#95: Jesus the Glorious

John 20:1,11–16

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.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and 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.” 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”).

To my mind there is only one way to read the resurrection story or to begin an Easter Day service, and that is to listen to ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ by Aaron Copland played at high volume. This is a light filled, magnificent and very loud piece of music. It begins with a piercing trumpet call coming out of the distance, suddenly the feel drops into a slightly more reflective ‘valley of sound’ before picking up the fanfare again and then hitting a massive wall of cymbals and drums.

Actually, I would rename the whole piece, from ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ to ‘Resurrection for the Son of Man’. Up to this point Jesus has actually been the common man, but as John’s gospel has kept saying on his path to Jerusalem this is his glory time. Jesus the commoner has suddenly become Jesus the Glorious.

The Resurrection of Jesus can be seen as the second ‘Big Bang’. A second act of totally unexpected and spontaneous creation of life. The first Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago in complete nothingness, no time, no space, no universe yet suddenly it happened and then everything sprang into existence. In the tomb the spirit/humanity of Jesus is dead; he has fallen into a huge ‘Black Hole’ from where no light, life or hope can escape. Suddenly the completely unexpected and inexplicable miracle of life explodes. Just like the universe being born out of the Big Bang so all life beyond death is born out of this second Big Bang.

How wonderfully bizarre that the first witnesses to the resurrection and re-emergence of Jesus are women. In a Jewish culture and legal system no-one took the testimony or eye-witness account of a woman seriously. The only acceptable witnesses were men. The place of Mary at the centre of the story reminds us of how Jesus always turns the inherent sexism of his day upside down. To him, women are just as special and impartial as men. However, Mary being the first and biggest witness points to another important consideration. If Matthew and Mark, Luke and John had been making up this amazing story (as many have claimed over the years) they would never have invented a story where the main eye-witness was a woman, especially one with a dodgy background.

The Mary part of the story is both beautifully touching and also a powerful pointer to its truth. Since Mary, how many millions of us have experienced the light, joy and glorious impact of the resurrection of Jesus in our own lives?

Today Christians are under attack for believing in such a ridiculous and impossible story. Yet the story of the second ‘Bang’ is no more impossible than that of the first. Just because we cannot envisage let alone understand such events does not mean that they didn’t happen. The place of Mary is just one of a whole string of incidents that point to the massive truth/probability of the resurrection story. We shall come across more of them in our next readings.

With a bit of creative imagination it is possible to work through Beethoven’s nine symphonies and sort of fit them into the life of Christ. In this scheme the fifth with its momentous ‘Da,da,da,daa’ becomes Palm Sunday. Finally and most gloriously the ninth with its ‘Ode to Joy’ is the resurrection.

‘Joyful, like a hero to victory.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods.’

Or as Charles Wesley put it:
‘Thine be the glory,
Risen, conqu’ring Son.
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.’

The Glory Question for us all is then:
Where is the resurrection in my life today?

Lord Jesus,
As you rose from the dead
And conquered the power of death,
May you help me to rise today,
To overcome any adversity,
And to bring glory to your name.