Easter 2021 John 20:1:18

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. 8 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.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

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.

If you saw the last time I spoke, it was also from the book of John. I said then that John is all about who Jesus IS. John often shows us this Jesus with word pictures. We see how Jesus interacts with the disciples, with the pharisees, with people who are sick, in need, poor, dealing with demons. To me, John continuing to show us who Jesus is, after Jesus had died, is a clue. Jesus still IS and John is still showing us. And today we will look at Resurrection Day through the eyes of one person.

Imagine what this must have been like.  It has been the worst week of all bad weeks. This Jesus whom the disciples loved, traveled with, their teacher, who had called them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, had been nailed to a cross, between two thieves. They had been through Friday. The bad news. The job lost. The marriage, broken. The unwanted diagnosis. 

The horror of His death and now fearing that they too will be arrested – Saturday. Prayers prayed and what was the answer? Silence. Marriage still broken. No job and bills piling up. No miracle healing for the unwanted diagnosis. Saturday. The time between despair and joy. Yesterday I got to participate in hiding Easter eggs and then watching children run around finding them, watching their excitement as they filled their baskets with something sweet. I was thinking about how appropriate to fill that time of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday with doing something for others because it doesn’t make Good Friday any less horrible, but it fills the time between catastrophe and heavenly response and it takes our mind from ourselves and our sadness and turns it to something or someone else and gives us moments of happiness. Between darkness and light. Between confusion and clarity.

Where are you God? Why don’t you answer? You failed me!  I picture them remembering conversations with Jesus. Rethinking everything in light of His death. Recalling every word they said to Him. Wishing they had asked more questions. Grieving. The unthinkable. Jesus failed. Even the bible doesn’t say much about Saturday, just that guards were posted to watch over the tomb. 

And then while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene ran to the tomb which is probably just a cave in the rocks. Even in darkness, even when heaven seems to be silent, Mary Magdalene runs to the last place she knew Jesus to be. When she finds that the stone has been rolled away from the front of the tomb she runs to tell Peter and the one whom Jesus loved which historians traditionally say is John. They also ran to the tomb and John got there first and bent down to look in. A translation I read said that the word used for “look” in this context, meant he was looking intently. He is looking at the wrappings and he is thinking, trying to figure out why grave robbers would leave the burial linens behind? Peter goes into the tomb and sees the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was rolled up and sitting by itself. They believed and then they went home. 

I remember sitting on a bench with my mother in front of my father’s grave. The funeral was over and everyone had gone home.  It was sad and peaceful and we held hands. We didn’t say much. I knew my mom just needed that few moments. And then we too, went home. I wonder, if sometimes, heaven is silent to give us time. 

Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb in tears and she looked in the tomb and saw two angels where the body of Jesus had been. When she turned around there was Jesus, but she thought he was the gardener! She didn’t recognize Him.

Now a little background on Mary. Luke tells us a little bit. Luke 8:1-2 Tells us: Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

Mark 5:1-5 gives us a picture of what someone with demons might have been like. “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.  He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;  for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.”

The tombs may have been very familiar to Mary.

Now Mary is questioning this man that she thinks is the gardener. And Jesus doesn’t yell “SURPRISE!” and he doesn’t say “It’s me, Jesus!” He is kind. He says HER name. He loves her.

You know these days we are all about self. We are supposed to figure out who we are and what is wrong with us and then we can choose from thousands of self help books and try to make ourselves better. Commercials on television, ads on the internet, all offer to help us be the very best that we can be. Because the person we wish to be, never seems to live up to how the world sees us. We are too fat, too thin, too short, too old, too young, too sad, too mad, too happy. Too whatever. Even people who love us and often affirm us can be the source of pain when we think we do not live up to who they think we should be. Our identity is a mixture of who we think we are, and who others think we are or at least what we think they think. It’s very confusing.

But in the moment that Jesus says her name – she has clarity and her identity. Her identity in Jesus. She recognizes him and she sees herself. And she understands much, much, more. 

You see, even though she had followed Jesus and listened to him teaching and personally experienced a miracle, she came to the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus. Even Peter and John, peering into the empty tomb at the linen wrappings, at first, were trying to reason out what could have happened to Jesus body. 

Everything in our upbringing, our hearts and minds, the world, our culture, tells us to shrink Jesus. And you could almost do that. The Christmas story is about Jesus the baby. Jesus’ life is filled with stories and healing and things that are supposed to make us uncomfortable but they are things that can often be reasoned about, explained away. Until the resurrection. That changes everything, once for all and for always.

Both Peter and John and Mary Magdalene came looking for a small Jesus. A Jesus that they could understand. A Jesus that they loved and saw as an extraordinary person. But in the moment that Mary recognized the risen Savior. she was forever changed.

And what a picture this is! The first person to see the resurrected Christ was a woman, someone who had probably been mentally ill, homeless, not exactly an upstanding member of the church and not only was she the first human to see the risen Jesus, she was the first to be told to go and tell. She was His messenger!

There is a quote by author Annie Dillard that is how I picture Mary Magdalene. “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”

Mary Magdalene was a bell. You are a bell!

What are some of the messages in this?

  1. There is grace. It is not what we do to fix ourselves or make ourselves better, because even if we have the desire, Paul tells us in Romans 7:15-18  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

It is the work of Jesus. Period.

  1. Jesus makes deliberate decisions to do the will of God. He doesn’t accidentally get baptized. He doesn’t accidentally get tested by satan. He doesn’t accidentally call His disciples. He doesn’t accidentally ride into Jerusalem on a donkey during Passover when Pilate was riding in a military procession. Two very different pictures of power. Jesus did not accidentally die on the cross. If we follow this logic, Jesus did not accidentally reveal Himself to Mary instead of to Peter or John. We are saved by the grace and work of Jesus Christ but our growing in faith happens because of deliberate decisions that we make every day, sometimes, every moment.
  2. Jesus gives Himself to all of us. He comes gently. He does not muscle His way in or give us flashing signs. Mary Magdalene couldn’t see Jesus until he revealed Himself to her.  He said her name. If we are to make disciples of all the world, as the great commission says, we have the perfect example of how to go about that. Jesus healed the illness Mary Magdalene was dealing with but He did not stop there. She went to the tomb while it was still dark. She knew Him. When He said her name, she knew Jesus. He knew her. That speaks of relationship, not just a good deed to check off some divine list. 
  3. We understand the baby Jesus. We sort of understand, the living Jesus. We are uncomfortable with the crucified Jesus. We are changed when we recognize the risen Jesus.  Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to Him. It would be human nature to want to keep Him there, to keep Him small. Jesus has bigger things to do. Kingdom things! He sends the Holy Spirit to help us, and once we have heard Jesus call our name, we are changed and we have kingdom things to do as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we deliberately choose to make kingdom choices.
  4. And last, It is Sunday. Without the resurrection, we as a people, might survive our Good Fridays. We might deal with our Saturdays, no matter how long they last. But when we believe, we as people of faith, have the hope that Sunday will come. 

Today, Jesus is risen! Everything is different. We see a cycle of birth, life, and death. Jesus defies our little cycle and says, wait. There is more. Hold on to hope through the silence. Jesus had a Saturday. Heaven was silent. But when the answer came it was eternal. 

Today a homeless person with a dodgy past and some mental issues, could come up to you and say, I have seen the Lord. The tomb is empty! He is not dead! He is risen! Today, you with your own imperfections, might be the one who is the living Jesus, for someone else because the power of the Holy Spirit is in you! Today, Jesus is saying your name. He loves you. Do you recognize him?

Prayer

Father, open our eyes that we would see You when You are standing in front of us, no matter what form You come in. Open our ears so that we recognize Your voice when You call our name. Fill us with the Holy Spirit because we know that tomorrow, Easter is over. The world is noisy, clamoring for our attention. Many of us are in the midst of our own Saturdays and need reminders of Easter. We need help to make those deliberate decisions to follow You. Help us also to see the Mary Magdalenes and all of those who pass by just in the corner of our vision, the ones that Jesus would not only call by name, but would call friends. Help us to see every single day, that here is where we practice faith, a rehearsal for Your kingdom. We are so grateful for your love, for your grace, for joy, for the work You did on the cross that we never tire of telling Your story, of learning more about You, of singing of Your glory, of being Your friends. We serve a risen, living savior. Amen.

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