He is Risen!

Easter Sunday: He is Risen!
A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 4, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

John 20:1-18 (NRSV)

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. 2 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. 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. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

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Several months ago Pam and I got a takeout meal from our Panda Express. We brought it home and ate it and then opened our fortune cookies to eat them. Pam read her “fortune” to me and then I opened mine. There was no fortune. Nope. It was empty.

I was disappointed… and a little worried. Not that I believe in the validity of fortune cookies, mind you, but it did make me worry that the absence of that little slip of paper indicated a very bleak future, or worse: non existent. It was not what I expected.

Today we heard John’s holy words describing that first Easter Morning. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb with a saddened heart. The task she faces is not a pleasant one. She plans to tend to the body of Jesus, who has been in the tomb for three days, wrapping the body with cloth and using spices and fragrances used at the time to not only preserve the body, but to cover up the smell of rotting flesh.

In Mark’s gospel we read that Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome had bought spices to the tomb on Easter morning. We have to remember that Jesus died on Friday afternoon and that his body was hurriedly prepared and buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39). They had to hurry because the Sabbath began on that day, Friday, at sundown. There were strict rules about doing no work on the Sabbath, including preparing bodies for burial. Not only that, but because they were working on Jesus’ body, they were considered “unclean” under the Jewish purity laws.

So Mary came to finish properly what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had started on Friday.

But when she gets there she finds that the tomb, like my fortune cookie, was empty. It was unexpected, it was unsettling, and it worried her.

God has a way of doing things that is so completely different from the way we humans would do them that it is sometimes hard for us to comprehend. The empty tomb is a great example.

What a strange way to save the world. The human concept of beginning a new kingdom is through military might, using armies to overwhelm the occupying forces. But God chooses one man, fully God and fully man, born of humble beginnings, to bring in a new kingdom using the power of… love. The people in charge don’t like it so they kill him and everybody–including the disciples–think that’s the end of the story.

And yet on Easter morning God shows that he has a better way. (Which is usually the way God does things, you know?) The tomb is empty. God uses death to bring life. It’s a weird-to-us way of the Messiah establishing God’s kingdom, but God’s ways are higher than our ways… and much, much better.

The empty tomb gives us victory over any challenge we may face in this world. This morning there are people living in other parts of the world who are putting their lives at risk just to meet together to celebrate Easter. If caught they face not only prison terms but also execution. And yet they know in their hearts that not even the threat of death, or even death itself, can separate them from the love of God given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To quote a song about Easter, “The empty tomb is there to prove my Savior lives.”

So unlike an empty fortune cookie, let us celebrate with joy the empty tomb. Jesus’ death and resurrection atones for our sins, reconciles us to God, and offers us eternal life free of pain, sorrows, and worry.

Easter is a great day. It is a wonderful day. It is a happy day.

And that is so, SO much better than a silly ol’ fortune cookie.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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