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Sermon for Easter Sunday 2022

John 20:1-18 Mary Knows

Mary Magdalene had faced a very hard life. She had been exploited physically, tortured spiritually, and despised socially. We are told she had been possessed or oppressed by seven demons and illnesses. We are told that Jesus healed her. She knew it was Jesus who healed her. She became one of those who followed Jesus, who listened to Jesus teach about the love of God and the Kingdom Jesus came to bring. Jesus had a profound effect on her life.

Then the tragedy came. Jesus was arrested. Mary Magdalene was one of those who waited anxiously while Jesus was in the custody of the temple and Roman guards. She was there as Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem and out to the place of his execution. Mary Magdalene witnessed the horror and abuse that Jesus was forced to endure. For those who have had a loved one endure misery and not be able to do anything about it, you know a little bit of what Mary experienced. She watched Jesus suffer and was there when Jesus died. I am sure she wondered why this was happening. That all took place on Friday. It is now Sunday. Mary is going to the tomb where Jesus was placed to anoint his body for a proper burial. Because of the Sabbath, this could not be done on the day Jesus died. But when she gets to the tomb, something is wrong. The tomb is not sealed, the guards are gone.

Unsure of what is going on, Mary runs back to where the disciples are and tells them Jesus’s body is missing. It is not in the tomb. Mary assumes Jesus’s body has been taken.

The two disciples, Peter and John run to the tomb to see for themselves. (I love how John inserts a little pride by telling us he outran Peter.) When they arrive, they find what Mary said to be true, Jesus’s body is not there.

Mary is crying. She is deeply troubled. And what do the men do? Do they try to comfort her? Do they ask her to join them in a search? Do they give her any hope? No, they leave her there by herself.

So here Mary finds herself. She has seemingly been abandoned. She believes she is alone. What is she to do? She decides to look inside one more time.

Have you ever looked in the same place over and over when you cannot find something? We human beings tend to doubt ourselves and wonder if we could have missed something. Maybe what we are looking for will magically appear if we just look again.

How many times have those of us who follow Jesus heard this story? How many times have we read it, studied it, and heard sermons on it? Yet no matter how many times we hear this story, it seems never to grow old. It is one of those stories that have the power to deeply touch our hearts. It is a story in that the Holy Spirit touches the heart with truth.

Mary looks inside the tomb. Shock, the tomb is not empty. There are two individuals that Mary does not recognize. She assumes they have something to do with the disappearance of Jesus’s body. The individuals ask Mary what she wants? “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

What a place to be in. Confused, afraid, probably a bit of anger has begun to set in. How could anyone play a trick like this? How could anyone be so cruel as to steal Jesus’s body? I think it is fair to say that this experience has brought a lot of stress and anxiety into her life.

But then, Mary feels a presence. She turns and there is another figure behind her. She thinks maybe this person is the gardener. Maybe this person knows where Jesus is. Mary asks, “Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then the stranger says her name, “Mary.” She knows the voice. It is a voice that brought her freedom. It is the voice that changed her life. It is a voice she did not expect to hear again. Jesus says, “Mary.” I can picture Mary’s change of face when Jesus says her name. A face of surprise, amazement, and perhaps a sudden rush of joy. I don’t know how she stayed on her feet. But she did. The text seems to indicate she sought to grab Jesus and not let go.  The Lord tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus then gives her an assignment, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

Mary then becomes the first post-resurrection person to preach the good news. Jesus is alive. Jesus’s work continues. Mary has seen him. The woman who came early in the morning carrying the burden of deep sorrow is not filled with joy and excitement. She has seen the Lord. Jesus is alive. This was more than anything Mary could have wished for. The hope Mary had been carrying as she followed Jesus was now given greater power and intensity. Everything Jesus said was true. Even death could not hold Jesus back.

Have you had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus? Has the Holy Spirit confirmed in your heart that Jesus is alive? Has the Spirit helped you to begin to grasp that God does care about you? God does love us. This is the truth of Easter. It is a truth that Jesus promised. Jesus tells the disciples what was going to happen. The Apostle Matthew tells us, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matt. 16:21 NIV)

A few years back I remember being told a story about a family who owned a Doberman Pincher named Sweetie. Now Sweetie was a big dog. Sweetie was a gentle, family-loving pet who would never hurt a soul. However, the family was aware that some of the people in the neighborhood were scared of Sweetie.

Now the people next door to this family had a pet rabbit. They kept the rabbit in a cage in their backyard. One day, while the neighbors were away the mother of the family who owned Sweetie saw Sweetie in the backyard playing and it had the neighbor’s rabbit in its mouth. The mother was horrified. Sweetie had killed the neighbor’s rabbit. The mother ran outside and yelled at Sweetie, “bad dog.” Sweetie dropped the rabbit and came running with his tail between his legs. Bad, the mother said again, bad dog.

The mother went over to the dead rabbit and picked it up. It was dirty. The mother noticed that there was not much blood. Suddenly a scheme came to her mind. She took the dead rabbit to the kitchen, placed it in the sink, and washed all the dirt off the bunny. She then went to get the hairdryer and dried the rabbit. When she finished, she was proud of her work. The rabbit looked, natural. She then went over to her neighbor’s yard, put the rabbit in the cage, and snuck away. She then went back to her work in the kitchen.

About an hour later her neighbor came home. All seemed fine for about twenty minutes then suddenly there was hysterical screaming. The neighbor next door was screaming, the rabbit, the rabbit. The mother walked out in her best-concerned neighbor manner and said, “What is wrong?” Her neighbor, who had turned deathly pale, kept screaming, “The rabbit, the rabbit.”

The mother, in the most concerned manner she could muster, asked the neighbor, “Oh the rabbit, is it dead?”

The neighbor screamed back, “Yes, it died three days ago. We buried it. Now it is back in its cage?”

Should make for interesting material for discussion for the next neighborhood resolution group.

Why was Jesus’s tomb empty? Where did the body go? Did the disciples take it? No, the disciples ran and hid. The gardener did not move Jesus. His body was not stolen or hidden or lost. Jesus was not in the tomb because God had raised God’s son from the dead. Jesus was not just cleaned up dead. Jesus is fully resurrected life. Jesus was not posed to look alive; Jesus is alive. This is our hope. This is the reason we gather.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (Jn. 20:1-18 NIV)

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