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Easter Day 2009

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Theme: The glorious life after death

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we gather here this morning to hear once again the story of your son’s glorious resurrection; let this story re-instill in us the hope of life eternal and one day, we will be with you and your son, through whom we pray, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In John’s gospel, the group of women who go to the tomb is reduced to one, Mary Magdalene. It was early on the first day of the week, before sunrise. In spite of the darkness, Mary found her way to the tomb and when she got there, she saw that the stone covering the tomb was rolled away. In John, it is not the women who come to anoint Jesus’ body, it was already done by Nicodemus. We are not told why Mary goes to the tomb.

The first thought that comes to Mary’s mind is, “grave robbers.” Mary assumes that the body was stolen. She merely looks into the tomb. She did not go into the tomb. Mary immediately ran off to tell Peter about this calamitous event.

Another, an unnamed disciple, is with Peter at the time. They both run off toward the tomb. The unnamed disciple reaches the tomb first. He looks in and sees Jesus’ burial clothes in a pile. It must have been like a teenager’s room. He doesn’t go in. Impulsively, Peter doesn’t stop at the entrance, he goes in. Peter saw the burial clothes. But he also saw the cloth that covered Jesus’ face, rolled up and in a place by itself. Grave robbers would not have left the clothes behind.

The unnamed disciple went in, saw the scene, and then believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Neither he nor Peter had put this news into the context of the Old Testament though. They do not yet grasp the significance of the empty tomb. The two of them went back to the other disciples, leaving Mary weeping outside the tomb.

Sometime, perhaps minutes, perhaps seconds, later, Mary Magdalene looks in the tomb and sees two angels. I don’t know if Mary saw an angel before or how she would recognize one if she saw one. They were dressed in white, sitting where Jesus’ body was laid. Perhaps the angels didn’t want to talk to the two men.

The angels asked Mary why she was crying. Mary told them because someone stole Jesus’ body and it is missing. Then Mary turns around and there is another man standing there. It’s Jesus, but Mary didn’t recognize him. After all, Jesus is dead, right?

Jesus also asks Mary why she is crying. Mary asks him, if he stole Jesus’ body to please tell her where it is. Mary was very perceptive. Jesus did steal Jesus’ body. And it’s right in front of her!

Jesus calls her name and she recognizes his voice. She says, “Rabboni,” which means Rabbi or teacher in Aramaic. Since Jesus has yet to ascend into heaven, he doesn’t want to be touched. Mary is not to keep Jesus for herself. She is to share with others the good news of the risen Christ. Jesus instructs Mary to tell his disciples that he is going to God the Father. Mary does as she is told and tells Jesus’ friends what he said and what she had seen.

“In His Resurrection Jesus has not only broken the bonds of sin and death, but also the limitation of space and time and the weaknesses of earthly existence. By the power of God He has wrought a new creation, a new order. He is now returning to His Father. Mary is to cling to Him when this journey is completed and He is in perfect union with the Father. Through the Spirit, she will then abide in Christ and “cling” to Him as her permanent place of abiding.”[1]

Mary Magdalene is called the Apostle to the apostles. Mary is the one who was entrusted by Jesus to tell the good news of his resurrection. Contrary to popular, non-biblical opinion, Mary was not a prostitute. Mary was faithful when the male disciples abandoned Jesus. She was at the foot of the cross. She went to the tomb after the sabbath was over. Out of place for her culture, Mary Magdalene, a woman, was chosen by Jesus to be one of the leaders of his movement.

In this story, we are not talking about resuscitation. It is not reincarnation. It is not a return to things the way they were before. Jesus is going to God the Father. They are a unity, which John reminds us over and over again. Easter is the heart of the Christian faith. Death is dead. We are promised a much better life after this one. And that life is in eternal bliss with God. We hear the story again and through that story we hear Jesus call the name of the one he loved and we will shout again, “I have seen the Lord!”

Edward F. Markquart offers this for us, “In many ways, we are like those first disciples, so it seems to me.  We are like (Mary) coming to the grave that day.  (She) had heard the promise of Jesus that on the third day, the Son of Man would be raised from the dead by the Powers of God. (She) had heard his promise to the thief on the cross, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’  They had heard Jesus teach, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die.’ 

“Nevertheless, on that morning when (she) came to the grave, (she) came expecting death, did (she) not?  When (she) came that morning to the grave, in spite of all of Jesus’ promises, (she) came expecting death.  And I am suspicious that you and I are like (Mary).  Even though we have heard the promises of God. 

“Yes, we have heard the promises over and over again (like) on the third day I will rise; today you will be with me in paradise; I am the resurrection and the life. We have heard these promises but we come to our graves, and like (Mary) on that first Sunday morning, we are expecting death. 

“For deep down in everyone’s soul is a pessimism that believes that this is all there is. They put you in a box; they put you in that grave; and in time the box and the vault will decay, and your body will decay like all the others.

“Why do we have this inner feeling, this inner pessimism?  Sigmund Freud calls it the ‘death instinct.’  Common to all human beings and all animals, and human beings are part of the animal kingdom, we have this instinct.  Deep down inside is this fear that this is all there is.  And so we come to the graves of life, the graves of our mothers and fathers, and grandmas and grandpas; we come to the deathbeds of life, and we finally come to our own deathbed and we quietly pray:  ‘I believe, help my unbelief.’ And we die.

“We sleep.  And then…then…we awake and say…”Hooooly cow!!! It is so incredibly beautiful!!! Stunned. Breathless.  And we are astonished and astounded, amazed and awestruck, dazzled and dumbfounded the beauty that God has prepared for you and me. The Apostle Paul was right when he said, ‘No eye can see, no ear can hear, no mind can imagine the good and wonderful things that God has prepared for us.’”

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks and praise for the gift of eternal life; by forgiving our sins, we are now able to be with you throughout eternity, in and through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
20 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. 2 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to looka into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,b “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’ ” 18 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.

[2]


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[1]Fredrikson, R. L., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1985). Vol. 27: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 27: John. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (274). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

a  Gk lacks to look

b  That is, Aramaic

[2]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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