Date: Sunday March 31st, 1997
NT Text: John 20:1-18
Sermon Title: The Fullness of Easter
The Fullness of Easter
Illustration: A Family was watching the movie “The Greatest Story ever Told” on Television. One of the children in the family was deeply moved. As Jesus journeyed to Calvary, tears rolled down her cheeks. She was absolutely silent until after Jesus had been taken down from the cross and put into the tomb. Then she suddenly grinned and shouted: “Now comes the Good Part!” During the preceding weeks we heard about the suffering and death of Jesus. Now comes the Good Part! The tomb is empty! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
The last thing that Mary Magdalene expected as she was finding her way to the tomb in the dawn hours of that Sunday Morning was a celebration. There was little to celebrate in the events that had taken place the last few days. The only ones celebrating were the Jews - now that Jesus was out of the way. But Mary and the disciples had no reason to celebrate. For them the last few days had brought nothing but tragedy and defeat.
Mary had been there… she had felt the horror of the angry, blood-thirsty crowd. She stood by helplessly when the Roman whip tore the flesh on his back… when the crown of thorns pierced his brows… and when Jesus broke down under the weight of the cross along the way to Golgatha.
Mary’s story is a remarkable story. Jesus had set her free from the torment of seven demons. It is therefore no surprise that Mary would express her infinite dedication and love to Jesus, even at the cross. And it is also no surprise to see her at the tomb of her Master in the early hours of the new week. Mary would have been the one to take care of the body of Jesus - to add spices and change the linens.
Nothing could have prepared her for what was to happen next. Morning was just breaking when she came around that final bend - her heart skipped a beat. The Rock has been moved! “Oh no, someone took the body of my Lord.”
With only this thought in mind she ran back to tell Peter and John. Although Peter had denied Jesus in the time of trial he was still the recognized leader of the remnant group. Peter and John rushed to the tomb and what happened next was pretty significant.
John outran Peter but he did not go into the tomb until later. Peter, in his compulsive nature, walked right past John into the tomb. When he came out again he was bewildered. “This isn’t the work of grave robbers.” The linen seemed to have collapsed as if the body had simply de-materialized.
Peter and John were absorbed in trying to make heads and tails out of their discovery. Mary remained behind, weeping. The two men went to tell the others and left her alone in her grief.
Mary remained by the tomb weeping, and confused. Through her tears she failed to recognize that the brightness coming from inside the tomb was the radiance of God’s angelic messengers. “Why are you crying?” came the question from inside the tomb. Strange thing to ask a grieving person at the cemetery. “They have taken my Master,” she replied in the hope of learning anything more about his whereabouts.
The story shifts focus at point. Jesus, who was mistaken by Mary for the groundskeeper, entered the conversation, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Jesus didn’t leave her wondering long, just long enough to let us know that he loves to surprise us. When we are at the end with our human strength and hope, he intervenes with the fullness of his grace. When we are ready to give up because we have done everything humanly possible… when we surrender to the fact that our wisdom and understanding have reached the limits… then God comes in with a big surprise.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Sometimes we have God all figured out. Everyone has his or her own agenda in life. And somewhere in our life of faith we have a quiet expectation that, if we believe the right things, God will deliver the results we want. If we push the right buttons, God will respond.
“I’ll give my time and talents to the church - and I’ll be blessed.” OR “My faithful service will move the heart of God and I will reap the benefits.” Deep down in our innermost being we have somewhat of a bargain with God - and generally we leave very little room for wonder. If we only do the right thing - God will cover us. He is quite predictable that way.
But there are times in our lives that do not fit this pattern. There are times in our lives as in the life of Mary Magdalene, when our whole world falls and crumbles: deep hurt and broken trust between marriage partners, a friendship that broke up, a business investment that went sour, a dream that died with a loved one…
“Why are you crying? Who or what are you looking for?” These are the words of the unrecognized risen Lord to you. In the midst of your life struggles, your hopelessness and fear, the risen Lord steps up from behind and whispers your name. God is at his best when life is at its worst. Jesus visits us in our darkest moments… even in the darkness of our alienation from God.
When you get frustrated with life, when you loose hope, when you despair, when you feel the weight of sin wearing you down… listen for God’s life-giving promises. Listen for the clues of a great celebration.
Hear the rocks, meant for the stoning of the adulterous woman, fall to the ground, and hear Jesus’ healing words, “Neither do I condemn thee.” Listen to the words of the great physician of our souls: “Rise up and walk - your sins are forgiven.” Listen to the surprise as Mary’s name is spoken by the Master whom she loved - and whom she had buried.
This is the miracle of the resurrection! God appearing to us when we least expect it… meeting us in places and situations that we call impossible. Sneaking up from behind the tombstones of our own despair and hopelessness and shouting, “Peek-a-boo!” Calling us by name in a cemetery.
“Mary!” he said softly. Mary was startled, for she recognized the voice of her Lord. “Rabboni”, she called out in worship and awe. That is the Good Part.
The story of Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ has all the elements of a divinely engineered surprise party. There’s the loss of hope at the time of the crucifixion, on Easter morning there is the secrecy, the mysterious Gardner, and then there is the stunned surprise of Mary and her worshipful response.
But this celebration pales in comparison to the Glory of the final resurrection day. That day will be a day of celebration similar to the one that Mary experienced, but a lot bigger. The graves of all who rest in the hope of the resurrection will open. The trumpet of the Lord will sound, and the names of all God’s children will be called. All knees will bow and worship the Lamb that was slain and the risen Christ.
Your life may be like the early part of the movie - marked with pain and despair. Now comes the Good part! I want to be there when it happens. What about you? Let us give praise to the risen Lord!