Even Newness is New — Saturday Sermons from the Sidelines, Easter 2021

Read John 20:1-18

We had a new driveway installed at our house this week. The old driveway was original with the house, constructed forty years ago. The old driveway was crumbling and cracked. It was too narrow for our needs and a pain in the…lower back…to shovel.

Worst of all, the curb was designed and installed long before the low-profile, ground-hugging cars of today. Every time we exited or entered the driveway, we rubbed the lower spoiler on our car.

It’s our “Easter driveway.” — installed the second half of Holy Week 2021. The driveway is new and improved. The concrete is reinforced with steel mesh and bar that wasn’t required by code forty years ago. The entrance pad is seven inches thick, per local building codes. It is wider, smoother, and will accommodate that camper we hope to park there at some point.

In the most practical sense of the word, the driveway is “new” (and better).

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

And yet, there will come a time when this driveway too will be replaced. It will weaken and wobble. It will crack and crumble. In another generation, another home-owner will watch as another “new” driveway is installed.

In a very real sense, the driveway is not “new.” It’s just different. The cycle of construction and removal, of birth and death continues. The replacement of the old driveway is proof that the cycle continues its relentless return.

Easter disrupts that cycle of removal and replacement. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! We don’t celebrate the newest version of the same old thing. We proclaim the beginning of a completely different cosmos. At Easter, “newness” itself is made new.

We witness this collision of old and new, of sameness and surprise, in John’s Easter stories. Mary Magdalene suspects grave robbers and tomb raiders. The men look at the folded linens and can’t make any sense of it. The old categories don’t work. The old assumptions no longer apply. The first witnesses weep in despair or walk away in confusion.

Dead is dead. Time to move on.

Then the disciples returned to their homes,” John reports (according to the NRSV). But that’s not quite right. “Therefore, the disciples went out again [from the tomb],’ John tells us, “toward the same.” That’s how I would translate verse ten.

There’s no mention of returning to their “homes.” That word isn’t in the text. They saw something they couldn’t process. So they went back to what they knew. And who could blame them?

You see, reading John’s gospel is like hunting for Easter eggs. The closer you look, the more you find.

My first father-in-law loved hiding Easter eggs for his kids (and later, his grandkids). He took it as a personal challenge to make some of the eggs exceedingly hard to find. He was so good at it that sometimes he forget where he hid some of the eggs. More than once, Grandma found eggs six months later on top of a basement rafter or behind a row of books!

John leaves us a Biblical “Easter egg” in verse ten. It takes some disciplined looking to find it. Peter and the other disciple return to the same old same old. They aren’t equipped for newness itself to be made new. They try to go back to the way things were “before.” They don’t know that there’s no “before” to go back to.

This biblical Easter egg makes John’s story a powerful prod for our time.

The end of “Covid-tide” is in sight (we hope). We desperately desire to go back to the way things were “before.” But there’s no “before” to go back to.

We can react to the trauma of the past year with dumbfounded denial. We can try to go back to where we used to be. But we are finding that such a place no longer exists. We can’t merely replace the “old driveways” of our lives with new and improved versions of the same old thing. A different reality is being born — even if we don’t yet understand what it is.

Easter disrupts the cycle of removal and replacement. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! At Easter, “newness” itself is made new!

This brand-new newness is no simple thing. It is not a painless birth. Mary Magdalene stands weeping at the mouth of the tomb. I often wonder about those two men. The poor woman is crying in grief, and they head for the exits. But that’s probably a topic for another time.

The loss of the same old same old is still a loss. The birth of brand-new newness requires the death of much we hold dear.

It’s more than mere resistance to change. We preachers sometimes joke with one another about how many Lutherans it takes to change a light bulb. It takes ten, by the way — one to change the bulb, and nine to commiserate about how much they liked the old bulb.

Mary is grieving more than a used-up light bulb. Jesus was her leader, her teacher, her guiding star — her friend. It wasn’t enough that the tyrants tortured and executed him as an example for every uppity Jew in Jerusalem. Now, someone had doubled the disgrace by stealing the body. Grief upon grief — of course, she was weeping!

That kind of trauma makes it almost impossible to accept new input. Tunnel vision, disjoined thinking, inability to focus — these are normal responses to such devastating disruption. We shouldn’t be surprised that Mary doesn’t recognize the risen Lord Jesus. Her heart is broken, and her brain is about to explode. The fact that she can even formulate a question is astonishing.

And yet, something else is happening here. John longs for us to know that Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! He is the same, and yet different. He is physical, but no longer mortal. He is human, but so much more. He is the Lord Jesus, but not the same old Lord Jesus.

Resurrection is nothing like replacing an old driveway. At Easter, “newness” itself is made new.

John’s narrative is so tender and intimate. Through the veil of tears, Mary hears her name. And the world appears with sudden, stunning clarity. “The gatekeeper opens the gate, ” Jesus once said, “and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Mary hears the voice of the Good Shepherd, and a whole new cosmos opens up to her. “Rabbouni!” she cries — my Great One, my Teacher, my Master and Lord!

There is no going back to the way things were. “Back” is no longer there. But there is going forward on the path where Jesus leads. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself,” Jesus said earlier, “so that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3). The disciples couldn’t understand then what Jesus meant. Mary gets it now.

At Easter, “newness” itself is made new.

There’s still more to come. Jesus has been glorified on the cross. Now he must ascend to the Father. He returns from there to commission and empower us for the mission of life and healing. More on that mission next week.

Jesus sends Mary to share the good news with the sisters and brothers. Mary Magdalene is the first apostle, the first one sent to tell others. And the story she shares changes the cosmos: “I have seen the Lord!” Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

At Easter, “newness” itself is made new.

How soon can we go back to the way things were? I hope we never do, and that we stop trying. We’re still tempted to impose the standards of the same old same old on the “newness” made new. When we get pushed forward, we might respond with anger or even violence. These next months will require extraordinary tenderness and compassion on the part of every church member as we go forward into the next newness.

But think about the same old, same old — the perpetual poverty, the rampant racism, the savage sexism, the frantic fear, the vengeance and violence. And we want to go back to that? Not me!

We have seen the Lord! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Of course, we still need to replace old driveways. As we live this new life, we aren’t building God’s kingdom on earth. That’s way above our pay grade. But, as Tom Wright reminds us, we are building for God’s kingdom. With every act of faith, hope, and love, we are participating in the newness made new. In the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, nothing good is lost.

It’s astonishing to see what workers can do with sand, concrete, shovels, and skill. Imagine what Jesus can do with people made new!

Christ is risen!