Pastor's Easter Message

Pastor: Rev. Ken Forbes, Pastor

The Easter Story                                       John 20: 1 – 18                                                                                         

I can’t think of anybody better than John to help us into the amazement that is Easter and it’s an amazing story maybe it has gotten too familiar to us. But have we gotten to really believe that it’s an amazing story? Think about it. Yes, John includes a lot of material about resurrection that is found in the other Gospels, but John also intensifies that material like a suspenseful movie. This Easter, 2020, let’s just walk carefully through this story as John tells it so well.

John begins with Mary Magdalene arriving at the tomb before dawn on that Sunday morning. Mary is the first of the witnesses, but devoted Mary completely misinterprets what she sees. She discovers that the tomb is empty and jumps to what would appear to be an obvious conclusion – someone in one last act of disrespect has robbed the tomb of Jesus taking Jesus’ body.

Grave robbery was a common problem back in those times. It was so big a problem as to bring about an imperial Roman edict against it. So Mary looks into the tomb, she considers the evidence before her and concludes that someone has stolen the dead body of Jesus.

Mary runs to tell Peter and “the other disciple”. All Bible scholars believe “the other disciple” is John. The two men immediately take a fast run out to the grave site and enter the tomb. It seems Mary herself hadn’t actually gone in. These two men find that the tomb is certainly empty. But they come to a completely different conclusion than Mary. They look in and believe that resurrection has occurred. Jesus’ body hasn’t been stolen; he is raised from the dead!

So how did Peter and John come to that conclusion? Bible scholar Pastor Eugene Peterson wrote the book “Living the Resurrection” and in it he points out that John focuses upon a striking and a very revealing detail. The kerchief that was used to cover Jesus’ head was separate from the cloths that wrapped his body and was, in his phrase “neatly folded by itself.” (v.7) John concludes that robbery is out of the question; grave robbers would not have unwrapped the corpse.

And even if by some strange abnormality they had, it is difficult to imagine them taking the time to neatly fold the head kerchief and set it aside. The apostle John – his mind working with surprising coolness under the emotion of the moment and on the strength of that single clue – ( the neatly folded kerchief) deduces what will later be shown to be the truth. Even though no one expected it, Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. Then John and Peter leave the tomb.

After this, the Gospel writer John then turns his attention toward Mary. After delivering her message to the disciples – which Eugene Peterson calls “the message that fired the starting pistol that sent Peter and John running off on their resurrection morning race – Mary comes back to the tomb, still operating under the mistaken impression that somebody has stolen Jesus’ body.

So Mary stands outside the tomb, upset and heartbroken and crying her eyes out. When she kneels to look inside the tomb, she sees two angels. They ask her the reason for her crying. She tells them and turns away. As Mary does this, she sees a man whom she assumes is the gardener. This “Gardener” asks Mary, the very same question as the angels, and Mary gives the same answer. Then he speaks her name: “Mary” (v. 16)

At the sound of her name, Mary now sees that the man is none other than Jesus. “Rabboni” Teacher she answers. Eugene Peterson says that the term Rabboni combines the deep reverence for a rabbi with an affectionate intimacy like you are “my dear teacher.” Mary sees, Mary knows, Mary recognizes, and Mary believes it is Jesus.

While the story of Mary Magdalene and Peter and John at the empty tomb on that first Easter may seem strange to many of you, I think in a way it is our story too. After all, like them, you have come here to hear this mysterious story year after year, to hear this story of amazement that we call Easter. Like them in John’s Gospel, you may not know exactly what you believe about all this. You may have questions, just like them after all these years. Like Mary Magdalene you may not know for sure just exactly who Jesus Christ is.

 

I believe that John has told this story so skillfully in order that it may become your story. One of the things we might notice is that however many resurrection hints there may have been in the ancient Jewish and Roman world preceding this, when a resurrection actually happens, it took those who were closest to the event totally by surprise. Whatever happened at the tomb in the darkness before sunrise, it was not in continuity with or similar to anything with which we are familiar. Whatever took place just can’t be explained as some sort of psychological event that arose in someone’s human imagination or was some sort of collective madness!

No one did anything to prepare for what actually happened. The two Jewish religious groups who at the time were working most diligently to prepare for the resurrection – the Pharisees and the Essenes- missed the resurrection of Jesus Christ totally.

In saying this, I don’t want you to think that if you just have more biblical or theological education that resurrection will be somehow easier for you to understand. All we’ve got to help us is the testimony of those who witnessed the presence of Christ with them after Easter. Everyone – all the TV preachers and all the scholarly writers and ourselves are amateurs when it comes to making sense of the resurrection. It takes all of us by surprise. We can’t work our way to it through our human thought and experiences.

Resurrection of Christ must work its way toward us, the same way that the risen Christ came to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. You know how much we prepare, plan, and train for something that is big and important to us – in getting a nursing degree or a teaching degree or a special position in the military or at your place of employment. We sometimes say: “You only get out of something what you put into it.” But here is something that does not arise from within us and our aspirations, but instead it’s something strange and wonderful that comes to us – it’s a gift! Here is something God does in Jesus Christ, rather than something we do!

Take notice that in John’s account of Easter, marginal people, in this case, women – play a prominent role in perception and response. Although recognized leaders like Peter and John aren’t excluded, Mary Magdalene – perhaps the most marginal of any of the close followers of Jesus – is the chief resurrection witness and the only person to appear in all 4 accounts of the Gospels. The only thing we know for sure about Mary Magdalene before she joined Jesus is that she was possessed by “seven devils” and had been delivered from them by Jesus. The “seven devils” could refer to an extreme form of mental illness or “loose living.”

So coupled with being a woman in a patriarchal society, this put Mary Magdalene out on the edge of marginality, and in a way that makes Mary’s testimony about Easter even more impressive!! Our society thinks it’s important that we have celebrity endorsements for everything by people like Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Marie Osmond and Tom Brady. Prominent people at the top are frequently asked their opinions about events, because we expect people like them to give affirmation to the truth about those events. By putting Mary Magdalene front and center, John seems to say that if we are going to know the truth about the resurrection, we have got to hear it from somebody on the margins.

And in this way Mary Magdalene and her story could become your story. From the margins, from out of the past comes this Gospel word to you. This morning, the risen Jesus Christ doesn’t wait for you to make sense of him;

He comes to you and me; He calls us by our name and gives us what we need to join the Easter choir that sings: “ Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed;” and we can sing it, because He lives – He truly lives!

 
  May 2020  
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