By

Easter Sunday Sermon – April 16, 2017

Gospel of John 20:1-18

Early 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. So

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.”

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went

toward the tomb. The two were running together,

but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the

tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the

linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went

into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying

there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head,

not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a

place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached

the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and

believed; for as yet they did not understand the

scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the

disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she

wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and 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. They 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.” When she had said this, she turned

around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did

not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you

looking for?” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned

and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which

means Teacher). Jesus 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.’” Mary Magdalene went and

announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”;

and she told them that he had said these things to

her.

Most of us gathered in worship

on Easter Sunday have heard this story

for years. Our familiarity with it tends

to threaten the story’s uniqueness and

impact. So, this morning, let’s try to

hear the story fresh, in all of its

wonder.

As the story is told in the gospel

of John, Mary Magdalene is the most

devoted of Jesus’ disciples. She’s also

plucky.

Early that one morning long ago,

Mary journeys to Jesus’ tomb to honor

her loved one and pray. She finds the

stone blocking the entrance rolled

back and the tomb wide open. I can

imagine her bewilderment and picture

her dashing off to where Peter and

John were staying.

Mary Magdalene describes what

she had seen and her suspicion that

Jesus’ body has been stolen. The two

disciples run to check out her story.

Remember, Mary is a woman trapped

within first century cultural prejudices.

Sure enough, the tomb is wide

open and empty. After confirming for

themselves what Mary, a woman, had

told them, Peter and John didn’t hang

around the garden tomb very long.

The two disciples scurried away

for the safety of home. We’re told that

John left the tomb believing; but what

did he believe? Maybe it had to do

with believing Mary, a woman, that

the body of Jesus was missing or

stolen? We’re not sure.

Mary remains outside the walls of

Jesus’ hillside tomb. But after a while,

her curiosity takes hold. Once again,

she gazes into the tomb, this time

peering through her tears. At this

point, the story takes an incredible

turn.

Mary finds herself looking at two

angelic beings sitting on the stone slab

where Jesus’ lifeless body was once

laid. Now, if it would have been me,

I’m sure I would have gotten a wee-bit

excited, maybe even paralyzed with

astonishment. But not plucky Mary.

She responds by keeping focused.

The experience of encountering

those angelic beings didn’t have the

power to shake Mary free from her

grieving and devotion to Jesus. And,

not only did she stay focused, Mary

spoke with the angels just as I am

speaking with you. “They have taken

away my Lord, and I do not know

where they have laid him.”

She is determined to find the

body of Jesus. She wants to see it, to

give it proper respect, and pray

alongside of it for Jesus, for his

disciples and for herself. Jesus was

her beloved teacher and friend. She is

devoted to Jesus and must find his

body.

Just then, Mary Magdalene is

blessed beyond anything she could

ever dream. Standing behind her is

Jesus, once crucified, now alive. But

for some unknown reason, she doesn’t

recognize Jesus.

Was it because of her tears? Was

it due to the sight of Jesus being so

unexpected? Was it due to the

appearance of Jesus’ bruised and

wounded, blood-stained, crucified

body? We may never know the

answer for certain.

But when Mary composed herself

enough to clearly hear the voice of the

person speaking her name, “Mary,”

she recognizes the voice. It could be

no one else but Jesus.

Mary quickly awakens her mind

and heart to this new reality. Jesus is

alive. Her sadness is suddenly

transformed into joyful amazement.

She greets Jesus with deepest respect

and affection.

Jesus, then, entrusts Mary with a

message to his disciples: “Tell my

brothers I am ascending to our God

and Father.”

That simple message is packed

with meaning. In these words, Jesus is

telling his disciples that he holds no

animosity toward them for their denial

and abandonment. Their relationship

is completely restored.

Now this part of Jesus’

resurrection story ends with Mary

Magdalene telling his disciples her

experiences, sharing the miraculous

events that had taken place in the

burial garden near Jerusalem that

morning.

Implications of this story are

many. For me, the most important

implication is this: God’s life-giving

love wins.

The Chief Priest, the Sanhedrin,

Pontius Pilot and all Jesus’ enemies

thought they had won the battle for

supremacy when Jesus was crucified. But

they were wrong.

God has given the powers of this

world a clear message: Nothing will

prevent God from loving us and breathing

life into us.

All the external and internal powers

of self-interest, greed, hatred, division,

violence and death threaten to destroy us

as well as the goodness God has planted

within us. But those powers will not

succeed.

Those powers work persistently at

trying to wrestle us away from our

connection with God and one another.

But they will not prevail.

Nothing will prevent God from

loving us and breathing life into us.

However, there is something we have to

do.

God’s life-giving love won’t be

constrained by any power but us. We

have to accept the gift God so desires for

us.

We cannot be passive. Rather, we

must welcome God’s life-giving love into

our daily existence. Then we will know

the incredible, transforming power of God

and God’s love for us all.

How does it look? I experience it as

being empowered to share compassion,

understanding and hope beyond my own

capacity.

The day before my Grandma Atkins

passed from this life to the next, I was

blessed to be sitting with her at the old,

round, oak dining table that had been the

focal point of family celebrations for

years. She and I were visiting and sharing

stories of times past.

Out of the blue, Grandma said that

she wanted me to know a story she had

never spoken before. It was meant to

encourage me in my life and for my

ministry.

Grandma began her story by telling

me of a time when many of her neighbors

had left farming for work in nearby

towns. They still lived in the country, but

invested their work elsewhere for money.

It was a desperate time in rural Missouri.

Thankfully, Grandma and Granddad

had their 100-acre farm and eight kids to

help work it. They had enough food,

enough goods, to make it through the lean

times. But the neighbors didn’t.

So, once or twice a week, over

several years, early before sunrise,

Grandma would secretly saddle up her

horse and take a basket of food, leaving it

on the back porch of one of her neighbors.

She’d quietly return to bed before

Granddad and the kids got up to milk the

cows.

Grandma Atkins said that she had to

share what God had provided; not just

food, but hope and love. For me, this is

an example of how God’s power and love

work through us when we welcome it into

our lives.

It is much more than kindness. It is

more than optimism. It is God’s life-

giving love pouring out for us, in us, and

through us.

In Jesus’ resurrection, we see that

nothing will prevent God from loving us,

forgiving us and breathing life into us.

Nothing. God’s life-giving love wins.

Welcome it. Let it come alive in

you. Let it win in you! Alleluia! Christ

is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

Alleluia!

 
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