March 31, 2002
The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Easter Sunday

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
John 20:1-18  another choice on John
Underlined texts link to sermons on that text


Non-lectionary resources for Easter / Resurrection

Luke 24:1-12 - "Idle Tales - A Matter of Perspective"
Luke 24:13-35 "The Stranger On Your Road"

Luke 24: 36b-48 - "Too Good To Be True"
Acts 4:32-35 & 1 John 1:1-2:2  "The Real Miracle of Easter"


"Frozen Moments and The Other Mary "
Matthew 28: 1-10

Did you ever play the game "Freeze" as a child? The group is running and playing as though everything were normal and then the one who is "it" yells, "Freeze!" Everyone has to freeze exactly as they are when they hear the word. The first person to stumble or move from their "frozen position" are "it" for the next round.

There are moments in all of our lives that are frozen in time and frozen in our memories. They can be good moments, or bad moments.  Moments of utter joy and moments of profound grief. Whatever else they may be, these are moments that are locked in our hearts and minds because of the power they hold for our lives. You can almost relive them now.

Remember?  (Give time for each to be remembered)

  • That first kiss.

  • The time she said, "Yes."

  • A look on the doctor's face.

  • The day a child was born.

  • The time your mortgage was approved on the first house.

  • The time you lost the person you loved most.

All of these are moments which are locked in place and in some sense time stops when these frozen moments are called to mind. The most dramatic of them all are those moments of life and death that make up the greatest, most wonderful and the worst, most devastating events of our living.

"Defining" moments some folks might call them. As we gather on this Easter Sunday we celebrate the single most important defining moment of our Christian faith - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Without this moment, none of the other defining moments of our lives would ever make sense.

***

It was one of these frozen moments for Mary Magdalene and the woman our scripture calls, "the other Mary."

She woke up for the second time to the chilling reality of a world without the One who had completely changed her life. That moment on Friday when Jesus called out  to a dark sky, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!"... was forever etched in her mind. He was full of life, energy and stunning healing power - she had experienced all of that the day he set her free from years of emotional anguish and turmoil - and now suddenly her whole new world and new life was gone.

He had given her a new life and promised those who followed him a new life, but now that terrible image of his lifeless body on a Roman cross is frozen in her mind. Friday night, Sabbath and the evening before the first day of the week drag on moment by moment and the grief is without relief.

Much of that time was spent at Jesus' graveside. Just before our gospel reading begins, Matthew writes, "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb." [Matt. 27:61]  We might call it a wake, but with nothing else to do and the light of their lives extinguished, they sat across from the tomb, watching the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea carefully lay Jesus' body in the garden tomb.

A numb fog like spirit surrounded the women who were always in the background of Jesus public life. This was the only way they knew to stay close to him. Drawn by love, they sit there in that strange silent period that comes to all of us when someone we love so very much is taken from us. We wait, not sure why, but we wait -- unable to go back to what was and not sure how to move forward into what will be.

Frozen moments. We've seen them over and over. A crowd gathers on a sidewalk outside of a New York apartment in the days following the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980. For countless hours, crowds stand holding candles, weeping and standing in that emotional fog we know so well.

Similar crowds stood all over America in the days following President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.

Crowds still gather in that foggy state on the sidewalks of New York looking toward an empty place where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood not so very long ago. The sense of shock and unbelief that filled the hearts and minds of millions all over the world as the towers came crashing to the ground may qualify as the single most frozen moment in our contemporary world.

Perhaps this comes closest to what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were feeling as they sat "across from the tomb."  For them it was the tower from Psalm 61 that came crashing to the ground.

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy." [Psalm 61:1-3]

 

Then there is another moment that changed Mary's Magdalene's life and the lives of countless millions since the day it happened. The scene is riveting!  John C. Purdy captures the scene in his book of reflections, God With a Human Face. [Westminster/John Knox, 1993]

Cecil B. DeMille couldn’t have dreamed up anything more stunning. (It was literally stunning for the men who were guarding the tomb.) There was an earthquake, caused by something like a sonic boom. An angel in shining raiment came plunging down out of the sky like a stealth fighter; he rolled back the tombstone and sat on it. The men who were guarding the tomb were scared to death - or at least so frightened that they passed out and lay like dead men. So dazzling was the heavenly messenger that it was reported - presumably by the women - that he flashed like lightning. One can only guess at the timbre and resonance of his voice. Charlton Heston and James Earl Jones, eat your hearts out!

Mary and the "other" Mary came back to revisit their grief early on that first Easter Morning having perhaps slept a few moments here and there between those crashing waves of shock and unbelief.

And then, another frozen moment a defining moment when joy cuts through their rock hard grief like a red hot poker through a block of ice! The words are of the variety that stop you dead in your tracks and bring your hectic life agenda to a screeching halt.

Words like:

  • "You're fired!"

  • "Yes, I will marry you!"

  • "Mom, Dad, I'm pregnant!"

  • "You're biopsy came back negative!"

These words on this day are forever engraved on the hearts and soul of every person who has ever embraced the name of Jesus Christ since they were first spoken.

"He is not here, for He has risen..." [NASB]

This changes everything!

From the hopeless fog that descended upon the earliest followers of Jesus Christ, to the stunned victims of the worlds worst tragedies - these words change everything. "He is not here, for he has risen!"

No matter how long the road or dark the way, the Easter faith proclaims hope in the face of despair, light in the midst of darkness, joy in the night of sorrow and most of all...  life in a glorious victory over death!

It is difficult to wrap our minds around the impact these words must have had on the two Mary's. Into the early dawn when light was just beginning to disperse the shadows around a garden tomb, it is as though an explosion went off in front of them!

"Don't be afraid," an angel's voice cries out.

Yeah, right!

My wife jumps through the ceiling when I enter a room when her back is turned toward me and I say,  (in what she calls my "preacher voice) "Hi honey."

But an angel from heaven bursting into a grief laden, sleepy early morning visit to a graveside - now that's a frightening experience. Then the emotional ping pong continues to jar them as the words are then spoken, "He is not here, for he has risen!"

And that first dawning of Easter day brought a hopeful light that dispelled the awful darkness of death for all time and eternity!

***

But on this Easter Sunday, there are three unlikely words that grab my soul. On the surface they pale in comparison to the amazing words which announced Jesus' resurrection.

But on this Easter Sunday, it is not so much the angel's words that stand out for me. There are some other words that bring hope to you and to me and to every person who has ever felt very small in a universe of famous and important people.

Let these words sink in for a moment.

"The other Mary!"

Easter is filled with all kinds of glorious phrases and songs and prayers. We sing, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today! Alleluia!"  Millions of Christians will join in the Easter Acclamation. "Alleluia! Christ is Risen!" and the response comes back, "The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!"  The scripture reading proclaims, "He is not here, for he has risen!"

But these are the words that speak with a special meaning today.  "The other Mary..."

To put the words in context, "After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb."

There was of course, Mary Magdalene we all know so well. But who else came to the garden tomb to hear the earth shifting, life changing words? Peter, Chief of Apostles?  The Roman Emperor or at least a Centurion? How about the three Kings from the East? Maybe they would be the proper audience for the first announcement of God's stunning victory over death.

No... it was not the rich, powerful and famous who were chosen to hear the words. It was two women who had faithfully followed and ministered to Jesus. Mary Magdalene and most amazing of all -- "the other Mary."

Have you ever been the other Mary?  There is John F. Kennedy and John Glenn and countless other famous John's -- then there's me, "the other John."  The absolute majority of us will never even make a footnote in history. Have you ever felt like the "other" Mary or the "other" John, or Elizabeth, or William?

And yet, there we are right at the center of the most incredible moment of all time!

There we are when God shows up and turns the world inside out and upside down in a way that changes everything for everybody.

"He is not here, for He has risen..." 

No matter who you are, where you've been, what your station in life or how life has been for you, the glorious truth of this Easter celebration of the victory of life over death is for you!

It is for "the other Mary," and for you and for me!

Thanks be to God!

"He is not here, for He has risen..." 


Notes On The Text

Acts 10: 34-43  A Homiletical Direction ~ "Have You Heard?" 

How many times have you sung, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today! Al-le-luia!" If you've sung it once you've sung it a hundred times.

Do you know that saying, "Familiarity breeds ______?" (contempt) Is it even remotely possible that having heard the Easter story every year for 20, 50 or even 90 years, we have become so used to it that the idea of resurrection has lost its power? Contempt would be too strong a term to use, but has the force of Jesus' resurrection hit you lately?

Do an experiment for me. Say the words of the National Anthem to yourself. Don't sing it in your mind. Just say the words. (Tough isn't it?) The tune and the song belong together. AND... Easter and Peter Cottontail and the Easter Egg hunt all go together. But, can you recite the basic facts of Easter without all the extra stuff that has attached to Easter?

Our scripture lesson for today is not one of the customary Easter texts we preach on. It is an outline. It is the Apostle Peter bringing the "Good News" about Jesus Christ to people who needed a concise, to the point explanation of Christian faith. Are you in touch with these "basics?" Here it is:

1. Anyone who desires, can have a relationship with God. (vv.34-35)

2. God sent Jesus to call us into this relationship. (vv.36-38)

3. Jesus was executed, but God raised him from the dead to show he is the one God chose to bring us back to God. (vv.39-42)

4. In Jesus, we have forgiveness of our sins. (v.43)


John 20:1-18

The resurrection of Christ is the capstone of God's attempt to lead us back home to "the garden".   Not, of course, in a literal sense, but in the sense of affirming that an everlasting relationship of love and fulfillment are ours in Christ.  Thus the approach that each one of us as a unique and special creation of God, would of course, have a singular experience of the resurrection of Christ. It is important to note the distinction between "subjective" experience of the resurrection and "unique" experience.  It is not that Christ or the Resurrection is "all things to all persons," -- or a totally subjective experience of the believer -- but that Christ comes to us where we are as the persons we are. The focus today is on Mary's unique experience of the Risen Lord.

Another note with respect to the accounts of the resurrection in the gospels:  A lot of writers have gone to a great deal of trouble to forge a coherent account of the events of resurrection morning.  This frequently leads to an artificial "harmonization" of the gospel accounts.   On the other hand, there are those who see the varying expressions of what took place as evidence of disagreement as to the "reality" of the resurrection event.   We believe that both are off base. Think of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  What took place?  Whose account is correct?  To this day, people do not agree -- even on the "facts".  But no one disagrees with the event -- namely, President Kennedy was assassinated.  A harmonization of eyewitness accounts would be artificial and indeed distort what took place.  On the other hand to conclude that the event did not take place would be absurd. We see the nuances and variations as evidence of authenticity rather than subterfuge. For more on this whole topic, we appreciate Clark Pinnock:  "The Resurrection Narratives"

* It is significant to note that the writer identifies the "Risen One" with Jesus.   "...she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus." [John 20:14] The Gospel of John is consistent in this identification.  This would argue against the attempt to separate the Risen Christ from Jesus of Nazareth.

v.1 Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of seven evil spirits (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) after which she became a devoted follower. (Matt. 27:55 - she had followed from Galilee to Jerusalem and was a part of the group of women who cared for Jesus' needs as he traveled.

vv.6-7 The note of mystery is introduced with the fact that the burial cloths were still in the tomb.   The head wrappings are separated from the rest of the body cloths.  If the body had been stolen -- the robbers would certainly not have taken time to unwrap the body.

v.8 "... he saw and believed."  That is "believed" that the body of Jesus had been taken away just as Mary said it had.  v.9 goes on to explain that they did not yet "get it" about the resurrection.  Some commentators, however, do have the "other disciple's" belief a matter of belief in the larger sense of the gospel's "that you might come to believe." [John 20:31] [pisteuw]]]][[] ] John's belief in this case would be a preliminary or even revelatory belief induced by the empty tomb.  Yet, the belief of the disciples does not reach its fullest meaning until the paraclete [paraklhtos ] is given and teaches them all things. [John 16:12-16]

v.11 Luke's account of the collage of resurrection morning events contributes the notion that the males of the group of followers did not believe the women who came with news of the resurrection.  (See Luke 24:10ff)

v.14 "She did not know that it was Jesus"  What are we to make of Mary's non-recognition of the risen Jesus?  Barclay says the answer is so simple as to realize that Mary didn't know Jesus because she was looking through tear filled eyes. [DSB: John 20]  There is more to the issue however.  There is a "breaking in" factor that comes to many who saw the risen Jesus, but did not recognize him immediately.  With the disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke, it is the breaking of the bread -- for Mary it is the speaking of her name.  (We explore this further under "Alternate Sermon Ideas"]  As with the theme of our sermon -- "recognizing" Jesus is a unique and personal event for each one of us. 

v17 "Do not hold on to me..."  This isn't a prohibition against touching the risen Jesus before his ascension.  Thomas is invited to touch.  The idea here is "don't detain me or keep me here -- but go and tell the others.  "I have not yet ascended to the Father" -- One perspective is, "No need to hang on to me now, I will be with you for a time but go now and tell the disciples that I will be ascending to 'my Father and your Father...' "  Could this be the 4th evangelist's way of presenting Jesus' ascension? (As Gail R. O'Day in NIB: Vol.9 p.843) An interesting thought, but problematic in light of the detailed interaction between Jesus and the disciples and particularly with Thomas in John 19:20ff.

v.18 The first "witness" of the resurrection is Mary.  A remarkable position for a woman in first century Judea!


Another Homiletical Approach for John 20:1-18

"Knowing the Risen One "

There is an interesting and important message in the story of Mary's encounter with the Risen Jesus in John 20:11-18.  Mary had great interest in and some knowledge of Jesus, but she did not know the "Risen One" -- at first.  The same could be said of Thomas [John 20:26-29] and of the seven disciples who shared in the "Easter breakfast."  (Amazingly in this case, there is a hint that the disciples knew in some inner sense that this was Jesus (the Risen Lord) but had some questions as to his physical appearance.  [See John 21:9-14]

There is a similar experience recorded in Luke's gospel where the two disciples are leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection and are joined by the Risen Jesus during their journey.  They do not recognize Jesus until he joins them in "breaking of bread".  [Luke 24:13ff]   One of the more interesting comments relating to this theme is contained in the commissioning of the disciples in Matt. 28:16-20.  In this momentous occasion of Jesus sending the disciples all over the world, there is this verse: "When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted." [Matt. 28:17]

All of this points to a critical issue -- namely, "What does it mean to know the risen one?  The burden of these passages points to the fact that "knowing" Jesus is more than physical recognition or having knowledge of him.  One might say they know who Abraham Lincoln is.  They could say they know "about" Abraham Lincoln.  But, anyone who would say, "I know Abraham Lincoln," would undoubtedly be visiting with a mental health professional before too long.

There is a similar issue with celebrating Easter and knowing about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  There is a huge difference between knowing about the resurrection and knowing the Risen One.  (See Paul in Philippians 3:10 -- "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection..."   Paul's life demonstrates the difference between knowing and knowing about.

To have an authentic Easter, we need to appreciate the difference between knowing and knowing about the Risen One.  The common element in those who came to know the resurrected Christ is the declaration of St. Paul that he had a desire to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Desire leads to openness and openness leads to experience.  You can develop this theme by tracing the desire -- openness and experience of Mary, Thomas, the disciples on the Emmaus Road, the seven disciples who went back to Galilee and the Apostle Paul.


 Worship Helps

Call To Worship

Leader:  O give thanks to the Lord, for the love of God is forever.
People: The Lord is our strength and our salvation.

Leader:  Christ has broken the power of death,

People: In him is life and life eternal.

Leader:  O praise the Lord all you people!

People:
Blessed are you O Lord!  Blessed is your Son Jesus Christ!

             Blessed are all those whose hope is in the Lord!  Amen!

Confession of Sin

O Lord God, Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, we gather before you on this glorious day of resurrection to ask for your mercy and grace.  We confess that we come so short of the resurrection life Jesus gained for us.  We live out of the meager resources of our self centered world and miss the abundance of the riches of Christ. We pray that the renewing power of your Holy Spirit would refresh us today and give us strength to live the new life -- the resurrection life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

 Scripture declares, when deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our sins. [Ps. 65:3]  Be assured brothers and sisters in Christ, as we turn humbly to the Lord for forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive us and renew our strength to follow Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

We are filled with joy on this day of resurrection Lord. In a world that is so broken, so filled with suffering and death, you have given us a message of life!  Our hearts are so desperately in need of the life giving, death defeating message of the angels.  "He is not here -- he is risen!"

We pray that you would be pleased O Lord, to give us strength to live in light of our faith and not in light of the good news of our faith and not the bad news of our world. Give us the joy of living from faith and for Christ and the courage to bring good news to the world around us.

We praise you O God Most High for the love which surrounds us, the community which sustains us, the family of faith that guides us and the vision that fulfills us. We are forever in your debt and destined to praise you name for time and eternity.

Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

You have given us a gift, O Lord, which no human being could ever give.  In the face of death, you give us joyful hope of life.  The gifts we bring to you seem so paltry compared to the riches you bestow upon us.  Yet nothing is small when given into your hands.  Receive our gifts and bless us to the work of Christ in this world.  Amen.