A Guest Post by Robyn Elliott
This is the thirteenth in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon an Easter sermon entitled “Early on the First Day of the Week . . .” (pp. 125-132). The Scriptural text for the sermon was John 20:1-18.
As I write this we’re only weeks away from Holy Week and Easter and so it seems timely that I would be reading (and thereby ‘hearing’ again) the Easter sermon Robert Dean preached at my home church four years ago. In this sermon Rob said that it is a “daunting responsibility to be . . . entrusted with the task of proclaiming the resurrection.” Indeed it is. Yet, I have often heard preachers lament about Christmas and Easter, not solely because of the typically full church calendar around these times, but because they struggle to find something, anything, new and fresh to preach on these occasions. The message for them, it seems, has become old and dry. It’s not that they don’t believe it; they’re just tired of retelling it. How tragic! For Mary Magdalene, early on the first day of the week, “He is risen!” was good news. For us as a church, in the aftermath of a difficult time in our church’s history, “He is risen!” was good news that we needed to hear again. It is a message, a declaration, that remains good news and must continue to be proclaimed with the same fervor and urgency as it was early on the first day of that week.
Rob’s title for this Easter sermon masterfully points us to the words of John’s gospel, “Early on the first day of the week,” and, like the climactic rise of a musical score, we know that something is about to be revealed; there is an expectancy woven into the syntax of John’s narrative that hints at what is to come. Likewise, as we read Rob’s sermon we’re being beckoned into this new day, to discover not only what we anticipate—an Easter sermon—but a depth of nuance, research, and meditation characteristically evident in Rob’s sermons. To sit under Rob’s teaching is to be schooled in scripture, church history, patristic theology, and deep, transformational reflection, mining as he does, the depths of God’s great story and offering us the gemstones of his labour. One such gem throughout this sermon is his unveiling of John’s allusions to the first creation story conveying the cosmic magnitude of this Resurrection event that changed everything. One glimpse of this can be seen in his reference to Mary’s encounter with the gardener in which Rob writes, “rather than a case of mistaken identity, it may be better to think of this as a case of revelation of identity. For what Mary is soon to discover is not that the man standing before her is not the gardener, but rather that the gardener is Jesus.” Here in this garden, a confused woman finally meets the Ancient Gardener from the dawn of creation! And this is but a fragment of the gems found throughout this Easter message.
“Early on the First Day of the Week” unabashedly proclaims and retells the untiring truth, the glorious reality, that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And that changes everything.
Robyn Elliott is the Interim Minister of Discipleship at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario.