Sermon John 20:1-18
The disciple Mary Magdalene serves as our guide this Easter morning. Her journey to resurrection faith was not an easy stroll in the park: it was full of fears and tears. But by the end of her time at the tomb this day, she was a different person, with a whole new outlook on life. In the details of her journey, we see God at work.
I. John tells us that Mary went while it was still dark.
A. She was so eager to be where the body of the Lord was that she didn’t wait for sunrise. Her devotion to him, and her powerful grief, compelled her to go long before a hint of dawn.
B. Symbolically, too, Mary was “in the dark”. Distraught as she was, and numb with grief, she stumbled along, hardly knowing what she was doing.
C. But she was also in the dark about the truth of Easter: she had no thought of the possibility that Jesus would rise from the tomb. Truly, it was well before dawn for Mary.
II. When she was very close to the tomb, she realized to her horror that the stone had been rolled away.
A. In her mind, this could only mean one thing: someone had come and removed the body of Jesus.
B. Grave robbers were a real menace in those days. Mary seems automatically to assume foul play.
C. This new “loss” heaped fresh pain on her, and she went into a panic.
III. Without even looking inside the tomb, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple.
A. Thus, the first announcement of the empty tomb was not the heralding of Good News. It was a cry of fear and dismay, based on an unexamined assumption.
B. So many of our anxieties in life stem from wrong assumptions, and from jumping to conclusions. Our Easter faith can help us to have confidence in the One who overcomes death, and the One who is sovereign all the things that can consume us with worry and fear.
C. Mary Magdalene’s misguided assumption led her to interpret the evidence in a certain way. Others looking at the same scene could reach a completely different conclusion. She said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him”.
1.This statement is interesting: she believes more than one person is involved in the removal of the body; and she projects her confusion onto all when she says, “WE don’t know where”. Neither of these notions seems to square with what she would soon learn.
IV. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb—but unlike Mary they actually went in to see for themselves.
A. By investigating further, they were able to gather more “evidence” than Mary had to go on.
B. We are told the odd detail concerning the head cover, that it was neatly folded and placed apart by itself.
C. This unimportant-seeming bit of data actually brings the “beloved” disciple to faith. This disciple realized that no grave robber or disturber of the peace would take the time to do that.
1. John informs us, none of them as yet had a ‘scripture-based’ faith in the resurrection.
V. A piece of cloth was enough to cause one of them to believe; but not even angels in white were enough to make Mary question her version of what had happened.
A. Her inability to see other possibilities prevents her from realizing who is asking her, “Why do you weep?” She does not stop to wonder, “What in the world are they doing in here?”
B. Turning around, perhaps peering into the sunlight from the darkness of the tomb, she does not even recognize Jesus!
C. Jesus too asks her, why do you weep? Then, Who are you looking for?
1. She was of course looking for the body, to care for it; but Jesus stands before her as the living Christ.
2. The resurrection means we have a hope that far exceeds the expectations we have for human existence. The One who “wipes away every tear” brings us the surprising promise of life, even at the grave. Where, O grave is your victory? Where, O death, your sting? …Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
VI. Mary thought he was the gardener—a case of mistaken identity.
A. She finally recognizes Jesus when he speaks her name. “Mary”. The “power of the personal” opened her eyes to the reality of the living Christ. She called him “Rabboni”—a name by which she knew him in his “earthly” body.
B. Faith is an intensely personal thing. It is about the love of God who knows us intimately, and calls us each by name. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice”.
C. We each must respond as individuals to the love of God in Jesus Christ, and to his call and claim on our lives.
VII. But, while it is personal, the resurrection faith is not private.
A. Jesus said something odd to Mary: “Do not hold on to me”.
B. What did he mean? Soon he would ascend to the Father. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples would change as a result. She should not attempt to keep him “on earth”.
C. In a certain sense, “Do not hold on to me” meant, don’t try to keep faith a private thing. Be open to the new mission my people will all have after I ascend to our Father.
D. The message he entrusts to Mary is not, “Tell them that I am alive”, important as that is. It is, “Tell them that I am ascending to my Father, and to your Father, to my God and to your God.”
VIII. Mary has finally been released from her shock and grief.
A. She is a new person, full of new faith, given a job to do—to “herald” the news to the others.
B. Her first words to the other disciples are deeply personal: “I have seen the Lord”. This personal encounter, his calling her by name, has made all the difference in her life. She is a witness now.
C. Then she goes on to share the message Jesus had given her: Christ is Lord—and we are the Father’s children because of him!
D. This was a missionary message, which was not to be “held” selfishly in private. It was, and is, meant to be shared with the world.
Mary started this Easter day in darkness, so wrapped up in her own grief that she could not see the new thing that had come to pass. That all changed when the risen Lord drew near, and called her by name. She left her lonely place of mourning, and hastened to join the other disciples. Her message had been “They have taken him away”. But now she declared with radiant faith, “I have seen the Lord!”