Sermon for Easter Sunday – March 27th, 2016

Text: John 20:1-18

The Resurrection of Jesus

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag′dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away 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.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths 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 know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” 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, “Rab-bo′ni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18 Mary Mag′dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Yes! He is! Today, we are once again gathered here to observe and celebrate that most important event in all of human history.

“[The disciples’] witness never wavered. Rather, they experienced an amazing power that even enabled them to work miracles! The lives and message of these men changed the course of human history.

“No reasonable explanation has ever been given to account for their transformed lives, except their own: they had seen Jesus alive.”[1]

So wrote one Robert L. Cleath in an article titled “Hope in the Midst of Horror.” I think he’s nailed it.

And our old friend, Mark Link, also nails it when he writes the following: “Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, his distraught, defeated disciples were amazingly and inexplicably transformed. They set out ecstatically and courageously, shouting to all the world, ‘Jesus is risen! Jesus is risen!’

“Had they been deluded or dishonest about their claim, certainly one or more of the eleven would have confessed this under the pressure of death. But none did!”[2]

I’ve already mentioned a few times the phenomenal book, The Search for the Twelve Apostles, by William Steuart McBirnie, Ph.D., in which McBirnie – after a lifetime of research – tells us exactly what happened to each of the Apostles after their recorded activities in Acts; and what he discovered bears out what we just heard from both Robert L. Cleath and Mark Link: These men went to the ends of the known world, faced threats of murder, braved hostile natives, travelled thousands of miles on foot in all kinds of weather, dealt with strange languages and cultures – and they did all of it because of what they witnessed on that first Easter morning some two thousand years ago. We simply can’t stress or emphasize this enough: These men were changed by what they had seen and experienced, changed to the core of their beings, and felt driven to tell the whole world about what they had seen God do before their very eyes. And they did, they did indeed, change the course of human history. Without them, we would be the people the Apostle Paul described as “those who grieve who have no hope.”

By any measure, this is a remarkable story. It is remarkable because it’s been told and retold for the last twenty centuries by people just like us, people who have kept it alive, people who have kept the flame of faith burning in defiance of the darkness, sometimes against great opposition.

It is remarkable because it’s true.

But we need to step back for just a second and recognize that even those courageous disciples – now called the Apostles – didn’t themselves realize at first what had actually taken place. Mary’s first words to Simon Peter and the other disciple are not, “The Lord is risen,” but “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” And then Simon Peter and the other disciple rush as fast as they can back to the tomb to see for themselves, and, sure enough, the body’s gone. They’re confused, they’re frightened – what can this possibly mean? Why would anybody do this? For them, this is not a resurrection event, but rather a case of body-snatching! John tells us that the other disciple – “the one whom Jesus loved” – sees the linens neatly folded and believes, whereas Simon Peter just plain doesn’t get it, because John tells us “as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” I find this really curious, because Jesus has been saying little else to his disciples for months!

Which brings us back to the phrase “people just like us.” Has it ever happened to you that someone you trust implicitly tells you something, not once, not twice, but maybe a hundred times, and you just can’t bring yourself to really believe it? For example, our kids, especially our daughters, when they’re in that awkward stage of early adolescence, struggle with their self-image. They look at the fashion magazines and see images of girls their age, girls who are beautiful, flawless, and unblemished, and they feel inadequate (they don’t realize that all of those photographs have been airbrushed!). No matter how many times you tell them how pretty they are, or how talented, or how sweet, or how smart, they just can’t take it to heart. They don’t see it themselves, and so they don’t believe it.

The same is true with our sons – they see athletes, for example, on TV, or rugged movie stars, doing amazing things, and they feel that they’ll never get to that level. They’ll just never measure up – they can’t throw a football like that, or sink a free throw effortlessly from mid-court. No matter how many times you tell them that they have so much going for them, that they’re talented and smart, and just plain wonderful human beings, they just can’t bring themselves to believe it.

And it’s not just our kids, either. We adults are the exactly the same. When we look around and see others less deserving (we think) getting ahead, or when we when experience things that we just don’t deserve, it’s hard for us to listen to others who tell us, “none of that matters – you’re a great person! You’ve got so much to be thankful for!” We thank them for their kind words – but we don’t believe them. It’s just not in us.

So when we read about Simon Peter shaking his head in total incomprehension or Mary mistaking the risen Christ for the gardener, we can nod in understanding; we get it, because that’s us.

But God always surprises us. God does not choose perfect people (probably because there aren’t any); God chooses imperfect people, people with flaws, common people, people just like us, and makes them perfect instruments to carry out his plan. And he calls us, by name, and we answer:

Just as I am, without one plea

But that thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou bidd’st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Which brings us back to that garden, to the moment when Jesus calls Mary by name, and she recognizes him. That was the precise moment when the whole world changed, and not just for Mary, but for all of us, too.

Suddenly, her tears were replaced by a sunny smile and the breathless word “rabboni!” – teacher. Her sadness was now just a memory, and hope – incredible, miraculous hope – filled her being. And Jesus then commands her to go back and tell the others what she has heard and seen – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just as I am, though tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fightings and fears, within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

What is weighing on you this morning? What burdens did you bring here today? What guilt? What sorrows? Whatever they are, hear this: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is calling you now by name. He is addressing you personally in a tender voice. He is reaching out to draw you to himself and reconnect you to those who love you.

So today, listen for that voice. Respond to that call. Let today be the day when all those things that have oppressed you disappear. Let God’s unending love usher you into a whole new world.

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] Cleath, Robert L., quoted in Link, Mark, S.J., Jesus: A Contemporary Walk with Jesus, Allen, TX, Resources for Christian Living, 1997, p. 114

[2] Ibid.