Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday is never tidy


Easter Sunday sermon. My third Easter and with a bit of trust built, time to take seriously the Resurrection.

If you’re looking for a tidy faith, well wrapped and beautifully packaged, you’ve come to the wrong place.

If you want a faith all neat and beautiful, You won’t find it in the Resurrection Garden…

In the Bible we find 4 gospel stories about the Resurrected Jesus. None of them are tidy.

The gospel of Mark starts with 3 women arriving into the Resurrection Garden. The gospel of Mark has one young man dressed in a white robe, sitting inside the empty tomb. And the three women are told that Jesus has risen. He’s not in the Resurrection Garden. Instead he’s gone ahead into Galilee. 200 kilometres away. There, in Galilee, you’ll find him. That’s the gospel of Mark

In the gospel of Matthew starts not three women, but with two. In the gospel of Matthew the one young man becomes an angel, appearance like lightning and clothes as white as snow. And in Matthew they actually do find Jesus in Galilee. And in Galilee Jesus leaves them and ascends into heaven. That’s the gospel of Matthew

In the gospel of Luke starts with at least three women. In Luke you’ve got two angels, not one. In Luke you’ve got mention of the first man, Peter, running to the empty tomb. In Luke there’s no Galilee.

Instead in Luke all the Resurrection stories happen around Jerusalem.
Jesus meeting the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, a village 7 miles from Jerusalem,
Jesus meeting all the disciples late at night back in Jerusalem
Jesus leaving, ascending, not in Galilee, but in Bethany, another village just outside Jerusalem.
That’s the gospel of Luke.

In the gospel of John starts with one woman. In John the one man, Peter, has become two men, Peter and the Beloved disciple. In John you’ve got two angels, In John you’ve got, for the first time, the appearance of Jesus in the Resurrection garden, appearing to that one woman. And then later in John, Jesus appears in Galilee.

4 Bible stories about the Resurrected Jesus. And if we’re true to Scripture, none of them are neat and tidy.

Would you like your resurrection with
1 women or more,
with one angel or two,
with or without men
in Galilee or in Jerusalem

Which gets you thinking doesn’t it? Why so untidy?

Most scholars estimate these 4 gospel stories are written 60 to 90 years after the death of Jesus.

Which gives Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, between 60 and 90 years to tidy things up, to offer us a nice, well wrapped, beautifully packaged, resurrection faith.

Which would also mean, that if you were making up a story,
if you’ve really got no body, then you’ve got 60 to 90 years to at least get your women and angels and men and places sorted out, all nice and smooth and tight.

Which could suggest, that a smooth story, all well-oiled and seamless, could actually be massaged and manufactured.

Do I believe the Bible? Totally.
Do I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely.

Which leaves me, if honest, with an untidy set of gospel stories and an untidy sounding Resurrection.

What about the main characters, the first women and men into the Easter Garden.
What is there experience of the Resurrected Jesus? Do they find the Garden tidy or untidy?

The first woman start early. The fruit trees in spring blossom. Temperature probably a pleasant 12 degrees. Dew probably heavy, spiderwebs glistening in early morning sun, all normal for an Israeli spring.

The first women are carrying spices. Which means they’re looking for a dead man.

All cultures bury people. Good Jews like to honour a buried body by using fragrant spices.

The first women are carrying spices. And on a Sunday.
Again, they’re good Jews.
Wanting to anoint a body but also wanting to respect Saturday, their Sabbath, their Holy Day.

And so as good Jews,
after Friday, the first day,
and Saturday, Sabbath, the second day,
now on the third day, Sunday,
they arrive, good Jews, carrying spices.

Before he died, Jesus had mentioned resurrection. Mark 9:9; Jesus [told his disciples] not to say a word about what they had seen, until the Son of Man had been raised from death.

And listen to the next verse; Verse 10. The disciples “wondered what he meant by the words “raised from death.””

Good Jews of Jesus day had no category for Resurrection. Good Jewish disciples would wonder what Jesus meant when he talks about being raised from the dead.

The first woman, good Jews, with spices, with no category for Resurrection, come looking for a dead man. Only to find an empty tomb.

Which leaves them, as it says in Mark 16:8, leaving the Resurrection Garden “trembling and bewildered.”

No nice and tidy faith, for the first women.

Same with the first man into the Resurrection Garden. Peter, in Luke 24:12, enters the garden, finds the tomb, sees “the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

Peter. A good Jew. With no category for the Resurrection.

It struck me this week that the 4 gospel Resurrection stories are totally lacking in any Old Testament Jewish quotations. And that’s in absolute contrast to the 4 gospel stories of Jesus crucifixion. They’re packed full of Old Testament Jewish quotations.

Full of Old Testament Scripture: Empty of Old Testament Scripture.

Resurrection is totally new territory for a good Jew. And Peter leaves wondering to himself what had happened.

If you’re looking for a tidy faith, well wrapped and beautifully packaged, you’ve come to the wrong place.

You won’t find it in the 4 gospel Resurrection stories. You won’t find in among the first women or the first man looking for Jesus in the Resurrection Garden. All you’ve got is wondering and bewilderment.

Which got me thinking. Was faith around Jesus ever neat and tidy?
Didn’t Jesus always bewilder people?

On the Monday before Easter Jesus smashes up a temple. Left a religious place totally untidy.
On Tuesday he’d curses a fig tree. Leaves an untidy dead tree in a beautiful Israeli spring garden.
On the Wednesday Jesus let a woman waste perfume all over his feet. Made quite a scene in a public place.

All his life Jesus seems to do the unexpected.
All his life he seems to leave people bewildered and wondering.
All his life he kept turning categories totally on their head.

So an untidy Resurrection Garden filled with bewildered people whose life has been turned totally on their heads, makes sense when you think about the whole of Jesus life.

Which makes me wonder, when I meet people who reckon they’ve got Christianity all sorted, all nice and tidy, well wrapped and beautifully packaged,
makes we wonder if they’ve really met Jesus, this untidy disturber of people’s lives.

This is my 13th Easter as a Pastor, and the 12th year I’ve preached Resurrection at Easter. I’m stuck in a moment. And can I be honest and say that every Easter, the Resurrection, feels less and less tidy.

That the more I study the Bible, the more I’m reminded that God is God.
And that by my human definitions, faith is untidy.

And can I also honestly say, that the more untidy my faith gets, the more real it seems.

That when I look at those first women and men,

I see ordinary people. Workers. Practical types. Seeking a real faith that worked in their real lives.

They wanted peace with God.
They wanted deliverance from their self-centredness, so they could live at peace with people and place.

They knew that nice, tidy, religious rules didn’t work.
They knew that self-help couldn’t save them.

They knew they needed a fresh life-force that could change them inside.

And in the Garden they found that the more untidy their faith, the more real it seemed. They found that new life wasn’t the same old as life re-created. New life has to be untidy. Else it’s not new life.

The Resurrection is an untidy garden. Because new life wasn’t the same old as life.

An untidy Garden, gives me peace when my faith has doubts and the ways of God leave me bewildered and wondering. New life isn’t the same old life re-created. It’s new life.

An untidy Garden gives me hope when I’m among people whose lives are unraveling and in great pain. You can’t open a birthday present without pulling off the wrapping paper and making a mess. New life isn’t the same as old life re-created. It’s new life.

It gives me hope when I’m in a church that’s changing and growing. You can’t move house without packing and unpacking and making mess. New life isn’t the same as old life re-created. It’s new life.

An Easter Garden, gives me courage in the face of death. The Easter Garden is a triumph of life and love over death and pain. New life isn’t the same as old life re-created. It’s new life.

Pray: Loving God in an untidy garden, give us the courage to recognise your story in our untidy, unfinished, incomplete lives,
Give us the courage to offer your story in an untidy, unfinished, incomplete world, through Resurrection love. Amen.

Posted by steve at 12:55 PM


  1. Thanks for this Steve. I’ve linked to here from my blog. Your observation about OT references really struck home especially because as I’ve journeyed this Easter the “fulfilment” words about the crucifixion really stood out. will be sitting reflecting on that. Also your example about birthday wrapping touches into some very deep places for me. Thanks for sharing it.

    Comment by Barb — April 16, 2006 @ 6:06 pm

  2. I grew up in the churh and still love the church. In my church every thing was predictable and traditional. Everything was agreed on and voted on. Are you a member? Than sign this card. Do you need prayer? Then check that box. As an adult in the real world which has been so messy and well, worldly…I love the Jesus I know who meets me right here. He is unpredictable and brings fresh inspiration. I try to go to church now, but my habit is to fall back into my plastic smile and my traditional roll. Before I know it I am sighning cards and checking boxes… Thanks for the encouragement…

    Comment by tab — April 16, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

  3. Very interesting piece, steve. I’ve linked it in my blog.

    Comment by bong dela fuente — April 18, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

  4. Appreciate all the encouragements. Thanks.

    Comment by steve — April 18, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  5. Thanks Steve – as always I just think – yeah!! Very helpful in my messy, out of control, doubt filled post easter life right now. I struggle a lot with my grey answers to peoples questions these days – is it just my journey (liberal – evangelical – emergent – unknown future) that had such a black and white period. I can’t even decide when faith began anymore!!

    All your mentions of spices reminded me of one of Beky’s many questions – why did they put salt and pepper on Jesus body? Explaining different types of spices is at least easier.

    Think I will link this to my blog too as I can’t think of much post Easter Art Hunt.
    Thanks for sharing your sermon

    Comment by Jo Wall — April 19, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  6. Great stuff, Steve. Thanks

    Comment by hopefulamphibian — April 20, 2006 @ 2:45 am

  7. Thanks for your sermon Steve. Your contrast between the crucifixion narratives and the resurrection narratives being full/empty of Jewish quotations really got me thinking. How much of what we say/sing/ preach in church has still got the background of an out of this world Old Testament God who needs sacrifice and atonement. We need to see more of this messy untidy God who’s alongside us helping us to work things through and celebrate it.

    Comment by John — April 24, 2006 @ 7:50 pm

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