Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Living One John 20:1-16 Revelation 1:8, 18

Easter morning sermon text celebrating the power of the resurrection.

Mrs. Miriam Timothy was my senior year English teacher in High School. As I look back, she was one of my favorite teachers and one the best teachers I ever encountered. Somehow she managed to draw you into a poem or story as though you were the first one in history ever to hear it. The words seemed to leap from the page and stir in the air. She made it clear, if the story was compelling, it did not matter if you knew how it ended; nor how many times you read it; you would never grow weary of it. She was right. As we look across literature we know how Romeo and Juliet ends, but the when we hear it read or played out on stage it draws our ears. We know that Anne Frank will be discovered, but her Diary still breaks out hearts. We know what happens when Charlotte weaves her web over a runt piglet, but we still find a tear at the edge of our eyes when the spider gives way to her babes. We know what will happen when Tom Sawyer’s friends encounter him painting of fence, but we still chuckle when we latter find them with a whitewash brush in hand. While all of these stories amuse us, bemuse us, makes us laugh, and makes us cry, none of them hold a candle to the story we witness together every Easter morning. We know the Gospel story of resurrection, but while the other stories entertain us, this one transforms us.

My favorite account is the one found in the Gospel of John, because it gives us a sense of the chaos and confusion in those early morning hours that gives was to the day break reality that Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said. I can only imagine what Mary Magdalene must have been feeling when she came to the tomb. She had lived under the suppressive rule of a violent empire. She had found hope in one she believed to the Messiah. But in the last 72 hours she had seen the Jesus seized by a mob sent by the religious insiders, endure a mockery of a trial, condemned to death though he was innocent, beaten mercilessly by Roman soldiers, crowned with a crown of thorns, nailed to a rugged cross, and then crucified. She had witnessed Jesus’ agony and had seen the sky go black and felt the earth shake. She came to the tomb of Jesus downcast and broken hearted. She was bewildered by the dramatic acts of the past few days. But she would discover that her confusion was only just beginning. In the midst of death she would find life! Her world would be turned upside down when she heard the question, “Who are you looking for?”

John’s Easter account is found in John 20. We begin with verses one through ten where we will find that Mary’s Easter- and ours – begins in the confusion of the early morning mist. 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. At a distance she saw there was a problem, the large stone had been rolled away. What had happened? Had someone taken the body? Mary ran for help. 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."

The disciples had been hiding in the upper room in absolute fear. They had seen Jesus crucified and were afraid that they would be next. They heard the words of Mary and took off with her. The confusion in the mist continued. 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. 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.

The passage offers us an odd little picture of the sprint to the tomb by Peter and the other disciple. It seems that they just can not help competing. By their dash proves seemingly pointless. In the end they understood that the body of Jesus was missing. They believed it was gone. They went home – dejected and rejected – it had been bad enough that they had crucified Jesus – but now his body had been taken as well. Their grief had been compounded. What more could happen? What more would they have to endure? They had heard Jesus' teaching about his death and resurrection for some time now, but it just did not reach them. The prospect of resurrection was more than they could conceive, particularly after what they had witnessed in the streets of Jerusalem and seen at the cross. They were so wrapped up in their own story that had missed the story of the movement of God.

The disciples that had accompanied Mary departed, and in the process miss the greatest moment in human history. Regardless of what others thought, regardless of the price, Mary had stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and wept. Now we hear her tears again, weeping for his loss and weeping for the loss of his body. She was a woman on a mission. She was going to find out what happened to Jesus and no one and nothing was going to stop her.

She went over where his body was laid with care and saw two angels, unsure of who they are, broken hearted, she speaks. Hear the word’s of verses eleven through thirteen. 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." Mary’s grief was not the polite Southern grief that suffers in silence. She was unapologetic in her pain and passionate in her desire to find the body of Jesus. The others can go if they want to, but this is not her task, this is not what her faith will allow. In the midst of her brokenness and tears, God speaks! The miracle of the resurrection story is about to change everything! The place of death is about to be transformed into a place of life and victory!

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Her grief and her pain blinded her to the possibility - to the promise - to the reality that Jesus was with her. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"As we read the resurrection stories, we find that the women and the disciples came to the grave that Sunday morning expecting to grieve the painful and tragic death of Jesus. These first disciples simply could not imagine that they would find the tomb empty or meet the Risen Christ. But in the moment this question is raised to Mary everything will change for her and change for us. The power of the resurrection transforms defeat into victory, death into life, sin into forgiveness, hopelessness into divine hope. “Who are you looking for?”

I think that the reason that across the world the largest day for church attendance comes on Easter morning is that so many know that there is something of value in the Easter message. But, while they have come looking for Jesus they have not found the kind of relationship with God that impacts their everyday lives. The John resurrection story portrays what happens when one who was earnestly looking for Jesus finds him. We, like those that surrounded Jesus are tempted to look for the kind of savior that we think best fits our life situation. We look for a savior that can help our broken marriage, or fix our problems with our teenage child, or redeem our situation at work. We have been coaxed into believing that if we will at least show up at church on Easter Sunday, dressed in our best, then God will do something to fix our lives. The problem is that Jesus frustrated everyone that came to him with their own expectations of what savior he was supposed to be. If we come seeking the Jesus that will bless our comfort way of life, that Jesus that will meet our expectations, our the Jesus that will fix our problems, then we will be like the disciples who went home from the tomb disappointed and broken. But, if we will honestly and earnestly looking for the Jesus of Easter morning then we will hear his call to radical discipleship and respond to his call to love God and love our neighbor. If we come earnestly looking for the Jesus of Easter morning we will find the Jesus transforms sin and death and becomes the means for God to transform not our problems – but our souls.

(15b-16)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!" In a single word everything changes. She knows that voice. Jesus’ voice strikes a chord deep within her heart. Have you ever long to hear from someone? Have you had a moment when an argument had separated you and you knew you needed desperately to talk? Have you worried about a loved one and could not reach them? Have you had a friend on your mind and had no idea on how the reach them? Then the phone rings and you hear a voice. They do not have to tell you who they are. When their voice reaches your ear your heart stops and is filled instantly with joy. It is them!

This is the kind of moment Mary experiences. In hearing her name she knew the voice. She knew that she had found what she was looking for. No, it was not the body of Jesus, it was the living Jesus. It was the voice of the familiar, the voice see hears has beckoned her and others to come and follow – to seek God first – to be forgiven and to forgive others – to be healed and to become an agent of healing by introducing people to the One that can offer salvation. The hearing of the voice of Jesus changes everything. Death has given way to life. She has found who she was looking for and it is the Living One, the Savior, Christ the Lord. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). She see Jesus face to face and the reality of the resurrection claims the day.

Our service began with the two grand Jesus pronouncements found in Revelation, Chapter 1. Hear again 8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. These strong words are fulfilled in the empty tomb. Resurrection is the moment that God rewrites history and creates the means of life and eternal life in and through Christ. Resurrection is the Easter story of life – of a living and loving God. It is the ultimate declaration that God is faithful from the beginning of time and has fulfilled His promises – that forgiveness awaits – that grace reigns down. The cross has given way to the empty tomb. We who were destined for death now find life. We who were held captive by sin now find freedom. We who were separated from God are now drawn close.

Yes, it is a familiar story. We hear it again and again every Easter. We know who wins in the end. But I love to hear the story of the Living One, the One who was at the beginning and will come again; the One who was dead and is now alive forever; the who has transformed death from an ending to the beginning of eternity in the warm embrace of our living and loving God. It is a story that I love to hear; it is the story of my Savior. Amen.

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