It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’ Easter 2019
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 John 20:1-18
Intro: I need to ask you to do a difficult thing. I’m asking you to dwell on a very difficult time in your life, a time of deep disappointment. Perhaps you were disappointed in a relationship that didn’t work out; or some cherished dream you had was shattered; perhaps being passed over for a promotion or not getting that job you were qualified for; perhaps one of your kids didn’t turn out the way you had desperately hoped, or one of your parents failed you miserably. Whatever your disappointment was, I’d like you to remember the pain of that time, and then I want you to add to it. On top of this bitterness, I want you to relive the GRIEF you have experienced at the loss of someone you treasured—the emptiness, or the sadness, or the rage—however you experienced it—just get in touch with that. And then, on top of your disappointment and grief, add a layer of fear: not just a general sense of unease, but full-blown fear for your life kind of fear. Have you got it?
Now, depending on how wild your imagination is, you are, I hope, beginning to get some sense of how the Disciples were feeling when Jesus was arrested, given a mock trial, sentenced to be executed, and then killed on a horrible instrument of torture. They were disappointed that their dreams of a new Kingdom were shattered. They were grieving the loss of the dearest person they had ever known. And they were afraid—afraid for their very lives.
So, what do people do when they have been disappointed, when they have suffered loss, when they are afraid? Well, usually they just find a way to keep plodding along. 1. They put one foot in front of the other; 2. They try to adjust to their new circumstances; 3. They turn to others for support. The Disciples were no different.
They stayed together in the upper room where they had experienced the Last Supper with Jesus, and where He had washed their feet. You could say they “hunkered down,” not having any idea of where to go or what to do—it was all they could do to just hang on. Some of the women of their company went out to his tomb early Sunday morning (after waiting for the Sabbath to be over), to anoint his body with burial spices. No one had thought about how they were going to roll away the stone that covered the entrance—their minds were fixed on providing this final service for the body of the one they loved so deeply. Turns out they didn’t need to worry about the stone, because it was already rolled away! (Matthew 28 tells us an angel came and rolled it away…and apparently scared off the guards!)
While these women were puzzling about the stone, suddenly two men in dazzling clothing (read here angels) stood beside them. Of course, the women were terrified. (Isn’t that the response we see in Scripture every time an angel appears?!) And the angels told them the good news, “He has risen.” Then they told the women to remember: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” They remembered! And thoughts of burial spices and sadness and loss were instantly evaporated! In their joy, they hustled back to the upper room where the Disciples were staying, and shared the news. Most did not believe them, but Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself. Peter saw that the linen burial cloths were left in the tomb—and he was amazed.
Now, the Scriptures do not tell us what happened during the rest of that Sunday morning and afternoon. (We are told about the two disciples who headed home to Emmaus and encountered Christ on the road.) But just use your imaginations about what must have happened in the Upper Room. The story of the empty tomb and the angels is told and retold; questions are answered; conjecture is offered; memories are rekindled. “Remember how He told us…remember when He said…” The Disciples still don’t have any idea what to DO with this new development—but their sense of mourning and disappointment is beginning to dwindle. They are still, however, afraid for their lives, and they are huddling behind a locked door. And suddenly, Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you.” The text doesn’t tell us how the Disciples screamed like little girls when he showed up, but it does say that he showed them his hands and his side and THEN the Disciples rejoiced at seeing the Lord. He repeated his “Peace be with you.” And at that point, Jesus changed everything for these Disciples. He commissioned them. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Up to this very moment, these folks had been disciples—followers, learners, students, if you will. But when Jesus said, “So I send you,” they became something different—they became Apostles. When an important person sends people on a mission, giving them a specific task or message to carry—they become “sent-out ones.” And the Greek for “I send” is apostello—thus the term Apostle, “one who is sent.” From that moment on, these former disciples constituted a specific group referred to in the New Testament: people who had known Jesus before his crucifixion, and who had received this commission from Jesus. This is the definition of an Apostle. (The one exception to the rule is the man we know as “The Apostle Paul,” who was commissioned by the Resurrected Jesus after his conversion on the road to Damascus.)
Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (A short time later, after Jesus had returned to Heaven, the Spirit came upon them in a very powerful way—on the Day of Pentecost. We’ll get to that story on June 9!)
There’s an interesting side-note in our reading from John this morning. It’s about one of the Disciples who didn’t happen to be with the others when Jesus first appeared to them. His name is Thomas, and when he later heard about what had happened, he declared that he would not believe until he had experienced the risen Jesus for himself. We don’t know the background of his skepticism, but I like giving Thomas the benefit of the doubt. I imagine that he was SO devastated by the crucifixion that he was going to need overwhelming evidence that Jesus was indeed alive again. (As a follower who sometimes needs an extra dose of God’s mercy, I appreciate the fact that Thomas asked for it as well—and received it!) And, when Jesus shows him his hands and his feet and his side, Thomas’s response of “My Lord and my God!” shows that he is thoroughly convinced that Jesus has returned from the dead.
And then Jesus says something interesting—something that speaks directly to you and to me (and to anyone else who has not had the privilege of being there physically with the resurrected Christ.) He says, “Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have come to believe.”
John then finishes this chapter in his account by saying that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples (now Apostles), miracles which are not written in this book. “But these things are written so that you (the readers) may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. That was John’s purpose in writing down his account of the life of Christ—so that future generations might know the truth and have life in Christ!
Conclusion: I want to finish today with a story from Tony Campolo. Tony was teaching at Eastern College in Philadelphia, but he was also on staff with a congregation that is predominantly African American. He relates a sermon that was preached by the senior pastor, a sermon that went for over an hour, repeating many times the same phrase.
Tony shares just a sample of it: “He started his sermon real softly by saying, ‘It was Friday. It was Friday, and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!’ One of the Deacons yelled, ‘Preach, Brother, Preach!’ It was all the encouragement that he needed. He came on louder as he said, ‘It was Friday, and Mary was cryin’ her eyes out. The disciples were runnin’ in every direction like sheep without a shepherd, but that was Friday and Sunday’s comin’!’ People in the congregation were beginning to pick up the message. Women were waving their hands and calling softly, ‘Well, well.’ Some of the men were yelling, ‘Keep going! Keep going!’
The preacher kept going. He picked up the volume still more and shouted, ‘It was Friday. The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’, “As things have been so they shall be. You can’t change anything in this world, you can’t change anything.” But those cynics didn’t know that it was only Friday, Sunday’s comin’!
It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around, laughin’ and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things, but they didn’t know that it was only Friday! Sunday’s comin’!’
Tony writes, “By the time he had come to the end of his message, I was exhausted. He had me and everybody else so worked up that I don’t think any of us could have stood it much longer. And the end of his message, he just yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘It’s Friday!’ and all five hundred of us in the church yelled back with one accord, ‘SUNDAY’S COMIN’!’”
Well, friends, I started this morning by asking you to get into the depths of Friday and its disappointment and grief and fear. (It’s only when we are in the darkness that the Light has its fullest power for us.) And now I get to tell you, “It’s Sunday! Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed!
Prayer: God, many of us are living with Friday realities. We are surrounded with discouragement, loss, fear. We pray, God, that you will come and stand with us, open our eyes to Sunday possibilities, and that you will carry us through from Friday to Sunday! Be resurrected in us! We pray in the name of the Risen Savior, amen.