John 20:1-18 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away 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 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had 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 went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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 Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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 that he had said these things to her. (ESV)
I am guessing that the vast majority of you who are watching this Easter worship service never imagined that you would be watching it online instead of being present in church for worship on Easter. Of all the changes we have had to accept, and all the events and activities that have been postponed and cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the one thing above all the others I never thought I would live to see is that we would not be in church together on Easter Sunday. The COVID-19 pandemic has truly changed our world in ways none of us could have foreseen or imagined.
Yet, it is certain that the changes wrought by this pandemic are nothing compared to the truly world changing event we are celebrating today. This pandemic will pass, and in a generation or two it will likely be remembered as just another event in the long history of human tribulation. But the event we are celebrating today is the event on which all of human history hinges. When we get to the other side of this pandemic, we might retain some enhanced hygiene practices, but life will more than likely go on largely as it did before, especially if a vaccine is developed. But the history of humanity, and the destiny of humanity, were forever changed by what happened on that first Easter over 2000 years ago.
The really surprising thing about the event that forever changed the world, if we are willing to admit it, is how hard it is to believe the story of what happened on that first Easter, especially considering one of the primary sources. The major character in the story of our Lord’s resurrection that Jewels just read to us from John’s Gospel, is Mary Magdalene. Yet Mary was not a major character in any other way. Prior to this story, John had mentioned Mary Magdalene only once in his Gospel, in a list of those who were standing by the cross of Jesus. What we know about Mary Magdalene, we know from what the other Gospel writers tell us, which isn’t much, and what we can piece together from our knowledge of history.
Mary Magdalene was reported at one time to have been possessed by seven demons, she was almost certainly uneducated, probably illiterate, her status in society would have been on the lowest rung of the ladder, her credibility would have been next to nothing. So, with all that going for her, why would anyone believe anything this woman had to say; why would any intelligent person pay any attention to a story of her telling—especially this outlandish story of a dead person come back to life?
Yet, isn’t it amazing that, 2000 years later, we sophisticated, privileged and educated Christians still commemorate the event that Mary was the first to proclaim, and we base our lives, and all of our hopes for eternity, on the story Mary was first to tell.
Why? Because we believe it. We dare to believe that this amazing story is true. We believe in spite of all there is to doubt. And there is certainly plenty in this story to doubt. Even gullible Mary (if we make the assumption she was gullible) tries to make sense of the empty tomb by concluding that someone has taken the Lord. Surely he could not have risen from the dead, as he said he would. A dead person cannot be made alive again.
And we have all heard the conspiracy theories: he was not really dead, but merely wounded. There was a conspiracy by his followers to hide his body and fake his resurrection in order to establish a cult that has continued to fool the world for 2000 years.
These and other theories and doubts have arisen because in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given us such a miracle of love and forgiveness that it is worthy of tremendous faith, and therefore open to doubt. Think about it; if there were nothing to doubt, if the central story of Christianity were a story that was not mind-boggling, not unprecedented, not unheard of; it would not require faith. And it would certainly not be worth retelling over and over for 2000 years. It would not be worth retelling at all if it were completely logical and ordinary.
It is anything but that.
If the story of Easter were logical and ordinary it would certainly not justify all the changes in our lives and in the world that have come about as a result of it. Have you ever thought about all the things in the world that are based on Easter? If our Lord had not risen from the dead but had remained in the tomb, we would certainly not be dividing the years of the calendar between the time before Christ, and the time since he was on earth. The first Christians would not have begun to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, rather than Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Our Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday is why we Christians worship on the first day of the week rather than the seventh day when the Lord rested. Easter changed everything!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only the core belief on which the Christian faith is based, it is the single most important event in the history of the world. It is the source of all our hope for this life and the life to come. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would be dead in our sins, eternally separated from God. But the resurrection established Christ’s victory over sin and death, making the way for us to be reconciled to God and giving us the promise of eternal life.
Even in the midst of our current tribulation, we rejoice this Easter because we believe. We believe what Mary Magdalene told the disciples: “I have seen the (risen) Lord.” We believe what Mary Magdalene experienced, because we have experienced it in our own lives. Because of our sins, we too have experienced separation from our Lord. But God made a way for us to be reconciled through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We have seen the Lord’s transformative resurrection power at work in our own and others’ lives, in our church and in the world.
Friends, Easter changed everything! It changed the way we live our lives each day. In the realization that we have been given new life in Christ, we are able to live transformed lives, empowered by the Holy Spirit to leave behind, like Mary, the demons and the sins that have held us in bondage, and to live the abundant lives that Jesus came to give us.
Because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are no longer dead in our sins; we have new life in Christ. Because we believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that the suffering, disease and death of this life, are not all there is. The resurrection gives us the promise of a new creation. In the midst of this current pandemic, every Christians needs to know and believe that there is no disease in the new creation. There is no coronavirus in the presence of God. Someday, our Lord will raise up all of our bodies and give us resurrection bodies. We will all be healed in the resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, the story that Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim is extraordinary, outlandish, illogical, mind-boggling, unprecedented, unheard of … and true. The resurrection is a miracle of such love and forgiveness that it is worthy of great faith. And so, we believe. We rightly base our lives, and all of our hopes for eternity, on the story Mary told.
Thanks be to God for the miracle of resurrection, for the power it gives us for living our lives, and for the faith to believe the good news which we proclaim along with Mary Magdalene and all Christians of every time and place. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Thanks be to God! Alleluia and Amen.