April 1, 2018 (Resurrection of the Lord/Easter Sunday)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

John 20:1-18

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine


20:1 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. 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. (John 20:1-18, NRSV)

Let us pray: Living God, long ago, faithful women proclaimed the good news

of Jesus’ resurrection, and the world was changed forever. Teach us to keep faith with them, that our witness may be as bold, our love as deep, and our faith as true. Amen.


I imagine that Mary got up that morning on the first day of the week, if she slept at all, and went to Jesus’ tomb to make sure it was clean, presentable, with pretty flowers, whatever it is we do when we visit a gravesite of a loved one. We aren’t told many details about her or why she went so early that morning to the tomb, but I imagine we all have an idea.  We may even have experience doing the same thing, going to visit a gravesite.  But John doesn’t tell us instead he focuses on other things.


John is a genius in his writing!  Somehow, he can tell a story and use words that have multiple meanings.  For example, Mary leaves early for the tomb while it is still dark.  It is simple yet profound statement about the fact that the Easter story begins both on the first day of a new week and while it was still dark.  Think about it.   It is the first day of the week.  Remember back to Genesis and the first day of creation, when God created light and separated day from night.  And now on another first day of the week, God recreates on this first day, not just calling light from darkness but also life from death, and not only separating but ending forever the hold death has upon us.   This first day of the week, the day of creation and is now a day of re-creation.


The other detail that John gives us is “while it is still dark.”  It is not simply that it is early in the day because there was a lot to do, or that one got up early to get things done before it got too hot.  It seems John is making another point.  He wants us to notice that because it is dark and difficult to see that Mary has no idea what she will find when she arrives at the tomb.[1]  I imagine that she expects to find things just as she left them the night before.


That is the thing with expectations: they can get us into trouble.  You know we expect that when we plant a seed in the spring by early summer you will get a flower.  You plant a bulb in fall or winter, in spring you get a daffodil.  That is natural.  Plant a radish, get a radish.  That is nature’s way.  Plant a body in a coffin into the ground, all you get is a planted body in a coffin in the ground.  That, too, is nature’s way.[2]   It is what we have come to expect!   It is what Mary expected.  John is using darkness both figuratively and literally, in the dark because Mary only knows of Jesus’ death.  It is after all natural.  It’s nature’s way.  It is the logical ending.


So, with her expectation and her sorrow and her grief as backdrop, Mary goes in the dark to visit Jesus tomb to pay her respects.


According to John, when she got there she found the stone rolled away.  Then she ran to tell two of the disciples what she found.


You know if you add two plus two, you always get four.   That is logical.

Count them (fingers). One, two, three, four.   Two plus two is four.   The square root of nine is always three.  Nine squared is always eighty-one.   It is the way things are.


When you’re dead, you’re dead.  It’s the way things are.  It is medical fact.  It is nature.  It is natural.  It is logical.


When a newborn baby takes a breath and starts to cry the baby is alive.  It is a medical fact.  It is nature.  It is natural.  It is logical.


When the EKG (electrocardiogram) shows wavy lines, the patient is alive.  It is a medical fact.  It is nature.  It is natural.  It is logical.


When you’re dead, the EKG is a straight line.  It is the medical fact.  It is nature.  It is natural.  It is logical.


A resurrected body is not a medical truth.  A resuscitated body is medical. Resurrection is not medical; but, to our way of believing it is truth. Now, our believing it doesn’t make it true; but it is the truth of our believing.   It’s not medical.  It’s not nature.  It’s not natural.  It’s certainly not logical.   But, it is faith. It is the foundation of our faith.  Can’t explain it.  Can’t even say I expect it!   But I believe it.


And here is why…

I wonder, if it is true for you as it is for me that God comes to us at the darkest times of life?  Or is it simply that we are more likely to notice God when everything around us seems dark and we expect nothing but darkness and hardship and sorrow.  The last thing we expect is God.  But it is when we are most likely to notice God.  They say that God is always present, but in the darkness of our troubles and with our limited expectations.  All we seem to have is loss and disappointment, God is often hard to miss, and as hard as it is to believe God has always been there.


You see, nothing had turned out the way Mary expected.  Up to the very end, she just knew that somehow Jesus would be rescued.  Surely God would not let him die!   And to die like that, naked and exposed with spit and blood and sweat and tears running down…. the agony…. She couldn’t bear it.  Somehow, someone would come to rescue him.   There would be last minute reprieve, a stay of execution.  But it didn’t happen. So, she stood there and watched as he writhed and as he moaned and then she started to pray that he would die fast.  And then the sky turned dark, black as night and it was over.


So, on this very morning, Mary came trudged through the dark to pay her last respects.  But again, nothing turned out the way she expected.


The first thing she noticed was quite a surprise: the tomb was empty, and the body was gone.  Her expectations tell her they had stolen his body.


And you know that she began to frantically search for Jesus’ missing body. And then she speaks: ” They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Her expectations tell her that He’s gone.  He’s gone.  And I don’t know where he is.  I don’t know where to find him.


That is when (the gardener) Jesus himself speaks to her, she does not know him.  Her expectations will not allow her to believe that it could be him.


It is natural, it is our human desire to want or to expect to be rescued or saved.  When we face trouble or sickness or death either in ourselves or a loved one or someone we care about; that is what we want, that is what we expect, a rescue.  Call the paramedics, the doctor, the counselor, the lawyer or God to fix it, cure it, rescue it, give us back the life we had.  Make things the way they used to be.  It’s natural, it’s logical, until it isn’t, and our dreams die our hopes are crushed and our expectations change.  Then we lay bodies in caskets and plant them in the ground or in the tomb and that is the end.   It is nature.  It is natural.  It is medical.  It is logical.


But if Mary learned anything that sad morning at Jesus tomb, it is that expectations can change.  She learned that rescue and resurrection are not the same thing.   Rescue means being freed from struggle, being saved from an accident, having pain alleviated.  Rescue means that we get back what we had as we had it.


But resurrection is different, it means that we find new life on the other side of the struggle or even in the midst of pain.  Resurrection means that the story is not over when the stone is rolled across the mouth of the tomb closing it forever.  Resurrection means that even though we have to pass through the valley of the shadow of sickness or feebleness or grief or divorce or abandonment or even death itself, that is not all there is.  Resurrection means that God gives a new kind of life, a life that is still worth living.  Resurrection means that there is life on the other side, even if the rescue never comes.[3]


This is why we are gathered here today.  It is what we are gathered to celebrate.  This is the reason for the lilies and the trumpets.  This is what we remember as we break the bread and pour the cup: Jesus was not rescued.  Jesus died, and he was buried.


And then on the third day, he rose again from the dead.  And life has never been the same.

[1] Reverend Dr. David Lose, http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/davidlose/IsqE/~3/eT_JSFcM0aM/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email

[2] Reverend James S. Lowry, Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee. A sermon entitled The Gardener, based on John 20:1-18 as found in Journal for Preachers, Easter 1997 pages 30-38.

[3] Reverend Joan Gray, A sermon entitled “Beyond Rescue” based on John 20: 1-18. Preached at Columbia Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia for Easter 1999. Found in the Journal for Preachers pages 51 and 52.