(From John 20:1-18)
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 lying 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. 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, “Rabbani!” (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.
Surprises come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. They can be either painful or delightful, depending on the circumstances that surround them. There are even some surprises that are not really very surprising at all to us. For example, every year on my birthday my co-workers have a cake for me and shout, “Surprise!”—after 20 years, it no longer is a surprise. At this point in time, it would actually be a surprise to me if there was not a cake brought in to celebrate my birthday. That would be an unexpected outcome for me; and we all know that a critical component of a true surprise is that it is something unexpected. Mary’s Easter experience, as we shared today from the Gospel of John, surely attests to this definition. Mary could never have imagined her outcome when she made the ritual journey to the tomb where her Lord, Jesus, had been buried. It was a morning full of surprises that awaited her there.
The Holy Scripture, from Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John, reveals to us that early on the first Easter morning, Mary went to visit the tomb of Jesus to anoint him with the spices that she had prepared. Grieving the death of her beloved Lord, the first unexpected outcome she experienced merely brought her more pain and sadness. She found that the stone covering the tomb had been moved, and Jesus’ body was now not in the tomb. This situation added insult to Mary’s emotionally injured state resulting from Jesus’ death. So, Mary ran to tell Simon Peter and John what she had found at Jesus’ tomb. They went to the tomb with Mary, and they also saw that it was empty. Then, they left the tomb to return to their homes, leaving Mary alone in her weeping. Mary looked into the tomb again, and she saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been laid. They asked her whom she was seeking there, and Mary explained that she was looking for her Lord, and now she did not know where he was taken. It was not what Mary had expected to find at the tomb. She received a disappointing surprise when she did not find Jesus in the tomb where his body had been laid.
Filled with grief, Mary turned from the tomb and saw someone standing near her. It was Jesus; but, somehow in her state of grief and confusion, or perhaps because the risen Lord Jesus had a different appearance than she was able to recognize, Mary did not know it was Jesus. “Sir,” she said to Jesus, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then, Jesus said her name, “Mary.” It was a voice Mary could never forget—it was the voice of her Lord! “Rabbani!” she exclaimed in a voice who’s enthusiastic and shrill pitch we can only imagine. “Surprise!”—it was indeed unmistakably her Master and Lord, Jesus, standing right before her eyes. Mary’s sorrow immediately turned into a ringing shout for joy. Amid the sorrow and frustration she endured that morning, the last thing Mary expected was to stand once more in the living presence of her Lord. Just when Mary was at the end of her emotional rope, feeling that her situation could not possibly be more dismal, something she dared not even imagine happened. God broke into her sorrow with something new. Mary was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the risen Lord, Jesus. She ran to tell the good news to the Disciples, saying “I have seen the Lord!”
The Easter story, as presented in the Gospel of John, shares with believers the happy ending of the miraculous and wonderfully pleasant surprise God had planned for us all along. Our God did not allow sin and death to conquer Jesus; but Jesus conquered sin and death! God’s plan of salvation called for the death and resurrection of Jesus as the definitive proof that nothing, even death, is beyond the power of God’s mercy, love, and grace. Jesus rose again into new life to show us that we, too, have marvelous and eternal life—new life in him. Because Jesus conquered sin and death once and for all, we too are now more than conquerors in his name. That is why on Easter morning we say Alleluia—it means “Praise the Lord!” It is likely not the plan of God we would have expected, and not the one we deserve. It is one we may not ever truly comprehend this side of the gates of heaven. God knew our every need, and God supplied the perfect plan for our salvation. It is the most pleasant of surprises for us that happened on the very first Easter morning. It is the goodness and grace of God’s plan for our salvation that supplies our every need, and our power for living new and eternal lives in Jesus’ name.
This Easter morning, I would like to close with some words of encouragement and hope I have taken from the Easter message of our Bishop, Rev. Tracy Malone:
Do Not Be Afraid! He is not here! He has risen!
Easter reminds us that we have the promise of new life and hope in Jesus Christ, and we have the invitation to claim the resurrection power of Jesus Christ in our personal lives. We are invited to live victoriously, relying on the Lord’s endless supply of grace, love, light and hope and not yield to fear, doubt and cynicism when we are faced with trouble and uncertainty. The resurrection power of Jesus Christ can permeate even the darkest of situations and bring forth healing, peace, and reconciliation. There is nothing impossible for God!
Do Not Be Afraid! He is not here! He has risen!
Let us live with a resurrection faith! Let us believe and expect resurrection! Expect Christ to show up and manifest His glory and power in our lives, in our churches, in our communities and in the world! Expect love to be the dominant force for good, for unity and reconciliation! Expect the peace of Christ to rule and reign in the hearts of women and men … and boys and girls! Expect broken relationships to be healed! Expect for the hungry to be fed! Expect the hurting to be comforted! Expect the sick to be made well! Expect shattered hopes and dreams to be restored! Expect the marginalized to be liberated! Expect that evil and injustice will not prevail! Expect war to cease! Expect disciples of Jesus Christ to be God’s agents of transformation, healing and hope. There is nothing impossible for God.
Do Not Be Afraid! He is not here! He has risen! A very blessed and joy-filled Easter to all! Amen.