The Greatest News Ever Shared! John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday’s without doubt, one of my favorite days of the year (and Easter is my favorite holiday by far!). It’s a day to celebrate... a day to hold fast to - and proclaim - with confidence - the greatest story ever told... and to affirm the assurance of our Faith:
“Christ is risen... Christ is risen, indeed.”
So we gather today... doing what most of us have always done... we’ve put on our best clothes... we’ve gathered in God’s House... we’re singing old standards of the faith... and many (if not most) of us will gather with family and friends around dinner tables...
But the people we encounter in our Gospel lesson, at the tomb, knew nothing of all that. NONE of them had gathered for a joyous proclamation of faith! They weren’t having springtime thoughts about planting flowers... or dying “Easter Eggs” or filling baskets with candy! None of those things ever crossed their minds.
FACT is... they were living a nightmare... having experienced the most tragic event they could’ve possibly imagined. And because of what they’d witnessed... the betrayal, the arrest, the flogging, the crucifixion, the death and burial of their Lord... they still found themselves very much in the middle of the story... fresh and raw... come the third day...
Mary Magdalene was the first person at the tomb that morning... according to the Gospel... and it was still dark when she got there (dark in more ways than one).
Of course, she hadn’t come to check on Jesus... to see if Jesus' body was still there. That was a foregone conclusion... an assumption based on the fact that she’d watched Jesus die... she was a witness to his hasty burial in a borrowed tomb. So... Mary had made her way to that tomb, that first Easter Sunday... to grieve, to mourn...
I’m sure sleep... rest... had been difficult... and if you’ve ever grieved you know the feeling. Mary’s whole world had come crashing down around her. She had placed all her hope and trust and faith and love in Christ, and now he was dead. It didn’t seem possible... it didn’t seem real... but it was... painfully real... numbingly real...
So when she arrived at the tomb... and found that the stone had been rolled away... she ran... and running (I imagine) as fast as she could, she found two of Jesus’ friends... and panicked, she said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”
So, Peter and “the other disciple” - most likely John - did some running of their own. And when they reached the tomb... they saw the grave clothes lying there, but no Jesus. And even though they had some notion about what had happened... all they did... according to the Gospel... was go back home. All we know about their state of mind... for sure... is that Peter and John “saw and believed.”
Of course, it was Mary, who stayed... lingering at the tomb... after Peter and John had gone. She’d come to grieve... and grieving was what she’d do.
I imagine, at this point, Mary was totally convinced someone had taken Jesus’ body...
So as she grieved... as she sobbed... a voice - from a angel or two... broke through Mary’s weeping, “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary’s grief was so desperate, her “state-of-mind” so sorrowful, she was so despondent... she didn’t recognize what was taking place before her eyes! She apparently didn’t realize angels were speaking to her... and moments later, when asked the same question by Jesus... she thought he was the gardener.
Imagine how emotionally compromised Mary must have been, been, to NOT recognize Jesus. Her mind was so fixed on what had been...
That she couldn’t see what WAS...
But all that was about to change!
Jesus was about to break Mary out of her grief and despair/despondency... with a simple word. It was her name. “Mary.” It doesn’t get more personal than that.
At that moment, her hope, and life, and faith... was restored! She recognized Him! Her long night was over... and her grief and tears were turned to joy!
And now here we are, over 2,000 years later. We’ve gathered in church today to celebrate that same joy... that same Resurrection hope!
And, yes, we’re dressed up and we’re singing those old familiar hymns, and yes... a goodly portion of us will very likely have a good dinner before it’s all over.
But... in reality... aren’t we are shockingly like Mary Magdalene in many ways? Maybe in ways we’ve never really considered!
After all... don’t we all carry around a lifetime of grief in our souls? Maybe it’s the loss of loved ones that causes us grief... that’s certainly a grief that stays with us, and never really goes away.
But our grief comes from other sources, too. Maybe it’s the frustrations and disappointments we have suffered in our lives. It could even be the weight of our own sinfulness, the bad choices we have made along the way... the mistakes we’ve made... or the wounds inflicted by others. It could even be the physical limitations and ailments we’re forced to endure, that weigh us down with grief. It could be our shame... our lack of forgiveness... our lack of commitment... WE GRIEVE!
Of course, we believe that Christ is risen! We know that we have cause for great joy this Easter Day. But the grief is there, too.
But then... there’s Jesus... coming to us in the very middle of our grief and pain... who calls us by name. Reminding us of who, and Whose we are! Giving us a reason to find “joy in the morning!”
Today, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we can rest assured... that as Jesus reveals himself... personally... intimately... in your life, and in mine... he will ease our grief... and restore our joy, and renew our life! The resurrection is NOT just something we remember or commemorate... it’s something we know... it’s something we experience... it’s something we live... as Christ calls us... by name... He declares we are his! And that nothing... not even death... can change that!
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!
Of course, our renewed life comes with a mission... a purpose! Notice what Mary did next. Following the Lord’s command, she went to the disciples and said: “I have seen the Lord.” And she told them everything that Jesus had said to her. You and I have been called to do no less.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!
It’s not enough to simply KNOW that Christ is Risen!
And it’s not enough to be personally restored to new life in Christ (having been delivered from grief & despair)...
YOU and I... like Mary... are called to SHARE what we know, and what we’ve experienced... to SHARE the Greatest News of all... with others! We’re called to share the RESURRECTION!
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed! Amen.