“You’re the Reason I am Alive”
When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of the band Motley Crew. Even as an adult, I own Motley Crew’s greatest hits album and I listen to it on occasion. A couple of months ago I was driving to Maryville to taste some coffee as a possibility for a café that we hope to open at some point along the road. I popped in Motley Crew’s greatest hits and was caught by the lyrics of a song called Without You. It begins by saying,
Without you, there's no changeMy nights and days are greyIf I reached out and touched the rainIt just wouldn't feel the sameWithout you, I'd be lostI'd slip down from the topI'd slide down so lowyou'd never, never know...Without you, without youA sailor lost at seaWithout you, The world comes down on me
Of coarse the song is about how a particular female makes the particular guy feel, but I thought it was a reminder of how Jesus’ disciples felt when Jesus had been crucified and they were waiting for the Passover and the Sabbath to end to they could go and anoint his body in the tomb. Jesus represented all of their hopes and dreams. In John’s gospel, they have been following him around for as long as three years.[i] The believed Jesus was Israel’s long awaited Messiah who would restore Israel to its past glory and bring God’s reign and kingdom once more. Now they wait and grieve not only the death of a close friend, but the loss of hope.
Playing the Different Parts of the Story
One of the things I did during Lent was to read a book by N.T. Wright called Christians at the Cross in which he shares meditations from each of the days during holy week, beginning with Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem. He compares the story of the Bible to singing in four-part harmony. He says the main tune in the story is melody which represents the story of Jesus itself. The bass sets the tempo and he calls the bass in the story the Old Testament. The tenor part of the song tells you which note to sing and is represented by what is happening in the community that we live in today. Finally he adds the alto is our own personal story. Wright believes these four things go together to create the story we read in the Bible.
While I found this helpful, I am a pastor in the contemporary worship service so I want to change things up a bit and use contemporary parts to help tell the Easter story this morning. I am going to add several parts to this, one because there are more parts in a praise band than in singing four part harmony and because I think that there are more things that go into understanding the story.( I think NT Wright would also agree with this).[ii]
First, there is normally someone or a group of people leading the singing or telling us what the words are. I would call this the Holy Spirit, who directs us anytime we open the Bible and read from it. Second, there is the rhythm guitar or the keyboard that plays the main melody of the song so we can sing with the music. This part is the words of the text that we are reading which is guiding our thinking. Next, we have drums which provide the beat of the song in the same way that the Old Testament provides the heartbeat for what is happening behind the words we read is Scripture. The bass also works with the drums is giving us the beat, in the same way that the culture in which the original words that were written gives us insight into the story. The lead guitar provides the notes of the song and tells us what to accent in the same way that the culture around us and our experience place emphasis on certain parts of the text. Finally, there is the part where we all sing and worship together, showing our response to the text we encounter. It is important to note that you do not have to use every part on every musical piece. Today I will not be using the bass notes.
1. The Lead Vocal
Let us pray
2. The Drums
As we begin to look at our text this morning, I want to begin by looking at the drum beat or the Old Testament that gives us the beat of our text and helps us understand what those witnessing the empty tomb were expecting. An example of this can be found in Ezekiel 37 where Ezekiel has a vision in which God shows him a valley of dry bones and God causes skin to form on the bones and breaths breath into them so they become alive. Ezekiel says that this represents Israel who God will breathe life into their dead bones, leaving the Jews with the impression that one day; God would resurrect all of those who were righteous.
3. The Lead Guitar
As we read this text together this morning we have to allow the Lead Guitar to guide us to the notes in this text, given that this is the first Sunday in the New Worship Center. We have been working on this project since the very first Sunday the Vine began on September 7th, 2003. This is an exciting time in the life of the church and we are excited to be in this place at last.
4. The Rhythm Guitar
Let us now turn to John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 1and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher"). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' " Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.[iii]
As with the other gospel accounts, Mary Magdalene is the first person to the tomb but unlike the other gospels, John does not mention any of the other women that may have been there. When she sees that the stone has been rolled away, Jesus is very uneasy. It is possible that she is upset because she thinks someone has stolen the body from the tomb. It was common for people to rob wealthier grave plots in the first-century. After seeing the stone, she leave immediately to tell Peter and the other disciple what she had witnessed.
It seems that the disciple whom Jesus’ loved (some believe this was John himself) get into a foot race and apparently John is faster because he gets there first. John sort of stands there while Peter goes on in and notices that Jesus is not there, but the cloth that was around him is lying there as if it were not taken off him, but like he just disappeared. When John sees the sight, the text tells us that “he believed.” However, we get a side note that reminds the reader that while he believed, he did not yet understand from the Old Testament why this was important. It begs us to ask the question, “What did he actually believe?” I want to suggest that his new belief was that, while he did not know the importance of this moment, he now knew that something more had happened than Jesus’ body was stolen. There was some significance to this event.
It seems that Mary has now come back to the tomb and she is standing outside of the tomb after the disciples have left. She is weeping and looking into the tomb where she saw two angles. The angles ask her why she is crying, and as in the other gospel accounts, she says, “They have taken my Lord away; I don’t know where they have put him.” She is obviously still thinking that someone had stolen the body. The she turns around and sees Jesus, but does not know it. Jesus then asks her almost the same question, to which she thinks that he is the gardener and he has put the body somewhere. Then Jesus calls her name, “Mary” and she recognizes him. After a brief interaction, she goes back and tells the disciples.
This is an amazing passage of Scripture with a lot of things happening that we cannot explain. We don’t know what happened inside the tomb the morning, all we know is that Jesus was not there. It seems that the text is less concerned with those details and more concerned with what happens when Jesus meets people after the resurrection. Barbara Brown Taylor, who is a prominent preacher and professor, says it like this,
Those appearances cinch the resurrection for me, not what happened in the tomb. What happened in the tomb was entirely between Jesus and God. For the rest of us, Easter began the moment the gardener said, "Mary!" and she knew who he was. That is where the miracle happened and goes on happening -- not in the tomb but in the encounter with the living Lord.[iv]
This trend continues as we move through the gospel of John. He visits the disciples in a locked room. He comes back to see Thomas who misses the first appearance. He sees more of the disciples on the sea shore. In these encounters, those who witnessed Jesus believed and their lives were forever changed. Their songs had a different ending, like the Motley Crew song,
Without you in my lifeI'd slowly wilt and dieBut with you by my sideYou're the reason I'm aliveBut with you in my lifeYou're the reason I'm alive
The Song We Sing
This brings us to the part where we sing with the music. Given that we are now in this new building today after the long journey of planning, voting, and construction, there is a great note that sounds through this text that asks for us to respond. If we compare what God did in the original creation story in Genesis 1 to what God has done in Jesus in the gospels, it helps us know how to respond today. In Genesis, after God had created the world, he rested on the seventh day. Jesus died on a Friday and was in the tomb on the Sabbath, the day of rest. The first day of the week, Jesus was resurrected; symbolizing new creation, but the week has just begun. God has acted on our behalf to bring new life, now we are to carry that work forward.
In the same way moving into this building on Easter is not showing that the work is over, but it has just begun. We are now in the business of bringing life to the lives of people who are stuck in darkness and despair. We are to bring hope to people who have had their dreams shattered. We are to bring comfort to those who have been afflicted. We are to bring freedom to those who are in physical and mental bondage. We are now to be the light of the world and to bring God’s transforming love experienced during the resurrection appearances to the world.
[i] The three years is based on Jesus going to Jerusalem three times. The synoptic gospels only have Jesus going there as an adult once. His ministry could have lasted a year or less.
[ii] N.T. Wright, Christians at the Cross (The Word Among Us Press: London, 2007) Chapter one, pgs. 5-10.
[iii] TNIV John 20:1-18.
[iii] Barbara Brown Taylor, Escape From the Tomb