Easter Sermon, April 24, 2011, John 20:1-18 “See?”

John 20:1-18


The Best Story We Tell

Of all the stories we tell – like the story of our country, or the story of our family’s history, or our own personal life story, this one is by far the best.   This is the story we tell that  puts all the others in context.  This is the Easter Story.

When we tell our stories, we tell them from our own unique perspective; our own individual way of seeing.   Today we are are looking at the

Family Story

story from John’s gospel; we get to hear John’s way of seeing the story.  John embeds details in this story that scream out, with significance that goes way beneath the surface, so we need to pay close attention.  When we do, we will see ourselves in this story.  Let us begin.

The Dark Beginning

At the beginning, we see Mary coming to the tomb in which they laid the body Jesus.  It’s the first day of the week, and it’s dark.  Mary’s story begins in darkness.

So many stories do: the story of the world began in darkness and chaos. Our own stories begin in the darkness of a womb.  Episodes of our life’s stories begin darkly.  Perhaps this is a dark moment in your story.   Hope seems to require light – at least some – like a glimmer that shows the end of the tunnel.  This story begins without a glimmer.

What do you see in the dark?  Not much.  Shapes.  Mary can see the shape of the stone that guarded the opening of the tomb, but she can also see the black shape of the opening itself; the stone had been removed.

So now all she can see is her fears, her worst nightmare.  She runs away from the sight of what certainly must have been a crime – what other explanation could there be?  People swallowed in darkness are prone to a certainty of despair that may go beyond the evidence.  But if you have ever been there, you know how certain the despair can feel.

“Doting on a Crime” – Shins

Mary meets Peter and the other disciple and announces:

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Who is the “they” whom, she is certain, removed the body.  And more curiously, who is the “we”  who do not know where they have laid him (she has been alone, after all).

We are the “we”

This is where we see that John is telling us this story in a way that invites us to enter and be a part of the story.  We are there – we are in the hopeless darkness; we do not know where Jesus is.

alternative explanations possible

So we run on that sudden foot-race back to the tomb with Peter and the other disciple.  Now their paths diverge as they each start seeing things (is the dawn breaking?) but not the same things.  Now we will be given options about whom to identify with.

Looking in from the outside

First the other disciple, the race winner.  He got there first.  He has the highest need to get things settled.  He had a lot riding on Jesus, a lot at risk.  In John’s telling, he is always  called, “the one whom Jesus loved.”  Love is at stake here.  Of course he ran faster.

5 “He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.”

Of course he did not go in.  Tombs are impure spaces.  You become impure if you enter a tomb. What could make you bold enough to cross that sacred barrier?   And yet, from where he was, outside, he could see the grave clothes inside.  He could see that what he thought he would see was mistaken.  He could see enough to know that the not-normal had happened.  But what?  Multiple explanations could be given.

Some of us are in that state right now.  Something has tugged at us enough to get us here to church on Easter Sunday, but we don’t consider ourselves “all in.”  We don’t see enough yet to dispel doubts.  Nevertheless: there is something rather than a corpse.

Going “all in”

Peter arrives.  Protecting his well-earned reputation for being impetuous, he breaks the purity code and charges into the open tomb.  Having committed himself to being all-in, in spite of his doubt and fear, he is in a position to see even more.

“He saw the linen wrappings lying there,  7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.”

Grave-robbing in the first century was a capital crime.  If you were going to do it, you’d best be quick about it.  Grave robbers were undoubtedly

all in?

un-tidy people.  Rolling up the long narrow head wrapping would be like re-winding a soiled gauze bandage that you had just removed from the head of a brutal murder victim.  That’s not going to happen.  Some other explanation had to be available.

Peter saw more, but yet – what?  He leaves.  Maybe you are in Peter’s shoes.  Maybe you have lots of evidence all around you that leads you up to the door of faith – you feel the tug the wonder of beauty, the call of justice, a sense that we are not alone in a meaningless universe – but is that enough?  Apparently not for either of these:

10 “Then the disciples returned to their homes.” 

On not seeing the Unexpected

So now Mary is alone back at the tomb.  Weeping with grief, she too looks in.

12 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.

I’m not sure I would “see” and angel, even if I saw an angel.  I’m just not prepared to see angels.  John tells us she saw two angels, but, did she actually realize what they were?  We always assume so – but perhaps not.  She engages their question to her with a matter-of-factness that I would not be capable of in the presence of angelic beings.

13 “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.”

The same blindness-based nonchalance happens again.  She is not prepared to see a resurrected Jesus, so when she “sees” him, she doesn’t see that it is him.

14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  

All of us have been Mary.  We have all been face to face with Jesus and didn’t know it at the time.   God has been there, working in our lives, but not present in our consciousness.   It’s the old “footprints in the sand” syndrome.  We have felt so alone, so isolated, so without-hope.  He was there, all the time.  But expecting not to see him, we did not see him.

Name Calling and Seeing

Sunrise, Israel, 2009

Then, the most gracious, merciful, wonderful thing happens.  He calls our name:

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She heard Jesus call her name, then she saw him; then she knew!

The Easter Question

Here is the question: have you heard him call your name?  This is the greatness of the Easter story: not just that resurrection happened, not just that sins are forgiven in some theoretical theological sense.  Much more!  The Easter story we are invited to enter is one in which we are there, at the open, empty tomb, seeing Jesus, alive, looking into our eyes, and calling us by name!

Can you go that far this morning?  You are here on Easter Sunday – so something has brought you this far.  Perhaps it is simply tradition or family obligation, but nevertheless, here you are.   Perhaps you have been on the outside looking in.  You have reasons for wanting to believe and yet reasons to hesitate.  He knows.  It’s OK.  But there is more.

This morning, picture it.  You look into his eyes and he into yours, and calls out your name to you, like someone who has been standing at the door waiting for a long lost friend.  Are you willing to be named by the risen Christ?

Be Named

Be named this morning!  Hear him calling you.  Go “all in”!

But be prepared; to be named personally by the risen Christ is to be changed!  To have your eyes opened is to start seeing the whole world differently.  Now the sun has come up and it is no longer dark.

The final step in this best-of-all stories happens next.  It is a command from the risen Christ who assumes the authority to be Lord.

go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

Seeing, “Go!”

“Go” Go and change the way everything is seen.  Go and announce that the risen Christ is no longer limited to one place in one garden, but is now the ascended Christ.  Go, now knowing that wherever you go, the risen Christ is present there.

This will change the way you see everything.  You will see the world now as you realize he was seeing it.

You will see hungry people, and suddenly see a mission field awaiting your compassionate response.   You will see suffering people and instead of seeing objects of pity or reasons to look away, you will see opportunities for the glory of God to be revealed in and through your loving involvement.  You will see lepers, and now, with your newly opened resurrection eyes, you will not have the impulse to shun them or shame them, but you will embrace them because you will see the risen Christ embracing them.

And you will see yourself, not as you used to; not alone, hopeless, and in darkness, but rather in the presence of the one who loves you, who died for you, and who rose alive from the dead, and now calls you by name.  Hear him calling!  Listen!  Look!  Respond!


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