucified by the Roman authorities. It’s about what’s happening here, what’s going on now. Scripture records dozens of Easter appearances to inspire us and guide us, but those stories aren’t Easter. Easter is when Christ appears to us, when we are called by name, when we get up the courage to look into the tomb and see that death is truly empty and the splendor of God is untarnished by it. When we realize that accompanying each other into life’s deepest darkness ultimately leads to resurrection, light, and new beginnings. Easter is when we see that the world does change, life can grow and transform, and we are part of it!

So this sermon’s title is not quite right. In the end, it’s not that Christ appeared to us, it’s that Christ appears through us. We transmit Christ’s appearance, we carry that presence into the world – we are where Christ is this Easter.

If you need to see Jesus this morning, look around. Here are people who know your name, or at least people who want to. If you feel Jesus within yourself, look around again. Go outside and look around at the people and places we’ve lifted up in prayer. Listen for that voice whispering in your ear: “Go and serve.” Go be Christ’s body in the world, be the physical presence of God’s love for all people and especially for those people the world treats as weak and disposable. Go share the blessings of new life with people whose old lives are gone, and who need that opportunity to begin again. Go into the world and be the risen body of Christ, in that holy name!