All of This…for Life
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
April 20, 2014
John 20: 1-18 (CEB)
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. 4They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. 5Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
11Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
17Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
I don’t think there are three words in the history of the world that have had a greater impact than those. It is the Easter “mantra,” but it is also the encapsulation of the greatest story ever told; the greatest life ever lived, the greatest death ever died, and the most amazing new life that followed in the resurrection. He is risen!
It’s almost humorous, if you think about it. We have this Bible, full of so many books, with so many chapters, and so many words. But those words are meaningless apart from these three words, “Christ is risen.” We spend hours pouring over the scriptures, studying their message, searching for meaning, praying for answers. On Sundays, we come to church seeking a fresh message and renewed hope. And when those are the things we are looking for, that’s what we find. We find meaning in scripture, our eyes our opened in study and worship, answers are found in fervent, seeking prayer. We learn about how we should live our lives. We hear God’s commandments and the rebukes of God’s prophets. We study the ways of those earliest Christians and seek to follow their model of fellowship and communion.
And then we hear the preacher, always telling us about how we should do this or that. To some degree, this is what we have been focusing on the last several weeks as we have studied together Christ’s Sermon on the Mount; what it means to LIVE as disciples. If we were really Christians, we would tithe to God from our first fruits and not think twice about it. If we were really disciples, we would serve the poor on a weekly, if not daily, basis. If we were really Christ followers, we would come to church every single Sunday not reluctantly, but joyfully. If we were really believers we would pray every single day several times a day. If we were really apostles, we would evangelize and tell everyone we meet the good news. If we were really Christians, we would do, do, do. This is the message that greatly permeates the body of Christ, and we live our lives accordingly.
That’s all well and good, to a point. Because the thing is, ultimately, all that we DO as Christians should be nothing more than an outpouring of what Christ has ALREADY DONE for us, which is exactly what we celebrate on Easter Sunday. The problem, though, is that we get so caught up in what we are supposed to be doing that we forget that everything we NEED has already been done. We build up these pedestals of expectation for ourselves and others; and then when we fail to live up to the high standards, the message is that we have failed as Christians. But that’s missing the point. And that’s why we are here this morning.
When Mary Magdalene discovered that the tomb of her beloved teacher and friend was empty, she quickly ran to let Jesus’ other close friends know. If the body had been stolen, they would need to act quickly if there was any hope of recovering it. And that’s what they all expected as they arrived back at the empty tomb. The curious thing, though, is the fact that Jesus’ grave clothes were still there. But even more than that, they weren’t even in a wad on the ground, they were neatly laid out, right where Jesus’ body had been. Immediately, the three understood that this was no simple grave robbery. Any of you who have ever been robbed know that thieves don’t leave anything in a neat and orderly fashion. Still, Mary and the disciples didn’t know what had happened, and as the Peter and the other disciple headed back, probably to share the news with the other disciples, Mary decided to look in one more time. And this time, she sees two angels sitting right where Jesus’ body had been. Then, when she turned around, a man was standing there as if he materialized out of thin air. At first, Mary Magdalene thought that this was the gardener, but when he spoke her name, she knew. And she said, “I have seen the Lord.”
It’s the heart of the Easter message. Jesus is Lord. But not just Lord, Jesus is the RISEN Lord! There is nothing that any of us has ever done that has made that so, and there is nothing that we can ever do that will change this fact. Jesus Christ is Lord because he conquered death and was resurrected. And Christ will still be Lord of this world long after we have come and gone, and whether we choose to serve him or not. Christ is risen!
Indeed, it is on Easter that we celebrate something extraordinary which has taken place, not only to Jesus—though that’s extraordinary enough—but to the way the world is, the way God is, to the way God relates to his disciples every where. Let me share with you what I mean. Up to this point in John’s gospel, Jesus has spoken about God as “the Father,” or “the Father who sent me,” or “my Father.” In the same way, he has called his followers “disciples,” “servants,” and “friends.” But now, on the morning of the resurrection, all of that has changed. As he speaks with Mary Magdalene, he says something quite different. Feel the force of these words to Mary, when Jesus says, “Go and say to my brothers, I am going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Christ points to a complete change; something has been altered, decisively.
In his death and resurrection, Christ achieved something that had never before been achieved. A new relationship has sprung to life like a sudden spring flower, like new life from death. And the disciples are welcomed into this new world where they are now able to know God the way Jesus has always known God, where they can be intimate children with their loving father. Christ has invited all of his followers, including each of us, to share in the life-giving relationship that he has always had with his Father. And that invitation is possible only because of what Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection.
This is the message we all need to hear this morning! Many of us have heard this same story every year since we were kids, but how often do we actually let it soak in, especially in this crazy-busy world we live in? But that’s why this Easter message is so wonderful! In the midst of our astonishingly busy lives, in this world that never stops moving, where we are always connected and always “on,” we hear right here that we don’t have to do anything. Christ invited us to new life with God, and Christ did all the work that needs to be done—all we have to do is show up! No wonder they call this “good news”!
As we think about the full meaning and impact of Christ’s resurrection, I want to share with you a wonderful story. A Sunday School teacher had just finished telling her first graders about how Jesus was crucified and placed in a tomb with a great stone sealing the opening. Then, wanting to share the excitement of the resurrection, she asked: “And what do you think were Jesus’ first words when he came bursting out of that tomb alive?” A hand shot up into the air from the rear of the classroom. Attached to it was the arm of a little girl. Leaping out of her chair, she shouted out excitedly, “I know, I know!”
“Good” said the teacher, “Tell us, what were Jesus’ first words?”
And extending her arms high into the air she said: “TA-DA!”
My friends, this morning we celebrate the greatest event in all of history. It’s more than a magic trick, but our proclamation must be no less enthusiastic than that little girl’s “TA-DA!” The resurrection changed the world forever. It announced, not as theory, but as FACT that God’s kingdom had come and there was dawning not just another day, another week in the history of the world, but the start of God’s new age that opens the realm of God’s kingdom to all people! And this is a gift, offered to each of you without price, simply because God loves you that much.
We gather in this place each Easter, hoping to hear a great and inspiring message. The Easter message is great all on it’s own, so what becomes the inspiration for each of us is the message we “take home” from this great story. I hope that today—as you leave this place—you will know that you can just relax. And I don’t mean just head home and enjoy a nice Sunday nap, though that is certainly my plan. What I mean is stop worrying about trying to “earn” God’s favor through your actions, and rest easy in the faith that Christ has taken care of everything, and that because of his work, we ARE favored in God’s sight. Unlike the looming project, the kids that need to be cared for, and the bills that need to be paid, your place in the kingdom of God is sealed, if only you will believe.
Christ has done all the work that needs to be done. Christ has died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And then, Christ was raised to new life, so that we, too, can live eternally with God!
Indeed, Christ is risen!
Praise be to God!