John 20: 1-18
20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This week I read an article in The Christian Century by Jim Friedrich, an Episcopal priest.
He said that next to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of All Nations, there is a sign that says:
“No explanations inside the church.”
This sign was apparently “intended to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambience with shouted lectures”.
Lectures about what?
Friedrich puts it this way:
Confronted by a room full of people who spend most of their time in secular social ways of thinking, where the dead stay dead and God—if there is one—does not intervene in the natural order, preachers are tempted to mount a defense of the resurrection …
A defense to the resurrection is an attempt to prove that it really happened.
If you have ever read Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Christ, you have some idea of what a detailed argument for the reality of the resurrection might look like.
History, science, logic all come together to “prove” the resurrection to skeptical, doubtful or unbelieving people.
That would be great for a Sunday school class, but I don’t think Easter morning is the right place for it.
Most folks don’t come to hear an explanation.
Everyone here either believes it; or wants to.
Today, we are happy to look at the resurrection as a mystery that we just take on faith.
We come here on Easter simply to celebrate
Friedrich agrees and puts it this way:
Easter Sunday is for proclamation, not explanation. It is a time to meet the One who changes everything.
I like that.
[T]o meet the One who changes everything.
That is what we celebrate.
So that is what I will do, I hope.
Proclaim the resurrection and introduce you to the one who changes everything.
And to celebrate.
This is a nice segue into our text.
John proclaims the resurrection and tells a story about the “”one”.
The resurrected Jesus.
And he also tells the story of the impact it had on the one particular person who was its first witness.
In the story we observe three characters.
Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple who we assume to be John.
All three were close with Jesus for most, if not all, of his ministry.
John’s story opens early on the first day of the week.
It is still dark.
Not just because the sun has not yet come up, but because to John it is a time of terrible sadness and confusion.
Jesus, the one who was to change everything was dead.
All the anticipation was for nothing.
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb where Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus after they took him down from the cross on Friday.
She is alone.
We aren’t told why Mary went to the tomb.
John tells us that Jesus had been anointed and packed with spices on Friday by Joseph and Nicodemus.
But Mary’s visit reminds me of the mother of a friend of mine who died in his early 20s.
After my friend was buried, his mother went to the grave every day for weeks just be near him.
Maybe that is what Mary was doing.
She just wanted to be near where she thought Jesus was.
But when Mary gets there, the grave is open!
Think about that for a moment.
Can you imagine what she felt?
Not joy, I assure you.
Fear that the body of her beloved Jesus was stolen!
What other explanation could there be?
Mary certainly did not expect to see a living Jesus.
Mary sort of staggers backward, hand over her mouth, then turns and runs away.
Mary bursts in on Peter and John.
It’s dark there, too.
She screams, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb …’!
Who are “they”?
No doubt to Mary “they” were the one’s who opposed Jesus during his life and now wanted to rid the world of any trace of him.
Peter and John look at each other.
Then they rush out the door.
The scene is almost comical.
Can you imagine Peter and John bumping in to each other and the door frame as they try to get through the door?
Once out, the race is on.
John, the younger is also the faster.
But when John gets to the grave he just paces outside.
Peter arrives a moment later and, true to form, heads straight into the tomb.
Just the grave clothes.
Peter slowly backs out.
He is speechless.
Now John crawls in.
The grave clothes are there but the body is not.
This makes no sense.
If people came and stole Jesus’ body, why waste time removing the grave clothes?
He tells Peter he believes something important has happened but does not understand what it is.
What they were not expecting is a living Jesus.
Maybe John tells Peter that this reminds him of the time Jesus said he would rise up in three days after he was destroyed.
Then Peter and John just go home.
I like the way John describes it.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
While Peter and John have left, she is still there.
Pacing outside the tomb.
Then, very tentatively, she peeks inside the tomb.
They ask her why she is weeping.
They seem truly puzzled.
Maybe they say to each other, “What did she expect to find?”
She tells them that she can’t find Jesus.
Not a living Jesus.
Jesus dead body.
I want to think that the Angels looked at each other and one of them says, “She doesn’t know!”
Before the angels can say anything, she turns to run and bumps into Jesus who is watching her.
But she does not recognize him.
Why would she?
A living Jesus is not what she was expecting.
Jesus, too, seems puzzled.
“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”, he asks.
Maybe Mary says something like, “Are you the gardener? Where have they taken Jesus?”
Then the man then calls her by name.
Mary’s eyes get big.
Her hand covers her mouth!
“Teacher!” she cries.
She opens her arms and rushes to hug him.
Jesus does something surprising.
Jesus backs away and tells her not to hold on to him but go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Why would he do this?
Maybe because now he is the “Resurrected Jesus”.
The one who died and is now the one alive again.
He is now the Christ.
This is the new “one”.
He is the one ascending to the Father.
Gathering his divinity back as he goes.
He is the same, yet new.
Mary has been introduced to the new one who changes everything for her.
Her world is different.
No need to look for Jesus among the dead any more.
She found him alive.
He called her name.
And Jesus has given her a task.
Go and tell.
Mary starts crying again, but now these are tears of joy.
She runs off to do what Jesus asked her to do.
The eleven are all together now.
Mary bursts in.
“I have seen the Lord!”
“He is alive!”
Mary is changed.
That is Mary the first witness.
Mary the apostle.
What a great story!
If this were a book group, we might now have a conversation about why Peter and John, two of the twelve, did not get to be the first witness.
They were so close to Jesus.
Peter was the spokesman of the group.
Why not him?
John was the one Jesus loved.
Why not him?
Why do they just walk away puzzled?
Because they have not yet heard the proclamation.
They have not met the risen Jesus.
Mary gets that honor and is changed forever.
What changes for Mary?
A dead Jesus was a living Jesus.
The despair had turned to hope.
The darkness had become light.
Death was not the end of the story.
Jesus was ascending to his Father and her Father, to his God and her God.
It meant that because Jesus lives, the gates of the Kingdom of God were open to her.
To follow Jesus, to live the Jesus way, meant she too would ascend to Jesus’ Father, her Father, Jesus’ God, her God.
So, what does that mean to us today?
Our despair can turn to hope.
Our darkness can become light.
Death was not the end of our story.
Jesus was ascending to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God.
That because Jesus lives, the gates of the Kingdom of God were open to us.
To follow Jesus, to live the Jesus way, means we too will ascend to Jesus’ Father, our Father, Jesus’ God, our God.
That is why we are here.
We have all come to the empty tomb.
We want to hear the proclamation of the resurrection.
We don’t know how it worked.
Most of us don’t care.
We accept it as a mystery.
What we hope to find, if we have not found it already, is what Mary found.
Calling us by name.
Giving us a task.
Asking us to follow Jesus right into God’s kingdom.
And altering our lives forever.
Meeting the one who changes everything.
Jesus is alive!
And so are we!
He is risen.
He is risen indeed.