John 20:1-18 – Resurrection of the Lord

Empty tomb


Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head.  The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.  Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside.  He saw and believed.  (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have carried him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.  Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  “I have seen the Lord!”  and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Although Peter and John have a role in this story about Christ’s resurrection, the main character is Mary Magdalene.  This is significant and symbolic of the fact that it was Mary who experienced one of the most profound and deep changes of life due to the ministry of Jesus.  Mary had been an immoral woman and spiritually enslaved to the machinations of seven demons.  It was Jesus who thoroughly delivered her from her personal hell.  Mary was forever thankful to him for changing her life, and so, she followed Jesus and supported him in any way she could.  Mary was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died.  While other disciples were keeping their distance out of fear, Mary was bold in standing with the other women for all to see that they were completely devoted to Jesus.  Mary never turned her back on Jesus.  It was Mary who was there on the Sunday morning of Christ’s resurrection.  Whereas the other followers were nowhere to be found, Mary came to the grave, still with a heart given to Jesus and grieving over his death.

Because Mary had been given a new chance at life, she was deeply thankful and everything she had belonged to Jesus.  Mary Magdalene was forgiven much, and, so she loved much.  Here she is, after her Lord’s crucifixion, death, and burial, at the grave of Jesus.  Mary came to the tomb on Easter Sunday still living in a Good Friday world – grieving, sad, and discouraged.  She soon discovered, however, that Christ is risen!

In the midst of your days of disappointment, loss, or sadness, how have you been surprised by joy and the presence of the risen Christ?  How has your grief been turned to gratitude?  Have you seen the risen Lord?

One day, 33 years ago, I was down sick with the flu and in bed.  I barely remember my wife coming into the bedroom after a doctor’s appointment upset and crying.  She was trying to rouse me with a mix of good and bad news.  Mary had gone to the doctor thinking that she probably had picked up my flu.  Instead, the doctor gave her the news that she was pregnant with our first child.  But there was more….

After the examination the doctor had reason to believe that our little baby might be in the wrong place – that she was not where she should be and may very well be in the fallopian tube and not the womb.  So, here I am – barely able to move getting out of bed – driving my wife to the hospital for an ultrasound with such a range of emotions within me that all I can do is weep, feeling, much like Mary Magdalene, that my Lord has been taken away from me.  It just felt like I didn’t know where Jesus was at that moment and why I was going through this surreal craziness.

I will never forget the words and even the tone of voice of the ultrasound technician as we anxiously stared at a screen we didn’t understand.  The technician said, “She is right where she is supposed to be!”  The tears turned to complete joy.  And the words were prophetic.  There was no way that the technician could know at six weeks in the womb that we were having a little girl, yet she referred to the peanut within my wife as “she.”  And we immediately knew what her name was:  “Sarah,” which is the Hebrew name for “Princess.”  God had graced us with a precious gift of royalty, coming from the grace of King Jesus.

I want us to know this morning, on this great Day of Resurrection, that we are right where we are supposed to be.  It might seem out of place spending so much time at home; not working in ways we’re used to, or even working at all; wondering where God is or how the divine fits into this topsy-turvy situation of pandemic and economic instability.  The truth of matter is this:  You are right where you are supposed to be.  God has you precisely where he wants you.  This morning, right now, you are a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  Along with Mary Magdalene there is the astonished declaration, “I have seen Jesus.”

Do Not Hold On To Me - He Qi
“Do Not Hold On to Me,” by He Qi, 2013. Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Let Mary Magdalene’s experience be of encouragement to you.  Mary had been given a new life and was transformed by the Lord.  Yet, on Easter Sunday she did not immediately get what the heck was going on.  Jesus rising from death was not anywhere on her radar.  The empty tomb and the angels did not immediately lead her to faith – not until she saw Jesus, and even then, she did not recognize him.  Only when Jesus called her name did Mary recognize him and respond, believing it was her Lord.  And Jesus is still calling out names.  He is calling your name.  Jesus had said to his disciples that the sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice; he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3-4).  One little word can change our lives forever:  our name.

Easter opens a whole new world for us, as it did for Mary – a future of announcing good news and proclaiming resurrection.  There is a simple reason why the grave clothes were left in the tomb just lying there – they were not needed anymore!  We no longer need the grave clothes of discouragement, defeat, and despair.  We no longer need to weep and wonder, because Christ is risen!  He has called our name and we hear his voice.

The 20th century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said that what brings people to worship God – not just on Easter, but any day – is an unspoken question clinging to our minds and hearts:  Is it true?  Is it true that God lives?  Is it true that Jesus is alive?  Could it be true that I can live a new life in Christ?  Is it true that I can rebuild my life?  Is it all true?  Mary Magdalene approached the tomb and found that it was true.

All over the world, this very day, followers of Jesus are testifying that this is all real:  Christ is risen, and there is new life in Jesus our Lord.  Right now, believers across the globe are worshiping the risen Lord because they declare along with us, “I have seen the Lord!”

God has always been in the business of changing lives.  British author A. N. Wilson, used to be known for his scathing attacks on Christianity and proclaimed the death of God… celebrated Easter in 2009 at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. Wilson said, “My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself …. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, and in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”

The moment Jesus calls a person’s name, the power of the resurrection is enabled—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  See what you consider as immovable slabs of stone in your life—maybe it’s bitterness, insecurity, fear, self-doubt or cynicism. Those immense rocks can be rolled away. To know Jesus is to know the power of the resurrection.  We don’t need to merely hear testimonies of changed lives like Mary Magdalene’s; we can experience new life ourselves.

There is one word, one name, which has forever changed the world: “Jesus.”  And Jesus wants to change the world by uttering one simple word, one name:  your name, so that you can exclaim with great joy, “I have seen the Lord!”

Mighty God, as Christ burst forth from the grave, may new life explode from us and show itself in acts of love and healing to a hurting world.  May your ever-living Son, Jesus our Lord, keep our hearts rejoicing and grant us peace this day and always in resurrection power.  Amen.

Click Christ the Lord Is Risen Today by the Northland Church choir and sing aloud to the One has conquered death!

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