by Elaine Maust
John 20: 1-18
April 8, 2007
The first Easter was a day of incredible celebration for Jesus’ friends. But it didn’t start out that way. Turn with me to John 20:1-18.
It was still dark that morning when Mary Magdalene went down to visit the grave.
What had the past few days been like for Mary? She must have still been in the blinding pain from the sudden death of someone she loved. But it was more than just losing a friend. This was Jesus who had saved her life from the demons that haunted her. (Luke 8:1-3) This was Jesus, who she knew to be The Lord. She was so confident of his importance, so grateful for her deliverance that her days were spent following him around the countryside, supporting his Kingdom campaign.
And let’s be honest about her loss. It wasn’t as if Jesus collapsed with a heart attack. He was murdered. And she had been there to watch. To watch the whole horrific thing. I don’t want to describe what she saw that day. You can read about it in John 19. Besides, you probably already know the story.
Jesus male friends panicked after he died. Well, before really. Most of them took the opportunity to escape when Jesus was arrested. (Mark 14:50) They all deserted him. Ran for their lives, most of them did, while they had the chance. Who can blame them? Now, three days later, they are locked up, (John 20:19) in hiding. If all this horror had happened to Jesus, what was in ahead for them?
We know what was ahead. I want to run up the steps to the room where they were hiding, to bust up into that room to say, “Guys, hey listen to me! Just three more days. He’s coming back. Wait, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid.”
They didn’t know. (John 20:9)
Have you been there before? Locked up somehow because the pain was more than you could bear? Confident the future would be worse? Living through a nightmare too difficult to face?
Mary ventured out into the dark to visit the grave that Sunday morning. (John 20:1) I imagine it was still and damp in the predawn. Was she there because she couldn’t sleep?
Have you been there before? So sad, so overcome with grief that you couldn’t sleep? So much for you to adjust to, that the days don’t provide enough time, the nights are borrowed from for more time to sop up the grief you mind and heart can not absorb during the day. Up before daylight to try to make sense of your life…
Mary got closer to the tomb. I wonder if she was barefoot. I wonder if the bottom of her dress was soaked with dew from the wet grass. I wonder how the morning smelled. I want to put my arm around her shoulder… “Mary hang on. It’ll get better. It will. Just wait a few more hours. You’ll see him again. Really! I promise. I know it’s hard to believe that anything could ever make you happy again, but hang on Mary, it is coming…”
Mary Magdalene was approaching the tomb now. The garden where Jesus was buried was the combination of a public park and a cemetery. Jesus burial place, the tomb, was probably a cave with a giant rock rolled across the doorway. That rock sealed the opening of the tomb shut.
But, what, wait! (v1) The rock was rolled back! Impossible. I read that those rocks could weigh over a ton. What had happened?
Mary turned and ran to find Peter and John. (v2) (in his writing, John refers to himself as “the other disciple” or “the disciple that Jesus loved”). “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Ahh. Grave robbers. So that was Mary’s conclusion. Just when she thinks that nothing could be worse, she believes something worse happens. Was it not enough that she watched his humiliation and death? Now his body had been violated. Stolen.
We want to say, “Wait, Mary. Don’t assume the worst. Open your eyes. Open your heart. Maybe there is another explanation. Don’t despair!”
But we’ve been there too, haven’t we? So sure that all is lost that even signs of hope are misunderstood, discredited as one more disaster.
Well, Peter and John start running for the tomb. John gets there first (v3-4) and looks in and sees the strips of linen that had wrapped Jesus body. In those days, the dead were not dressed up in their finest Sunday clothes for burial as we do today. They were wrapped tightly in long winding strips of linen fabric called grave clothes.
But John couldn’t seem to bring himself to step inside. Then Peter came running up and goes right on in. Peter is greeted by the most astounding site. The clothes that were wrapped around Jesus are lying there collapsed onto themselves into folds as if Jesus had slipped up through them without taking them off. (6-7). Could they possibly understand? Could they dare to believe?
Finally John stepped into the tomb and… (8)
But Mary was still overwhelmed with grief. (10-11). She’s crying so hard she can’t see straight. She bent over to look into the tomb and what was that she saw? What? Look again. Angels! Two of them. Really! (12)
And they asked her, “Why are you crying?” Why indeed! Why not cry? Why not scream? Why not wail until the day she died? (13b)
(14-15a) Why did people keep asking her this? She thought it was the gardener. (15b) Now what was she thinking? She was going to single handedly carry Jesus’ body back. Mary…
“Mary.” Like a lost child recognizes the sound of his dad calling his name before he can even see him, Mary instantly knew the sound of the Master’s voice speaking her name. “Mary.”
She whirled around and cried out, “Teacher!” It was him! He was just standing there. Alive. It was him! But Jesus was still talking. What was he saying… (17)
“Go… to my brothers and tell them… (v18)
That’s what Mary did. She found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord.” In the weeks following, Jesus was seen alive by hundreds of others people. We have some of those records in I Cor. 15:3-8.
It was the power of Jesus’ resurrection that transformed these men and women from abysmal grief to confidence and courage. They went from locking themselves in an upper room (John 20:19) to waiting in hope in an upper room for the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:12-14). Then empowered by the Holy Spirit, they spread the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection in their hometown, the surrounding area and across the world. What a difference a few days makes. What a difference a few weeks can make.
The hope and power that transformed their lives, is saving and changing us too!
Remember a sad or dreadful time in your life. A time when you felt as hopeless as Mary, Peter and John felt that Easter morning. Today I invite you to say, “Thank you,” to God, for bringing you through. For bringing the resurrection power to your pain, sin or disappointment. For blessing you with your personal Easter.
Some of you are in the middle of the darkness, right now. You know how Mary must have felt that morning because you could feel it when you woke up this morning. For you the Easter message is this, it is not over yet. Your desperate prayer may be answered soon. Maybe in just three more days. And while you wait, Jesus is with you now, even if you don‘t recognize him.. As present as he was to Mary in the garden.
It seems that it would have been enough for God to give his Son to deliver us from sin, doesn’t it? Forgiving all the lousy and dreadful mistakes we‘ve made of our lives. But there is even more. God is sharing with us regular people, that resurrection power which will help us overcome every disaster, grief and heartache. And give us peace. Listen to Eph. 1:18-20. That power that brought Jesus back to life is working in our lives. What an unimaginable gift. What hope! Thanks be to God.
Please don’t misunderstand me, we are not hopeful people because we have never been disappointed, or because we are smart or good. No, some of us have had more than our share of sadness. We are hopeful people because we know that the worst has already happened. Jesus died. And the outcome? He rose from the dead and forever put death in all its nasty varieties in its place. And now, brothers and sisters, the power that shook loose that rock on Easter morning, the power that stirred inside Jesus’ dead body, the resurrection power that brought Jesus back to life, that power, that hope, is beating in our hearts this morning.
And so we Christians are Easter people. No matter what happens, we have hope. And when we are too grieved to hope ourselves, our brothers and sisters hope for us. Each of us here today has an Easter story; of babies born pink and screaming, of children adopted, of cancer survived. As certainly as Mary saw Jesus alive, we know our redeemer lives, for we have experienced the resurrection first hand as God’s power has helped us overcome heart break, financial disaster and addiction. We Christians; we are Easter people, and we are filled with hope!