Easter is God-Spring” on John 20:1-9 by Michelle Ellis – April 9, 2023
Those of you familiar with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis probably remember how in the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children mysteriously travel through a wardrobe to a new land. They grab the fur coats that were hanging in the wardrobe and wrap themselves up in them because in this new land, it’s the dead of winter. As they travel, they discover that it has been winter there for a long, long time, for years. Always winter, but never Christmas.
Probably from around February to April here in the Bulkley Valley, I feel like we’re journeying in the land of Narnia where it has been winter for an unnaturally long time. I feel this especially in April. April is the worst month for me. When it snows at this time of year, l begin to despair that summer will ever come. This year though, this awkward in-between spring season has been to me a picture of the kind of times we’re living in. It has been showing me something to do with Easter.
Let me see if I can share what I’m getting at this way: Jesus’ disciples and the Jewish people at the time had a particular idea of what seasons looked like. They saw themselves as being in the season of winter for a very long time. In winter, other nations and powers ruled over them. In winter, they were separated from God. In winter, there is death and tears and pain. People take advantage of others and get away with it. People abuse others and get away with it. In winter, people get sick and don’t get better. All these things characterized the season of winter.
But the Jewish people believed that summer will come. Summer will come — God will show Himself to be the one who has all the power and everyone will see it. Summer will come — those who have died will be brought back to life. Summer will come — God will defeat His enemies and no one will be able to stand in the way of His renewing the whole world. There will not be any more death or tears or pain. There will not be any injustice or sickness. Never will it be heard of that a child lives only a few days, there shall never be any young men or women whose lives are cut short. Summer will come — people will build houses and live in them, they will plant gardens and eat their fruit, children will play with snakes and be safe, lambs will lie down by lions and be safe and at peace. People will be known, loved, and delighted in by one another. They will know joy, they will know freedom, they will know peace. God will totally be in charge and there will no longer be anything that will separate His people from Him. God’s summer of living shall never, ever end.
This understanding of God’s seasons is one reason there was so much confusion surrounding Jesus. If Jesus was who his disciples thought he was and who he said he was, how come it wasn’t the promised season of God-summer? Jesus did some things that made them think summer must be here. He healed people who were sick, he made blind men see, he raised children from the dead, he raised young men from the dead. But then he also seemed to let some winter things stay. He let the powers of Rome in control. He didn’t free Israel from them. He was secretive about who he was. And, as Jesus journeyed to the cross, why did he allow himself to be mocked, to be humiliated? How could he let himself be subject to the most cruel and humiliating kind of execution? The kind of death that was not allowed as punishment to Roman citizens because it was thought to be too degrading, too inhuman, too cruel. Surely, when the disciples placed Jesus in the tomb, they saw in Jesus’ death also the death and burying of their own hope that Jesus had brought this God-summer to stay. Surely, they must have seen Jesus’ death as a confirmation that they remained without question in the dead of winter. After all the signs of summer they’d seen and heard about, this return of winter perhaps felt all the more harsh. Vulnerable hopes had begun to bloom, only to be killed by this cruel victory of winter.
Notice in our text that there was no expectation from his disciples and friends that Jesus would rise from the dead. This is something that the Jewish people expected would happen to all of God’s people at the same time, that would mark the true arrival of the season of God-summer. In John 11, Jesus is talking with Martha and he says to her about her brother, Lazarus, who has just died, “Your brother will rise again.”And Martha answers, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She doesn’t have any expectation that someone could rise from the dead in their current season of winter.
That Easter morning, when Mary sees the tomb open, she immediately concludes that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. In each of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection that we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, most of Jesus’ friends respond to his empty tomb in shock, fear, and in many cases skepticism. Many of the disciples take convincing and need to see the risen Jesus a number of times to believe. No one expected Jesus to come back to life. It doesn’t make sense of their vision of the winter season they think they’re in. Their experience of Jesus’ resurrection was like how you’d feel upon seeing a red rose blooming in the snow. Or strawberries ripe for the picking in February at -30 degrees. It doesn’t make sense. It’s the in-breaking of summer in the dead of winter. Jesus’ resurrection is just as unexpected, unbelievable, joyful and also a little unsettling.
In Jesus’ resurrection, a whole new season has begun no one had anticipated. It’s spring. Remember that in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people understood history as moving from winter, when sin and death and the enemy reign, directly to summer, when God will reign and the enemy is totally defeated. But when Jesus rises from the dead right in the middle of history, instead of at the end, it was the start of this new season that no one had imagined. It was the start of this springtime season that we continue to live in today.
I’d like to name together today three key things about spring, for those who are new to this season. First, spring means that from the point of Jesus’ resurrection onward, we are moving in a summer direction, not a winter direction. Jesus’ resurrection is the first sign that from now on, things are different. Summer is breaking in, and winter can’t stop it. Jesus’ resurrection means that from now on, history is moving in a summer direction. Though winter may still hold on to some of its bite, it will never return fully.
Come April, we start to think about things differently. Even though it’s still too cold outside to plant, you might start planting some seeds in the house in anticipation of planting them in your garden. You might tune up your bike and think about where you’re going to go riding. You probably put away the snow shovels and your snow pants. Jesus’ resurrection invites the same kind of heart and mind shift.
Knowing that in God-summer, we’ll all be one in Christ, we aim to move in that direction now by doing the hard work of reconciliation with others, of forgiving someone, or by including someone who may be feeling left out. Knowing that in God-summer, there won’t be any injustice, we aim to move in that direction now, by standing alongside those who have been mistreated or misunderstood, or by sharing our resources of kindness, time, or money with those who need it. Knowing that in God-summer we will be totally free, totally whole, so we make decisions now to step in that direction. We say ‘no’ to abuse, we embrace the forgiveness and new beginnings that are offered to us in Christ. We engage in work of healing, restoring what has been broken, nurturing new life. These are all springtime activities that proclaim the reality that winter is almost over.
The second thing to know about spring is that spring is a strange, in-between season. It’s not winter; it’s not summer. It’s kind of both at the same time. It can be confusing. You can see snow and crocuses in the same yard. One day it may be warm enough for a T-shirt. The next day you may be reaching for your winter coat again. In the spring, we will experience both the harshness of winter and the delight of summer. We’ll know pain. We will feel deep loss. We will bury those dear to us. We’ll know what it is to be dismissed, to be treated unfairly, we’ll know darkness. In spring we’ll also see signs of life. Some of us will know physical healing, some of us will witness powerful change in the life of someone we love. We will know what it is to be set free and truly forgiven. Some of us will experience true reconciliation. We’ll see both signs of summer and winter existing together at the same time, and we’ll never really know which one we’re going to get from one moment to the next.
Jesus talks about two ages like summer and winter existing together when he tells the story a farmer in Matthew 13, who planted good seeds in his field. While everyone is sleeping, an enemy came and planted weed seeds in among the good seeds. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds also appeared. The farmer allows both to grow together, so as to not rip out any of the wheat by accident. They both grow together until the harvest time when the plants were mature enough for the weeds to be distinguished from the wheat. Jesus warns us not to be surprised to see both the power of darkness and his own healing power alongside each other in this time.
When summer and winter exist together at the same time in spring, it can be disorienting. We might feel like we don’t know which season is coming and which one is going. Jesus uses the picture of yeast working through dough, or a mustard seed eventually becoming the biggest tree in the garden to describe the season we are in now. There is something hidden about God’s power at work in these things. That’s why Jesus points to them. He doesn’t want us to miss them or what they mean. Just like right now we need to look closely at the branches of the trees to see whether there are any buds. We can’t see what the seeds are doing underneath the surface of the soil. We have to point out signs of spring to each other or else we might miss them. Pointing out these things to each other is an extremely important springtime practice. Especially here in the north. Otherwise, it is very easy to despair and believe that winter will actually last forever.
As Jesus’ followers in this time, it is important for us to point out to each other the things we see God doing. The new life he is growing. We need to tell each other stories of hard hearts being softened, of forgiveness being offered, of dreams and visions that God gives us or of God causing good to come out of something intended for bad. In this confusing time of spring where both winter and summer exist together, we need to keep pointing out to each other even the smallest of signs of spring, hidden as they may be, to keep our hearts rooted in the reality of the new life that indeed has already begun.
The third thing about spring that I wanted to name together is a mystery that many of us will witness, but that none of us will fully understand. It’s this: that somehow, it’s the very stuff of winter that by God’s power he transforms to nourish the new life of spring. Snow doesn’t just disappear in spring. It melts. God warms and transforms the snow to water that sinks into the ground and nourishes the seeds that are hidden and waiting there.
Jesus faced the worst that the Enemy had. Separation from God, intense physical pain, rejection and abandonment from his closest friends, and a cruel execution. Jesus didn’t bypass death. He didn’t make it disappear as if by magic. He went through it and redeemed it. He transformed it so that it no longer did what it was intended to do. In John 12 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the stuff of winter can be itself transformed. In spring, death still occurs but we plant our loved ones like seeds in the ground trusting they will rise again. Tears still fall but we plant them too, trusting that those who weep will come home carrying a harvest of joy. Pain becomes something that God transforms. This to me is one of the most mysterious and unexpected parts of Easter. That God can take what was intended for evil, and make good come out of it. He can even make life come out of it. Beginning with his death and resurrection, Jesus sets a pattern for his people, a pattern where he takes the very stuff of winter, and he transforms it, like snow into water, water that nourishes the new life in this springtime season.
So welcome to spring! This sometimes confusing, sometimes joyful in-between season. Let’s rejoice in it, point out its signs to one another and live in trust in it, that winter’s power is truly gone, that it will never return. The God-summer is coming, His new life is on the move. Amen.