Sermon: The Story of Resurrection

Turn with me to John, chapter 20, verses 1-18. John is the last of the four gospel accounts, this one written by the apostle John. While each of the four gospel accounts record the same events, John makes explicit his purpose for writing in John 20:31, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. No story is in here by accident. They are given to us so that we might believe in Christ. We pick up the story toward the very end. It is Easter morning. Jesus has been crucified and placed in a tomb with a stone over the entrance. For all the world knows, he has died, like all before him, his story has ended with death. But as we shall see, this true story is quite a different story. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Father, speak to us through your Word. May we truly see Jesus and live into the story of his resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings there and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 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.’” 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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The brakes squeak slightly as the bus pulls up to the stop. You quickly step in to find a seat, but are forced to stand holding the rail. As you look down at a young boy sitting in a seat, he meets your eyes and says, “The latin name for the duck is histrionicus histrionicus.” What in the world has happened? Is the child ill? Is he some sort of spy and this is the codeword for some covert information? Did he mistake me for someone on the bus yesterday who asked him about ducks? We don’t know how to understand what is going on around us unless we know what kind of story we are in.

Not just with odd encounters on a bus, but in life, we don’t know how to understand what is going on unless we know what kind of story we are in. We instinctively know that two people bumping into each other in a spy movie is very different than in a romantic comedy. A covert handoff versus love at first sight. It all depends on what kind of story we are in.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning changes what story we are in. We are no longer just in a story of death, but now in a story of resurrection.

On that Easter morning, Mary gets stuck because she believes she is in a story of death, when, in fact, she is in a story of resurrection. Mary is stuck in darkness until Jesus opens her eyes to see the true story.

Before dawn, Mary heads toward the tomb. The other gospels tell us that she comes with other women to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. This was an act of love, an act one did for someone who had died. These women, Mary included, had stood near Jesus and watched his agony and his death.

Mary goes to the tomb with no expectations. Whatever she had heard from Jesus promising his resurrection on the third day, this was not in her mind. This was not the story she was in. This was the story of a woman going to honor her dead Teacher.

Mary reaches the tomb and she sees the stone has been removed from the entrance. Mary sees. Over and over again, seven times in this passage, there are people seeing evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they see, but do not see. Their eyes see, but their hearts do not understand. They do not know what kind of story they are in. Mary runs to go and tell the disciples. The stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty. This is the first indication that things are not what she expected, but Mary doesn’t see it.

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Grave robbery. The stone is rolled away, Jesus is gone. But Mary sees only death and more tragedy. Instead of good news that he has risen just as he promised, Mary’s grief only deepens because she now believes Jesus is not just dead, but his body desecrated. Jesus is dead, isn’t that bad enough, but now they have taken his body! In Mary’s eyes, things have only gotten worse. She cannot see what is happening in front of her, because she believes she is in a story of death. Mary gets stuck and cannot see.

We, like Mary, can find ourselves stuck in a story of death. We can look out at the world, have the very life-giving, dead-raising power of God before our eyes and be unable to see, because we think we know what kind of story we are in. We look at our lives or the lives of others and think, “we know how that story ends.”

We see the person struggling with addiction and we know how that story ends.

We hear the couples’ bickering turn to fighting and we know how that story ends.

We fail again like we’ve failed before and we know how that story ends.

We see the same stories play out again and again on the screens and in our world and we believe we know how it ends, we know how this story plays out.

The doctor takes a deep breath before delivering the latest news, we know how this story ends.

Your job evaporates and you starting missing bills, we know how this story ends.

You are all alone and it is late at night, we know how this story ends.

The story of death. We can look out at the world, have the very evidence of God’s work, the very dead-raising power of God before our eyes and be unable to see. This is the story Mary sees on that Easter morning – a story of death. Jesus has died and all that happens next gets drawn into that tragic story.

At Mary’s words, Simon Peter and the other disciple race to the tomb. The other disciples arrives first, sees the linen wrappings of Jesus but does not go in. Peter arrives, sees linen wrappings and the cloth on Jesus’ head. Grave robbers would not have bothered to unwrap the body. They would not have taken the time to roll up the head cloth and but it separately. The tomb is empty, the Lord is risen! But we know nothing of Peter’s reaction, but that he goes home. Only the other disciple we are told sees and believes after he enters the tomb.

The disciples confirm her story that the tomb is empty, the stone is rolled away, and the grave clothes have been removed, but Mary sees, but cannot see. She weeps outside the tomb. She bends over to look into the tomb and sees two angels in white. Angels whose presence causes most to shake and tremble, ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She has seen the empty tomb. She has seen angels sitting where Christ was laid, and when they ask her what is wrong, she repeats the exact same story she told the disciples earlier. “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary is stuck in the same story, again and again. After saying this she turns and sees Jesus, but she does not know it is Jesus. Mary sees again, but does not see. When Jesus asks the same question, revealing he even knows she is looking for someone, Mary repeats the same story for a third time. “Sir, if you have taken him away, please tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Empty tomb, angels in white, the risen Jesus standing in front of her and Mary cannot see it. She keeps repeating the same story again and again. He is dead, they have taken him. Mary repeats again and again that she wants to know where Jesus is. She wants to honor him, make sure his dead body is cared for and treated with love and respect.

On that Easter morning, Mary gets stuck because she believes she is in a story of death, when, in fact, she is in a story of resurrection. Mary is stuck in darkness until Jesus opens her eyes to see the true story.

At that point, Mary knows what we all know. Everyone’s story ends in death. The story of death is not just the story of Jesus as Mary sees it, but the story of the world in its fallen condition. For all their glibness, the memes get it right: We really do wash dishes over and over again and they we die. We really do fold laundry again and again and they we die.

Before we judge Mary too harshly for being unable to see that Jesus stood right in front of her, we should acknowledge that this is the story most of us live by most of the time. It is a story of death. We are born and sooner or later we die.

I believe that part of the panic and fear we are seeing in some part of the world in response to COVID is fueled by the fact that this pandemic is making all of us face this story. We will die. This is the story of humanity after the Fall. It is a story of death. And for many living apart from Christ, they are feeling the horror and tragedy of this. And the truth of death apart from Christ is much worse. There is wisdom for all of us in living in light of the fact that we will die and face judgment. Yet, only in Christ and because of the resurrection of Christ, is this life a story with hope. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this is a story without hope. And it is this hopeless story of death that Mary gets stuck in as she is confronted again and again with the evidence of the resurrection. We live, we die. It is the story we live by whenever we look out at others or ourselves and say with resignation, ‘I know how that story ends.’

Mary sees, but cannot see. Even with the empty tomb, the angels in white, and the risen Jesus in front of her, she cannot break free of the story of death. She cannot see what God has done and is doing. Mary is stuck in darkness until Jesus opens her eyes to see the true story.

Verse 16: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

Jesus speaks her name and suddenly everything shifts. She who saw and saw and saw without seeing, suddenly sees as if for the first time. She turns and cries out to Christ. She must have held him, for Jesus tells her that she cannot hold him for long. Suddenly, at the voice of Jesus calling her name, Mary knows that she is in a fundamentally different story than the one she thought she knew. Not just a story of death, but a story of resurrection. An empty tomb now blazes with meaning, angel visions dazzle, and the risen Jesus is worshipped. Mary who saw and saw and saw, now can boldly announce, “I have seen the Lord.”

Now she sees, now she understands, now she knows that she is in the story of resurrection. Mary didn’t choose to believe a better story, she was pulled into it. She was basically hit over the head with it and still couldn’t see it. She was named and called into it, not because it was nice, but because it was true. Having heard her name, she goes forth differently. Having been drafted into the resurrection story, she now lives anew.

Jesus Christ is risen! When Jesus calls us, when we hear his voice and turn and call upon his name, we are brought out of a world that only has a story of death and into the true world where the resurrection of Christ reigns over all of reality. When Jesus calls us and we truly see as if for the first time, the script gets flipped on the story of our lives, just as it has been for the story of creation.

All those stories you thought you knew just how they would end burst open because Jesus Christ is risen and reigning. He is not dead, but alive.

Another lonely night in front of the blue screen does not need to be the way the story ends. Jesus Christ is risen!

Addiction and self-destruction does not need to be the way the story ends. Jesus Christ is risen!

We wash dished again and again until we die does not need to be the way the story ends. Jesus Christ is risen!

Mary could not see because she thought she knew what story she was in. At the voice of Jesus, she was pulled into the true story and was able to see all that had happened in a new light. From that point on, she live differently because Christ was risen.

When we hear the voice of the risen Jesus calling us, we are named, adopted, and sent.

Jesus calls us by name. Verse 16: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

When Jesus calls you, he calls you personally. He knows your name. Yes, you. And he calls you by your name. He knows who you are, and he says who you are. When Jesus calls you, it doesn’t matter what kind of name, what kind of identity, what kind of status others give you. Mary was a woman from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. But at the voice of Jesus, she became Mary the first witness. Mary the first to see the risen Lord. Mary the first to proclaim to the world that Jesus was risen.

In the story of death, we either have to make our own identity or have others make it for us. We try to make ourselves by our choices only to find our identity fragile and peace fleeting. We let others tell us who we are, only to find ourselves crushed under the weight.

Jesus calls you by name. Jesus knows who you are. Who you really are. Who he made you to be. This is part of the beautiful cost of the gospel. He calls you out of your story – whatever kind of story you thought it was or where you thought it was going – into his story, the resurrection story. It is the story of Jesus, but you have a place in it. You, Mary. You, John. You, James. You, Henk. You, Margaret. Jesus calls you by name. In the story of resurrection, you are known and called because the risen Christ calls you by name, just as he did with Mary.

When Jesus calls you, you are adopted as a child of God and brother or sister of Christ. Verse 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.’ Jesus calls his Father, our Father and his God, our God. When the risen Jesus calls us by name, we become part of the family. We not only have an identity secured by Christ naming us, but we have fellowship and relationship with God. God becomes our Father in Jesus Christ. He is our brother as well as our Lord. In the story of death, we were separated from God by our Sin. We knew the Lord only as judge. But now, at the voice of Christ, we know God as our loving and gracious Father and Christ as our brother. We are restored. We are brought home into the Father’s house, not as guests or even servants, but as children. In the story of resurrection, you have a home in the Father’s house, because Jesus calls his Father our Father.

Lastly, when Jesus calls you, you are sent to proclaim him. Verses 17 and 18: 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.’” 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. Mary is sent. The resurrection story is not meant to be kept quiet. Secure as one named by Christ and restored to relationship to the Father, Mary is emboldened to go and announce the good news: I have seen the Lord! Jesus Christ is risen.

We don’t know how to understand what is going on around us unless we know what kind of story we are in. Mary spent most of Easter morning living in a story of death. She lived unable to see what God had done and was doing right in front of her because she thought she knew how the story ended. But at the voice of Jesus, she was pulled into a new story, the story of resurrection, where Jesus Christ is risen and reigning. She could see as if for the first time the hope of Christ’s resurrection in the face of death. At the voice of Jesus, she was named, adopted, and sent.

Do you hear the voice of Christ this morning, calling you by name? The risen Jesus knows you, knows your name, and he calls you, giving you a firm identity in him that can never be taken or shaken. The risen Jesus also calls his Father, your Father, inviting you home to the Father’s house as a child of God. The risen Jesus also sends you out to proclaim his resurrection.

Do you hear the voice of Christ this morning, calling you by name? Whether you hear his voice and see, and what story you know you are in, will determine how you live today and from this day forward.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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