Easter Day John 20:1-18
This is the most exciting day in the Church year and it is both a joy and a privilege to be able to bring an Easter message. It is also rather daunting because I guess we all know the story.
Or do we? I am sure if I went around the congregation and asked you all to write the Easter story we would have lots of variations. Different aspects of the story are important to us, and we notice different things from each other. My prayer as we look again at the familiar story, is, that each one of us will find something new, exciting and even life changing this morning.
Some of us have been journeying with Jesus through Holy week anticipating Easter Sunday, the first day of the week, the significant third day. The day that Jesus had mentioned on numerous occasions during his three year ministry. The third day - the day of resurrection.
John writes '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, so she ran' -
Mary had expected Jesus to be in the tomb. Finding him gone she thought Jesus had been 'put somewhere' there was no thought of resurrection in her mind.
The stone had been removed. Why? It was not removed to let Jesus out, for in a few days’ time he would appear to the disciples who were shut in the locked upper room.
The stone had been removed so that Mary and the disciples could get in.
Mary ran to tell Peter and John, and they set off running to see for themselves.
John arrived first he bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there and the cloth that had been on Jesus head, not lying with the linen wrappings and the best Greek interpretation seems to be folded up by itself. This small detail is so significant. Firstly the cloths used to wrap the body were strips of linen, like giant bandages. I do not believe for one moment that Jesus woke up and began to unwrap the strips of linen. I don't know how it happened, but my imagination tells me it was more like a transportation out of the linen leaving the clothes totally undisturbed but empty. Secondly the cloth that had been around his head was folded up by itself.
In those days when a carpenter completed a piece of work, he would wash his hands and face and dry them on a linen cloth. Then he would fold the cloth and leave it on the top of his work, it was the sign that the work was finished.
Luke writes: 'John saw the folded cloth' ... He saw and believed. He knew instantly that Jesus had risen! John got the message, suddenly he understood all that Jesus had been talking about, the penny dropped and they returned home.
But not Mary, she had come back and stayed behind. She stood outside the tomb weeping because she was in deep distress. Jesus was the only man who had ever truly loved her and respected her, and she thought he had gone. While she wept she looked into the tomb and saw two angels. Where had they come from? Peter and John had been inside the tomb and not seen them. Sometimes we only see angels through our tears and she pours out her heart to them. But then 'she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus'.
Mary's problem was that she was facing the wrong direction. She was looking into the tomb but Jesus was right behind her. I am sure we can we identify with Mary? When we are upset, weighed down with grief and problems, many of us are facing the wrong direction. Instead of looking to Jesus, we look to others for help, we look to ourselves, we look to books, we engage in frantic activity to try to solve our problems, and sometimes we just sit and cry.
Jesus said to Mary ' Woman... why are you weeping? ' I have often wondered why she didn't recognise Jesus.
Perhaps it was because her eyes were full of tears, and her head was bowed down, she heard a voice, and even though she was desperate to see Jesus again - she didn't believe that she would see him, so she mistook the voice for the gardener and asked where he had put Jesus.
And consider this. If Mary had got her wish and found Jesus’ body we would be the ones weeping today, we would have nothing to celebrate because Easter would not exist.
Jesus asked: “Who are you looking for?” Not “What are you looking for?” Mary was looking for a what, a dead body.; The answer to our deepest needs is not something, but someone, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus pointed her to someone. He said ‘Mary' and of course she recognized Him. She probably rushed up to him and hugged him, because she was so overjoyed to see him. The Greek phrase 'do not hold onto me' is hard to translate, but what Jesus was saying was something like 'Wait a minute Mary, I'm not going away just yet, so you will have time to see me, go and tell the others that I'm alive. '
There is a tendency in each one of us to hold on. We hold on to the past, past traditions, past grudges, past hurts but we know that there is only way forward, like Mary, we have to let go.
So she rushed off to tell the other disciples 'Jesus is alive! I hugged him! I spoke to him! He's alive, I tell you.'
On that day Mary could actually touch him. Now he has risen and ascended, and we can all “touch him” through faith, prayer, worship and the Eucharist.
The whole of the Christian Faith hinges on the resurrection on Easter Day.
We can believe that Jesus was God's Son that he was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. We can believe in the miracles and follow his teaching to the letter.
We can even believe that he died for our sins on the cross on Good Friday.
That he laid in the tomb on Easter Saturday... but unless we believe in the events of Easter Sunday, unless we believe in the resurrection our beliefs will be in vain.
Paul writes 'If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have died are lost.'
Sally was explaining to her granddaughter that granddad was very poorly. Will he die? Elizabeth asked. Yes said Sally,
After a few seconds she said, that’s alright in three days he will get up again. Out of the mouth of babes..that gives us all hope.
At an Easter service in Bangladesh, the congregation wept in disbelief as they saw the film of the crucifixion. Suddenly a small boy jumped up and said. 'Don't be sad ~ He gets up again! I saw it before.'
Today that cry gives us all hope - it is no longer Good Friday, Easter Sunday came, the third day. In Jerusalem there is a garden with a tomb and the stone is rolled away; at the entrance there is a notice which says:
‘He is not here. He is risen and He is risen .
And all the people said...AMEN