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Message for Easter Sunrise

This is the message from Easter Sunrise service.

You can listen to this message by clicking here.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

This is the great day!  It is the greatest God has created since the first days of creation itself!  This is the first day of the new creation, the day when Christ was raised.

And it happened when it was impossible to imagine it.  John only mentions Mary Magdalene but there were others with her when they went to the tomb early that morning, they were thinking of nothing but doing their last honorable service for their deceased teacher.  On Friday afternoon they had hastily wrapped His body and laid Him in the tomb.  They had worked so quickly on Friday because of sundown and the beginning of the Passover Sabbath.  But this morning, they had returned to the tomb in the garden to complete their task.  They most likely bought the spices Saturday evening when the market reopened after the Sabbath was over.  And they made their way to the tomb the first chance they had in the first light of the first day of the week.  They were worried about the stone set in front of the tomb and rightly so.  Stones like these were very heavy to keep wild animals out of the tombs.

But that mourning, when Mary and the other women arrived at the tomb, they saw that the stone had already been rolled away and the tomb was empty.  The only thing that made sense was someone had taken Jesus’ body out of the tomb.  Cruelty added upon the Friday’s cruelty only added to their darkened spirits.   Mary Magdalene, maybe the other women too, ran back to Peter and the discipline whom Jesus loved, most likely John the author of this Gospel.  Make no mistake, Mary and the other women are the first apostles, the apostles to the apostles, the first “sent ones” entrusted with the news that the grave is empty, that Jesus is risen from the dead.  The women passed along what they had seen and heard.  The stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ body was gone.  Their words only added to the chaos of the morning.  Peter and John and Mary rush back to the tomb and find it just as the women had told them.

The whole scene reads like an eyewitness account because it is.  They don’t just rush to the tomb and arrive together.  John gets there first but doesn’t go in immediately but he kind of stands outside and stoops to look in.  If the tomb where Jesus was laid is anything like the tombs archeologists have found in the area, like the ones I showed in Bible class last week, I think I understand how John stooped to look in.  But as soon as Peter gets there, he rushes into the tomb and he saw the linens that had wrapped Jesus’ body just laying there with the face cloth folded up by itself.  Someone has taken the body.  It’s the only thing that makes sense and yet, someone took the time to unwrap the body first.  That doesn’t make any sense.  And who in the world would tidy up a grave robbing by folding the face cloth up by itself?  And then John goes in and sees what Peter sees.

He sees and believes.  After years of reading this every Easter, I think I might finally understand what this phrase means.  It reads, “he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  Now, did he believe or did he not believe that Jesus was raised?  Well, I think a way to read this and it make sense is to remember back to what John was asked to believe first that morning and that was that Jesus body was missing.  Mary had been to the tomb, ran back to the apostles and reported Jesus’ body missing.  When he gets to the tomb, he sees the body missing.  “He saw and believed [that is, he believed what Mary had told him and John believed that Jesus was missing, at least for the moment]; for as yet he did not understand the Scripture, that [Jesus] must rise from the dead.”

Don’t blame John or Peter or Mary.  No one could being to order the chaos of what had happened.  It was beyond belief to think that Jesus, who had been very clearly dead Friday afternoon, was now very much alive.  It had never happened before, well, except for Lazarus, about two weeks earlier, but they weren’t thinking about that.  And besides that was different wasn’t it?  So, they were consumed by their grief and sorrow and not thinking about any other possibilities than that Jesus body had been taken.

So, having seen for themselves, Peter and John left and went back.  Mary stayed but had not gone back into the tomb.  She stood outside weeping.  She was crying the kind of deep and sorrowful tears that come when we are completely undone by our loss.  If you’ve ever lost someone you truly loved, you know the kind of grief Mary felt that morning.  And His body missing was now insult to injury.  She kept looking in where she had laid his body and where it wasn’t laying any more, trying to grab hold of reality, trying to make sense of it.

And then she sees the most extraordinary sight, two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one up by the head and the other down by his feet.  The angels ask her why she is sobbing so sorrowfully.  They already know.  They already know that today is the greatest day that has ever been.  They cannot imagine why anyone would be weeping today.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”

And it is just as we thought.  It is bad enough, Jesus has was killed so cruelly, but now she fears they have taken His body away.

And then she turns around and sees a figure, a man.  She doesn’t recognize him.  It is the Lord.  And He asks her the same question.  Woman, why are you weeping so sorrowfully.  Hope against hope, still looking for the body of Jesus, she thinks this man might be the caretaker of the cemetery and she says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

And Jesus says to her, “Mary.”

Into the darkness of her sorrow and the chaos of her grief, the Lord Jesus speaks her name and she knows.  She knows it’s Jesus.  She knows He’s alive.  She knows now what the angels knew.  And something in her swells, a wild delight at hearing the very voice of God.  She’d heard it before in words of kindness and forgiveness as He’d taught, and even as He’d hung on the cross.  It was enlivening to hear Him call her by name.

It was a little bit maybe like not just seeing but feeling a sunrise, like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.[1]  It hearing and experiencing and feeling hope and love and peace and faith and trust all at once.

That’s why today is the greatest day ever.  Even when Jesus raised Lazarus, poor Lazarus had gone one to die again.  Jesus would not.  Jesus was not just resuscitated back to this life on this earth but He was bodily resurrected to a new life, a guarantee of the promised new creation where even death itself has been defeated forever and life in its fullness is restored.

Ask people around the world what they think the most important time of the year is for Christians, ask even some Christians, and you’ll hear, “Christmas.”  The true answer, is of course today, the day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christians have always celebrated Easter.  If Jesus had not been raised, there’d be no reason to celebrate His birth.  The Good News is that Jesus conquered death.  That’s the reason for that other, lesser, season.  The world that sits in the darkness of chaos and grief and greed and hate needs to hear that message.  The old darkness is gone.  The new day has dawned.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

[1]Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 142.

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