Text: Jn 20:1-18
Image: responses to seeing
Need: belief in resurrection
Message: Jesus is arisen, believe
Today we come to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Today is the reason that the Christian church has moved their Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first day of the week. Honouring the resurrection of Jesus, and our new identity in it is why we gather on this day. Today we meet together with all the pomp and pageantry we can muster. Today we come together and sing all our favourite hymns. Today we clad the church in white and wear all our best clothes. As a kid my mum always bought me a new Easter outfit, which I had made thoroughly dirty by the end of the day. Today is the day that family comes together and hard feelings are put aside. Today is the day when many people who fill the pews are those who do not normally shadow the doorway of a church. Today we honour quite possibly the greatest day of the Christian calendar. This day is the day that has evoked so much honour and praise from generations of Christians; praising Christ like Paul did to the Colossians,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)
It might strike us as somewhat odd then, the manner in which John narrates this account. Most of the things which we associate with the resurrection are conspicuously missing. We do not hear of the angel appearing to the soldiers and causing them to faint. We do not hear of the earthquake that angel caused. We do not hear of him rolling away the stone and sitting on it. We do not hear of the conversation between this angel and the women. We do not even hear of the other women going to the tomb with Mary Magdalene. John strips this account to the bare essentials. John does not begin with all trumpets blaring, he does not begin with the bright appearance of angels, he does not blanket the atmosphere in glittering white. He begins in the dark.
While it was still dark, Mary went to the tomb
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”
Mary left for the tomb while it was still dark, before the sun had come up, before anyone else was up. Her whole world has been turned upside down. Her Lord, her master, her hope, had died. He was crucified. There is no doubt in her mind he is gone. She stayed at the cross right up to the end. She was standing there when Jesus made his last statements. She was there when he breathed his last. She was there when the soldier had pierced Jesus's side. She saw the flow of blood and water. She knew that the Romans knew how to do their jobs. She had no doubt he was dead, so she went to the tomb early in the morning. She went to connect with her master. Her eyes are red and puffy from all the crying. She feels like the meaning of her life has been taken away. While it was still dark, she goes to seek out her Lord.
While our world is dark, we seek out God.
While it is dark in our lives, we go seek for God. Even though we live in the time of the resurrection, the world still seems dark. It still seems cold. It would have been nice to have had Easter last weekend; a clear, bright, warm weekend. It certainly would have made it easier to celebrate. Easier to accept the truth of the resurrection. Easier to experience the warmth of God's love. But I think that the weather today is more appropriate. It is snowing, it is cold, it is lonely, it is dark. This is how our lives often feel. When our children do not live the lives we had wished for them, we feel the cold ache of loss. When our loved ones pass away at a young age, we feel the stinging claw of death. When our parents do not give us the love and respect we so desperately seek, when feel the hard barrier of rejection. When we feel our lives are at the lowest, that is when we begin to seek for our master. When things are going well, we could care less. We might honour God with our lips, but really live our lives on our own terms. But when things go south, when things turn out bad, we seek for our Lord.
The grave is empty, but Christ has not been stolen.
While our lives are dark we go to the tomb, just as Mary Magdalene did. But she finds something there she does not expect. Instead of finding the tomb just the way it had been left; instead of finding the large stone firmly planted before the tomb, she finds the stone rolled away; the tomb has been tampered with. The black hole of the entrance gapes at her from the white rock. She stands there stunned. How could she explain this? What could possibly have happened? Then it dawns on her; someone has stolen him. Someone has stolen her Lord. Someone has taken him away as a last disgrace. They could not leave him alone in death, just as they could not leave him alone in life. She runs back to Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, tradition has it this is John himself. Both John and Peter run to the tomb. John, the younger and more athletic makes it to the tomb first, but he will not go in. He does not want to desecrate himself. He does not want to make himself unclean by entering the realm of the dead. He bends over to look in the tomb, but instead of a body he sees the linen cloths which were wrapped around Jesus. Peter finally catches up with John, but impetuously rushes straight into the tomb. He ignore custom in his grief and confusion. Looking closely all around the tomb he sees that it has not been robbed. Things are not messy. Things are not strewn about. The cloths which were glued to the body of Christ by the seventy-five pounds of Aloe and spices lavished upon Christ by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were laying neatly upon the stone ledge. The cloth which had covered Christ's head was actually folded and lying by itself. This was no robbery, by Jesus's body was gone. John comes in after Peter. He sees, and he believes. He does not understand that the scriptures had predicted this. He did not understand that it was necessary for Christ to rise from the dead, but he believed that that is what had happened. He believed that Jesus was not simply missing, but that he was no longer dead. The grave is empty, but Christ is not stolen, he has not been put anywhere, he is alive again.
Angels ask Mary, “Why are you crying?”
When the disciples leave the garden to return to their homes, they leave Mary there in the garden. Apparently Mary does not understand what is going on. She still thinks her Lord has been stolen. She still thinks this is another in a long line of indignities inflicted upon her teacher. Succumbing once more to the terrible grief upon her heart she begins to weep. As she is weeping, she bends over to look in the tomb, and surprisingly sees two people in the tomb. Both sitting on the stone shelf where Jesus's body had been laid; one at the head, the other at the feet. They ask her a question. A rather inappropriate question, I think, considering the circumstances. They ask her, “Why are you crying?”
Why is she crying? Are they daft? Where have they been? Do they not know what has been happening? Do they know where they are sitting? Do they know who had lain their mere hours before? Could you imagine being asked a question like that? When you go to the funeral of one of your parents, or a child, or a dear friend, someone you love deeply, how would you respond to a question like this? Why am I crying? Why do you think?
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him,” says Mary. Of course, we know that the angels are trying to get Mary to understand what is going on. They are trying to get her to see what the disciples had just seen. They are trying to get her to believe that Jesus is no longer dead but alive. She, however, seems inconsolable.
Jesus asks, “Why are you crying? Who are you seeking?”
Turning from the tomb, and these somewhat irreverent angels dressed in white she comes face to face with the person she is seeking. But she does not recognise him; she does not understand that he has arisen. He asks her the same question as the angels, “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” The same question, the same intent. This is not meant to hurt, but to challenge. This question is meant to direct Mary to see what she so desperately needs to understand. She practically runs right into Jesus; her Lord, her master, the person she came here to mourn, the person she is looking for, and he asks her, “Who is it you are looking for?” He is telling her, “I am here. Seek no more, you have found me.” She still does not see. She is still living in the darkness of her grief, of her life, of his death. So Jesus gentle addresses her the same way he had countless times before. He looks upon her and softly says, “Mary.” And like the blinding rays of the sun early on that morning, understanding dawns in Mary. Her grief is overcome with joy. Her sadness is turned into rejoicing.
Mary flings herself at her Lord, her teacher, her Rabboni. She has him back, and she will never let him go. She will never let that happen again. She clings to him with all her might. Gently, but insistently Jesus pries Mary away from him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Christ is arisen, and there is power in his blood.
Jesus has died and arisen, and so the relationship between man and God has changed. God is no longer only Jesus's father, but he is also the disciples's father. On Friday we looked at why we call the day of Christ's death on the cross Good Friday. Why would we celebrate the execution of our king, of our leader, of our hope. We call that day good, because on that day the work of Christ was completed. The debt was paid. The perfect lamb was sacrificed. The will of God was fulfilled. Christ cried out “It is finished,” and the work of restoration was complete.
The Lord of the Universe, the Great King “Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one, has been resurrected from the dead. He has been exalted to the highest place, the right hand of the Father. Mary went to the tomb while it was still dark, to seek for the dead body of Christ, but he was not there. He had arisen. He had fulfilled all that was required of him. He had given himself on behalf of all of us sinners. He had borne the punishment of sin which we had brought upon ourselves. He had tasted the bitter taste of death, but it could not hold him. Death had no claim on him. He broke the bonds of death and opened the way for life. Though it may seem that our world is still dark. Though it may seem that Caesar rules the world. Though it may seem that the power of the Romans reaches even to the life of Christ. Though it may seem that the resurrection has had little effect. Though it may seem that our world is ruled by demonic powers. Christ has arisen, and he is telling us, “Despite all appearances to the contrary, I am the King. I have conquered all.”
Christ is not some impotent little deity. Christ is not a god who wants to do so much but is curtailed by almighty man, or almighty Satan. Christ is not one who wants to do so much but is frustrated and defeated and can only do so little. Christ is the sovereign king. In the words of St. Paul;
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.(Colossians 1:15-23, NIV)
Christ has reconciled us to God. If you would be saved, it must be through faith in Christ. If you are to be saved, it will be by sovereign grace; it will not be by your merit, it will not be by your working, by your baptism, by your religion, by your activity, by your giving, by your praying, or by your anything. If you will be saved it will be through Christ. All saving grace is in Christ, all saving grace is through Christ, all saving grace is administered by Christ. He is the one mediator between God and man; there is no other way, there is no other truth, there is no other life, there is no other salvation. He is not one way to heaven, he is the only way. He is not one way of understanding God, he is the only way of understanding God.
There is power in the blood of the lamb. There is power in name of Christ. There is power in the resurrection. There is power in the word of Christ. Remember how Lazarus was raised from the dead? Christ called to him in the tomb, after he had been dead four days, he called to him, “Lazarus, come out!” Imagine trying something like that yourself. Imagine going to the tomb of a deceased loved one and called to him or her, “Come out!” What would happen? Nothing. Bring all the preachers, all the pastors, all the priests, bring all the holy water of Rome, bring all the creeds and all the confessions, bring all the religious exercises, bring all the fury of human emotions to bear, and what will happen? Nothing. Yet Jesus called to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” and out he came. There is power in the word of the king. And this king is no longer in the tomb. This king is no longer dead. This king has been raised to new life and reigns at the right hand of the throne of God. “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, come with me while it is still dark. Come with me while your life seems hopeless. Come with me to the garden. See the tomb that is empty. See the empty grave clothes. “Why are you crying? Who is it you are seeking?” Of you are seeking fulfilment, if you are seeking hope, if you are seeking meaning, if you are seeking love, Come with me to the garden and meet your risen Lord.
Let us Pray