Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. 4 They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. 5 Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8 Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
Life is sometimes overwhelming! This last year has seen more than its share of losses, and isolation, and tragedies. There is upheaval in our country. Last Easter our Holy Week services and Easter were exclusively online worship experiences. On a morning just like this it was just Janna and I in a big empty sanctuary trying to help us celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. No doubt about it, it was a hard year!
For the disciples and those who were following Jesus, this was a hard season of life. Everything they expected and hoped for had been shattered. The evil of humanity had seemingly triumphed over God’s plans. What were they to do next?
In our passage this morning from the Gospel of John we see the same phrase twice- “Woman, why are you crying?” The first time it is the two angels asking, and the second time it is Jesus himself (though Mary didn’t recognize him through her grief. Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed! She came looking to do one more service for a dead Jesus – to anoint his lifeless body with oils and perfumes - and came face-to-face with a Risen Lord!
Listen to Psalm 118:19-24.
Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
20 This is the Lord’s gate;
those who are righteous enter through it.
21 I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
22 The stone rejected by the builders
is now the main foundation stone!
23 This has happened because of the Lord;
it is astounding in our sight!
24 This is the day the Lord acted;
we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
Open the gates – let’s start something new! It is the Lord’s gate. This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it.” (v. 24) Resurrection is a reality! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
The setting for the discovery of Jesus resurrection is early in the morning – you can imagine the sun is just beginning to turn the horizon hues of pink and peach. A new day is beginning. Dawn is a wonderful image for what happened. There was a dawning of truth. The two disciples, acting on the report from Mary Magdalene, rushed to the tomb only to find it empty. Jesus is not there anymore, “yet they didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.” The truth was just beginning to dawn. Then there was the dawning of reality for Mary. Initially, upon seeing Jesus she mistook him for the gardener or grounds keeper. Ultimately, she truly saw him when he called her name. They were just beginning to be clothed in Son-Rise.
When I was at Golden First United Methodist Church, we always had a sunrise service on the patio between our two buildings. On one occasion the actual sunrise perfectly coincided with our service. My intention was to hit the climax of my meditation just as the sun peeked up over the horizon. That morning it was kind of cloudy and foggy to the east. At the exact time of sunrise there was nothing on the horizon to the east. Yet, when we looked to the west, we saw the effects of the sunrise on Mt. Zion and Lookout Mountain. The tops of those two mountains were all lit with a glorious sunrise. It was a far better illustration. None of us saw the resurrection firsthand – or ever will. But we can all see the effects of Jesus’ resurrection.
The effects of dawn are many. There is an illuminating of the darkness, turning night into day. The warmth of the dawn restores the warmth of the earth. There is the promise of a new day. Dawn is a transformation of all that and been. The effects of a dawning in a person’s life is very similar.
One of the gospel’s themes is a dawning understanding in faith coming after misunderstanding. With only partial understanding the new believer can misunderstand what God is wanting from them. In early dawn things can be misperceived. I can remember delivering the Denver Post very early on Sunday mornings. Every now and again I would be surprised by an image in the early dawn. What looked like a person turned out to be nothing more than a mailbox at the curb. That resurrection morning Mary presumes at first that “they” have taken him away. It was a common occurrence in ancient times for bodies to be stolen in the night. But you notice that she didn’t give up. First, she went and told Peter. Then, she came with them back to the empty tomb. Her persistence continues when the two disciples left and she remained at the tomb. She was determined to find out what happened to Jesus. Staying, she saw two angels in the tomb, and then Jesus himself. In both instances she misunderstood the identity. No wonder! Nothing like this had ever happened before (or since, for that matter). Look at what it says in Luke 18:31-34. This was one of the predictions Jesus made concerning his death and resurrection. “Jesus took the Twelve aside and said, “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed, mistreated, and spit on. 33 After torturing him, they will kill him. On the third day, he will rise up.” 34 But the Twelve understood none of these words. The meaning of this message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying.” This misunderstanding is reinforced in v.9 of John 20. There is still no understanding. Yes, the tomb in empty. But where did he go?
Seeing and experiencing the risen Jesus is key in our passage. It is the key to being clothed in Son-Rise. It is coming to know the One who knows us!
1 Corinthians 15:3-10a is a rehearsal of the passion story and Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection. Paul says, “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. 5 He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, 6 and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. 9 I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. 10 I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing.” Pretty amazing! He appeared to the twelve disciples, and ultimately to more than five hundred. They all saw the actual risen Christ! But to Paul, he had the power and majesty of Christ revealed to him. His encounter with Jesus was after the ascension – so it was not the physical Jesus that he “saw.”
We are invited, as was Paul, to come face to face with the risen Jesus. Our encounter may be via scripture and prayer, or through a trusted friend’s guidance. The dawning of our belief may come gradually, transforming our lives into a walk of faith. It could also come like the proverbial lightening bolt, changing everything in an instant. What is powerful about our narrative today is that Mary showed up. She was persistent. She was passionately seeking. She didn’t truly understand what she was seeking, but she was seeking never-the-less.
Our God has created an amazing world. The sunrise is renewed every day. We can count on it. The sun will come up in the east just like it has every day of creation. Son-Rise is also available new every day. We just have to show up looking for Jesus. This isn’t a casual scanning of the horizon. It is a concerted, lifelong process. The more we show up the more tuned in to the movements of God we become. It becomes a common occurrence to see Son-Rise in every situation.
May we all see life with the eyes of new beginnings (for ourselves and for others), fresh starts. So I ask myself, “How have I experienced the dawn of God’s “Son-rise” this year? In the past? Today?” And, “How has that Son-Rise helped me see life in a different light?” You can bet the disciples and early followers of Jesus never looked at life the same way.
As we sang our opening hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” I want you recall the second verse: “Made like him, like him we rise. Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!” May we truly experience God’s “Son-Rise” today and every day, and be clothed in Son-Rise – clothed in Christ.
Pastor Paul Grossman