“The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst of them and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”
I want to begin by returning to the garden where Jesus first revealed himself to Mary Magdalene. Then I want to consider two other events on that same day when Jesus revealed himself to disciples but with a little different take from last week. For one thing we will take a look inside of the Ark of the Covenant. Remember that Mary came to the garden according to the text “when it was yet dark” and the synoptic Gospels refine that for us and uniformly state that it was at the very crack of dawn when they arrived at the tomb. And you can see from the Gospel for today not only are we at the end of the chapter, but as I pointed out last week, we are also at the end of the first day. The evening sun had set, and as we know many of the disciples of Jesus who had fled Jerusalem for fear of the Jews were returning to Jerusalem because some of them had encountered the risen Christ as they were fleeing. The word was spreading. And the disciples were making their way back to what we call the Upper Room where they knew they would find Peter and the other Apostles. Last week I pointed out that the Emmaus appearance of Christ occurred just before sunset on the first day and we can safely assume that Cleopas and the other disciple from Emmaus were with Peter and the other Apostles, as well as Mary Magdalen, Salome, the mother of James and the Blessed Virgin Mary. John’s Gospel preserves the first occasion that we know of when our resurrected Lord revealed himself to the Church gathered around his Apostles: “The same day at evening, being the first day of the week…” So we have in all four Gospels, the first day of the week, the first day of the resurrection of Jesus, as it were bounded by two periods of darkness: one before sunrise and the other after sunset. The first day of the resurrection is presented as a pool of light surrounded by darkness. Another way of thinking about this is that the first day of the resurrection looks very much like the first day of creation. According to the creation story “the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the deep… And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light… And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
So I submit to you that the first day of the resurrection is the first day of the New Creation; what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls “The Eighth Day of Creation.” Hold on to this because we will return to the creation story before we are through today.
But the first thing I want you to do is to think once again about the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat in the Empty Tomb with the two angles sitting on either end. Now when God instructed Moses to build the first Ark of the Covenant, he also had him place the stone tablets of the Law inside of the Ark. But we know from Leviticus and the Letter to the Hebrews that the Ark also contained Aaron’s rod and a jar of manna. According to the Book of Hebrews all these very concrete objects, the Ark, the Tablets of Stone, Aaron’s rod and the jar of manna are patterns of heavenly things that Christ has taken up, perfected and finished, and somehow completed once for all in his death on the cross. And that constituted the recapitulation of creation.
The Tables of Stone, the Law, according the Book of Hebrews are “shadows of good things to come and not the very image of them.” That is an interesting phrase, “not the very image of them.” The Ark of the Covenant, and everything in the Ark of the Covenant, is “skia” shadows, not even the image. The word we translate as image is “eikon.” So here is the point I want to make: An “eikon” is actually better than a shadow because it represents the object it presents. An icon participates in what it represents by presenting the image. An image comes from light and truth. The light of faith and knowledge creates an icon, an image. Icons require light. But shadows are very different things. Blocking out the light of the sun creates shadows. Blocking out light renders a dark outline of the thing. Blocking out the light creates a shadow. There is much more to an icon than there is to a shadow. But always bear in mind that neither the image nor the shadow is to be mistaken for the Thing-Itself. That would be idolatry. The shadows are bare bones compared to an image according to the Book of Hebrews and both only have significance by virtue of their attachment to Heavenly realities in Christ.
So let’s get practical. How is the Law is only a shadow of the good things to come? This is how. The Law is like a plumb line that can determine straightness. But that all it can do. A plumb line can tell you just how crooked a room in your house is, but a plumb line cannot straighten out the crooked room. So it is with the Law. It can show you what a life plumbed to God looks like; it can show us where we may be crooked, but the Law cannot straighten us out, it cannot make us holy and happy. The same may be said of Moses’ Ark of the Covenant and everything inside of it –- shadows.
Remember what I said last week: If you were a Jewish Christian you would see with your mind’s eye and you would understand that the Tomb of Jesus is the true Holy of Holies and the Stone upon which his lifeless body was placed is the true Mercy Seat with real angels, not man-made angels, on both ends. When John wrote to Jews who had become Christians he was showing them how Jesus has completed the Old Testament revelation. And this Atonement, offered one time by Jesus is “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice and oblation” and it will never have to be offered up again. It is finished.
It is finished indeed! Christ is superior to all this; He is the perfect priest and the perfect Mercy Seat:
“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands… but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
He is superior to the Law:
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.”
He is superior to Moses:
“Your fathers at the manna in the wilderness and they died… I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me will never hunger and he who believes in me will never thirst.”
And what of Aaron’s rod? Aaron’s rod was an outward and visible sign of God’s presence among the Jews. In Israel the rod was a symbol of authority and the shepherd’s tool used to protect his sheep. Holding his rod over the water, Moses parted the Red Sea. And he brought judgment against Egypt and Israel and worked miracles with Aaron’s rod. Jesus is greater; he had no instrument of grace other than the instrument of his own body, his own hands, his own lips, and his own blood to mediate God’s loving and saving presence to his people. But something else: According to Numbers 17 when Moses went into the tent of the testimony he was awestruck to find “the rod of Aaron… was budded and put forth buds and produced blossoms and bore ripe almonds.” Now listen: As beautiful and wonderful as the fruit-bearing rod of Aaron is, it is still a shadow compared to the real thing. Aaron’s rod was a dead piece of wood that God used to mediate his presence to his people. However, it also foreshadowed the resurrection –- dead wood broke into blossom and bore fruit! But it is still a shadow compared to the real thing –- Jesus Christ raised from the dead.
So let’s look at the Gospel. Jesus came to straighten the crooked and to renew the life of this world that lay in darkness and death. When Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener in the resurrection garden — that was significant because she was associating him with the first gardener, Adam. Christ is the last Adam. Christ, through the Incarnation, his love and obedience unto death and his resurrection has recapitulated humanity. Recapitulation literally means to put on a new head on a body — to re-head the body.
But we see another action in the first day of the resurrection that actually effects the new creation. In Genesis 2:7 we read about the creation of the first gardener Adam:
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
That was on the 6th day, the last day, of creation. But in John we have the recreation, the renewal of man on the 1st day of the new creation, the first day of the resurrection:
“Jesus said to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost…”
This is the only place in the New Testament that this word –- the word we translate “breathed on them” –- is used. But it is used 11 times in the Septuagint – the Greek Version of the Old Testament of Jesus’ day and two of the most significant events are the creation of Adam, the one I just cited, and then in Ezekiel 37:9 –- that is when God told Ezekiel to speak to the dead bones in the middle of the valley of death and Ezekiel said that the breath of God entered them and they came to life. Here is the point I want to make about the evening of the first day of the new creation: Here, at the end of the day, Jesus acts out of his divinity. He performs not as the Last Adam, the gardener –- here he is the Creator of Heaven and Earth renewing his creature man with his own breath. We will stop there.