The Resurrection of JesusJohn 20:1-18 (NRSVUE)
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’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 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 touch 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.
Friends, we made it! It’s Easter Sunday! Our preparations during the season of Lent are completed. Our emotional journey through Holy Week is over, and the prophecies of old have come true. The tomb where Jesus was laid is empty. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Let us all shout, Alleluia!
Okay, now I know how exciting Easter can be, and though Easter is central to our Christian faith, the Easter message can be a strange message to preach. Because to us, Easter is a day of great joy, a day of amazing inspiration, a day when we are assured of God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and God’s unconditional love for all. It’s a day of celebration when we learn that death never has the last word and that because of our faith, we are called, not to live in fear but to live lives of hope. After all the tomb is empty, my friends! Jesus is risen! And we are called to go out and share that good news with the world. “Alleluia?” “Alleluia!”
But it is also a day filled with extreme emotion. We are filled with such joy, celebration, and excitement that all we want to do is praise God and wave our fabric strips, shouting, “Alleluia!” But if we look back to our scripture reading and we really pay attention to what is happening, we hear the story in a very different light, don’t we? So, it is important for us to remember that it is all about perspective and the way that we see and understand the world around us.
In the Gospel of John, we hear, “…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 rolled away.” Now though when we hear about the empty tomb, and we shout Alleluia, can’t you imagine that Mary was nervous and unsure of what had happened? You see, we know the rest of the story, but Mary did not.
Scripture says that she ran to get Simon Peter and the other disciple and said to them, “…they have taken our Lord from the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Now, Mary does not say this, filled with joy. On the contrary, she was concerned and afraid because she didn’t know where Jesus’ body was. Well, then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. Scripture says, “…they were running together. And Peter and the other disciple bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but at first, they did not go in.”
Why didn’t they go in? Were they afraid? Scripture goes on to say, “…then finally Peter went in, and the other disciple followed, and he saw and believed; but they did not yet understand, so the disciples returned to their homes.” Can’t you imagine that they must have been incredibly frightened and confused, wondering what in the world was going to happen next?
But Mary, Mary did not leave with the disciples. She stood weeping outside the tomb. Now I’m sure that she was sad that Jesus had died. I’m sure she was concerned that she couldn’t find his body. And I’m sure she was frustrated that nothing seemed to be making sense. But 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.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I unexpectedly saw two angels, I think I would be more than a little frightened as well. After all, that’s why angels usually say, “Do not be afraid,” isn’t it? Because human beings are usually surprised and frightened at the sight of them.
“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?'” At this point, Mary must have been so frustrated. Actually, it sounds as though she may have been a little desperate and possibly even defensive. “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).” And finally, in that moment, Mary’s eyes were opened, and she was filled with an incredible sense of awe, relief, and excitement when she realized that it was him!
Folks, it is easy to see and understand when we look back at something that we experienced in the past because once we know the whole story, it’s much clearer. But in the moment, we don’t always see clearly what is happening right in front of us. As they say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” That’s why Mary and the disciples were worried and concerned at the sight of the empty tomb, while we are filled with joy, and we shout “Alleluia!” because we know the whole story. Again, my friends, it’s all about perspective and how we see and understand the world around us.
In addition to hearing the Easter story today, we also heard a storybook called Do You Believe in Unicorns. Now I don’t know how many of you believe in unicorns, but that story was just one more example to us of how we often see what we expect to see. If we believe that we are seeing a horse, we see a horse. But if we believe that we are seeing a unicorn, many times, we are able to see a unicorn. The problem is, we don’t often see beyond our expectations. Mary did not expect to see Jesus alive, so she assumed that the man that she saw outside of the tomb was a gardener.
Friends, often our fear, doubt, and struggle blind us from the sacred moments, the mystery, and the beauty all around us. And that is why the empty tomb on Easter is so important! Folks, the resurrection is about opening our hearts and our minds to that which is beyond our expectations, allowing us to see the world around us through fresh new eyes–eyes of Hope and possibility rather than fear, doubt, and despair, seeing things that we might not have seen before because we simply didn’t expect to see them, opening our hearts to the mysteries of life and beyond so that we might experience holy moments not someday, but every single day of our lives. The resurrection is not about what will happen when we die, but on the contrary, it’s about opening our eyes so that we might live! It’s about living lives of hope, joy, and possibility here and now. It’s about seeing new possibilities on each step of our journey and experiencing “alleluia moments” that fill us with utter joy!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, pay attention to what is happening right in front of you, and expect to see amazing things! Because when you allow your heart and your mind to be truly open, you just might be surprised by the “alleluia moments” that you begin to see in your everyday life.
Here in the church, we celebrate Easter for the next fifty days, between Easter and Pentecost, which we affectionately call “The Great Fifty Days!” And I have a “Great Fifty Days” homework assignment for all of you. I want you to pay attention to the everyday moments in your life, and for the next fifty days, I want you to expect to see the extraordinary. Open your hearts and your minds to the possibilities and the mysteries of life, and then look for something each and every day that fills you with joy and causes you to shout Alleluia!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!