Easter Sunday: From Certainty to Openness
Worship Leader: Michele Rizoli
Speaker: Peter Haresnape
Song Leader: Bob Loewen
Pianist: Mark Andrews
Ushers: Mauricio Palacio, Pieter Niemeyer
Tech Team (In-Person / Online): Alison Li/ Dennis Giesbrecht

Listen to the service here.

Listen to the sermon here.

Peter Haresnape, Toronto United Mennonite Church
2022 04 17 Easter “From Certainty to Openness”
Easter Sunday, Toronto United Mennonite Church
John 20:1-18, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Nothing is certain in this life, except for death and taxes, and Jesus Christ would have us
reconsider both of these.
Now, we don’t have time to consider the weighty theological issue of taxation, but I think we can
take a look at death, this morning, of all mornings, when we remember that the origins of our
movement, of the Christian, Anabaptist, Mennonite experiment is founded on the words of
women like Mary Magdalene, who said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’.
She does not debate. She does not explain. She witnesses. And the Christian movement is that
witness passed from place to place, from generation to generation. ‘I have seen the Lord.’
And everything else is the attempt to understand what this means, and to act accordingly. You
can spend a lifetime asking ‘is this true?’ but somewhere in that lifetime you have to wonder
‘what if this is true?’ What if Jesus is alive?
Notice that Mary does not dispute the fact that Jesus died. If she did, she would have been a lot
easier to dismiss. Everyone saw him die, the cruel and all-too-familiar death on the cross of the
largely indifferent Roman imperial state. Jesus died, because there were some trained
professions working to make sure of it. We do not dispute the power of death, indeed, we
witness to it. But we also witness, ‘I have seen the Lord’.
Mary knows he is dead, because she is looking for a body, and when there is no body, she
expresses three times the truth that she is convinced of, that his body has been taken away by
the same people that took his life away, the people who wield the power of death.
And she is convinced of this story, even when Jesus himself is speaking with her, she is
expecting to see a body, to see the power of death. So when she realises, and understands,
and witnesses ‘I have seen the Lord’, you have to know that this claim of life, which does not
deny death, gives a new perspective on the entire question.
Christ died. Christ is risen. So now what? If death itself, the most certain fact in all of human
existence, cannot be relied upon, what does that mean? If Jesus is alive, that’s gotta mean
something, right?
With time, the first disciples understand what this means for their lives, with some patient
coaching. It helps that Jesus keeps appearing in the middle of their meetings and mealtimes to
explain the situation!
Peter Haresnape, Toronto United Mennonite Church
Gradually, inexorably, their certainties are changed to openness. Mary goes looking for a body,
and instead says ‘I have seen the Lord’. Everything else is the attempt to understand what this
means, and to act accordingly.
Let me tell you what it might mean. It might mean that everyone who has died in silence, or in
pain, or in back alleys, or in chains, or under fire, or under oppression, or underpaid, or
overlooked, or over there, or overdrawn, everyone who had died or been killed or failed to live
has not disappeared, but is held in the arms of God so that they too can say ‘I have seen the
It might mean that their words and their witness are not lost to us. Their names and their stories
and their poems and pains are not hidden. Even though they are not here with us now, they are
held, secure, by the one we trust to hold everything in place.
It might mean that the ones without gravestones, obituaries, statues in Queen’s Park, or
warships named after them have not been forgotten.
And it also means that we have to live in a certain way. We have to witness to the truth, of what
we have seen and sensed and known to be true, that death is not to be sought, and it is not to
be feared, that life and love are God’s final judgement.
First the witnesses say ‘I have seen the Lord’. ‘Jesus is alive’. And the more people they say it
to, the more questions they get. And so they start to visit and to write to one another to explain
what it might mean, to try to describe who this Jesus is, and why it matters that he died and is
alive, and the first thing, always the first thing is the revelation that death is not the absolute. It is
not history’s final bitter joke, that the lives and deeds of the pharaohs and emperors and CEOs
will be remembered in the same way as the lives and deeds of every child in poverty and every
unnamed woman and that this is good news. We can live, and we can live in a certain way.
To learn how to live, those first witnesses listened again to the teachings of ancient prophets,
the wisdom of the mothers of kings, and the Holy Spirit that drew them together. And they told
the life of Jesus as a way to understand how you live when you know that death is not the final
Over the last six weeks we have glimpsed some of the ways we can live now that we know that
Jesus is alive. We have heard what God is doing through the ongoing life of the body of Christ.
God is moving us from security to generosity. Our safety does not come from having the biggest
guns and the best arguments, it comes from giving what we have, to meet what we need.
God is moving us from fear to compassion. If fear is a verb, we learn that so is compassion.
When we find Jesus ministering in the place of pain, we can choose to be there too.
Peter Haresnape, Toronto United Mennonite Church
God is moving us from earning to receiving. We work for the joy of providing for each other, not
accumulating for ourselves, because we know that God has given us everything, without price,
and that grace erodes our obsessive need to keep tally of our rights and our precious wrongs.
God is moving us from exceptionalism to inclusion. We cannot be God’s people, the body of
Christ, without each other, and we need all of us in all our difference to be fully alive.
God is moving us from scarcity to abundance. We learn from the immense richness of creation,
since God is not stingy, and we marvel in the abundant life that we experience, here and now.
God is moving us from power over, to power with, and we join the people of God to dance and
parade and laugh together, building the power of solidarity, while the old ways of domination and
exclusion sulk in the corner and refuse to join the feast.
And God is moving us from certainty to openness. My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are
not your thoughts, says God. Come and see what a new thing God is doing. God is still the
Creator. There are surprises yet to come. So be open. Hold your certainties lightly. God is still
Does all this seem a bit triumphalist? Does it seem like I am missing the point of death, the
sorrow and the rending? That is a risk, and the exuberance of Easter resurrection life can easily
ignore, even silence, the reality of pain. At this moment, death and endings and painful
transitions are large in the lives of those we love. At this moment war and dehumanisation and
ecological destruction are trying to shape the future of God’s creation.
These are the hard and heavy questions, and we need sacred moments and places like this to
give us the strength to ask them.
Paul writes to the people of Corinth, who have heard the good news that Jesus is alive, who
have tried to work out what that means for their lives, and how to live in such a way that points
to God’s new way of doing things. But they still die. And they want to know, what does it mean, if
we are still subject to death.
Paul is writing to people who have known loss. And if we are people who have known loss, we
will ask the same questions that they asked, honest questions, painful questions.
And Paul says ‘if it is only in this life that we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be
pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead’.
As an argument it is a risky one. Paul puts everything on the resurrection. He doesn’t try to
nuance the question or accommodate those who doubt or those wondering why they have
suffered bereavement. He simply says – if Christ has not risen, it’s all worthless.
Peter Haresnape, Toronto United Mennonite Church
He seems so certain. But certainty has no need for faith, and our faith is that God is placing all
things as they should be, and that we are in the middle of it all, that our lives are the instrument
and the moment of change. For since death came through a man, the resurrection comes
through a man. But each in turn. Paul exudes certainty – but in the end, he is open to God’s
I hope you noted his neat explanation about why God came in the body of a man – Jesus had to
be a man, raised to life on behalf of us all, because it was the fault of a man that we are all
subject to death – a clear denial of the myth that blames all the evils in the world on women.
Paul, and his interpreters, and his imitators may have been bad news for women, but it’s hard to
sustain at Easter, when Mary says ‘I have seen the Lord’.
Jesus is alive, and this life is the first fruits of the world to come. I don’t know what form that
resurrection will take, but I believe the witness, and I exchange my certainty for openness.
Jesus is alive, and that makes the people who deal in death very afraid. For they were certain in
their power, but we are open to God’s truth.

“it might readily suit many lords of this world
if everything would be settled at death
if the dominion of the lords
and the servitude of the slaves
would be confirmed forever
it might readily suit many lords of this world
if in eternity they would remain lords
in expensive private tombs
and their slaves would remain slaves
in rows of common graves
but a resurrection is coming
quite different from what we thought
a resurrection is coming which is
god’s raising up against the lords
and against the lord of lords – death” *

Be open, friends. Happy Easter!

* Kurt Marti, Swiss theologian/poet