Staunton Mennonite Church
20Early 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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Turn on your television or radio and you will here guarantees. The Men’s Warehouse tells us, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” Rogain guarantees that you will regrow hair in a few months. Nutrisystem guarantees that you will loose weight on their program. There are numerous guarantees out there to get rich fast, to make someone fall in love with you. You name it, someone will guarantee that they can provide it for you.
I’ve always been told that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So to these guarantees, I usually find myself saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Today I would like to look at our scripture from John 20 and I hope to see that God makes a number of guarantees to us as well. Guarantees that seem too good to be true, but guarantees that I am confident of because I have seen it, therefore I do believe it.
Our text for today tells us about four main characters. We begin with Mary Magdalene, and a little background on who she was. Mary was a woman that had been fully dedicated to serving Jesus ever since he healed her from demon possession. Some traditions even say that she was a prostitute. But she became a disciple, following Jesus from town to town, hearing him preach and teach, watching him heal and perform miracles. Surely Mary knew that Jesus was the Messiah.
The one that Mary had been waiting on, no the one that all of Israel had been waiting on had arrived. He came preaching a new message, speaking as a prophet, saying that the kingdom of God was at hand. Mary witnessed all of this and I’m sure that she and all of Jesus’ other followers got pretty excited about this new kingdom.
But then just as fast as Jesus gained popularity, he had everything taken away from him. Mary witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. Just three years into his public ministry, on a day that we commonly refer to as Good Friday, Jesus was nailed to a cross, tortured, mocked, and he eventually died. Mary witnessed it all.
Our story picks up on the following Sunday. Mary comes to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, to put oils and herbs on the body before he is left alone to decompose. She hadn’t come earlier because the day after Jesus was killed was the Sabbath day, a day where it would have been against the Jewish law for her to anoint his body.
So Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb of Jesus early on Sunday morning and finds a bit of a surprise…the stone is rolled away from the entrance. And when Mary sees this she runs to find Jesus’ disciples, the men that have spent the last three years learning from him. And she finds Peter and John and she tells them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Evidently she looked into the tomb to see that it was empty and the stone had not simply been removed.
Well Peter and John hear this and they jump to their feet and they run to the tomb. John is younger than Peter so he gets there first and stops outside, looking at the stone that has been moved and peeking inside at the clothes left laying there. Then Peter shows up and he runs right into the tomb where he too finds the clothes that Jesus had been buried in. And they believed Mary that Jesus’ body had been taken, and they walked back home, confused, dishearten.
That, my friends, would be a terrible story if it ended there. This would be a terrible story if this guy named Jesus had gotten everyone excited about being the Messiah, then gets himself killed, and then even his body is stolen from his grave. Thankfully this is not how the story goes; the story doesn’t end there. But let’s pause this story and come back to it in just a few minutes. First let me tell you about my week.
I have been doing a lot of work around the outside of our home this week, taking advantage of the beautiful weather. We got some seeds planted in the garden, I got the lawn mowed and some bare patches seeded. And I took some time one day to dig up some shrubs in the front of our house.
I didn’t realize how much work this would be. Those evergreen shrubs put down some pretty deep roots. So I spent a lot of time bent over, digging in the ground, trying to uncover some of these roots. And as I got underneath the shrubs I found that I could pry them up by pushing down on the handle of my shovel. That is, until I got to the biggest shrub. Perhaps I was getting a little too carried away, but I decided to try to stand on the shovel handle for additional leverage to get the last and biggest shrub out of the ground. And when I did, I heard a cracking sound and found myself standing on the ground. I had broken the handle of the shovel.
Like the story of Jesus’ death, the story of my shovel would be a pretty bad one if we just stopped there with brokenness and disappointment. But neither story stops there. There is more.
As I examined the broken shovel, I noticed the sticker on the handle which had the word “Lifetime” printed in big bold letters. I chuckled a bit as I read that sticker, thinking “It sure did have a short lifetime.” I considered looking into taking advantage of this lifetime guarantee, but it is my understanding that jumping on the shovel handle probably qualifies as user abuse, therefore voiding my lifetime guarantee.
But as I stood there with the two broken pieces of my once whole shovel, I realized that we too have a lifetime guarantee as Christians, a lifetime guarantee against our brokenness.
If we pick back up our story from John, we find that after the disciples find the empty tomb, Mary returns to the tomb and weeps. And as she weeps, she meets a person that she does not recognize immediately. She thinks it is the gardener. But as they have a conversation together Mary realizes that this is not the gardener that she is speaking to. This is Jesus, the Messiah, Rabbouni, she calls him.
Mary Magdalene has an encounter with the risen Lord. Jesus, whom she saw killed with her own eyes a few days earlier is now standing before her once again, having a conversation with her.
Mary runs to the disciples and she tells them what she has seen and heard. She tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” And later that evening, 10 of the disciples also saw the risen Lord. The brokenness had been restored; Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Now that is a lifetime guarantee. A guarantee made between God and human beings. God has made several of these guarantees with us humans. God guaranteed that he will never leave us, nor forsake us throughout our lifetime. God guaranteed that he would send a messiah that would come to the earth to lead God’s people. And God did just that through the person that we know as Jesus Christ.
And through Jesus we received another lifetime guarantee, one that transcends even death. Jesus made the guarantee that anyone who believes in him shall not die, but have eternal life. And if we truly want life, we need to follow him. We have a lifetime guarantee. A guarantee that we can believe because we can see it.
One thing that I love about the lifetime guarantee that we receive from Jesus is that it isn’t just a guarantee of life after death. God not only has promised us life after death, but God has also promised us life before death! God is active in this life, God is active in this world, God is here today!
Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God not only being something that we hope for in the future, but something that is available to us all right now. And I believe that like Mary Magdalene, we can say “We have seen the Lord.” Maybe we haven’t seen Jesus with our own eyes, but surely we have all seen the Lord. Surely we have all witnessed God working in our lives and in the lives of others.
When I was growing up, I remember when my older brother got a new toy and I wanted to play with it, I would ask him “Can I see that?” And he would always wave it in front of my face and say, “You see with your eyes, not with your hands.” But I would like to say today that we see the Lord with all of our senses: our eyes, ears, hands, tongues, and noses. And today I have asked three people to share with us how they have “seen” the Lord in the last year. Garlan, Kristin, and Kathy will share how they have seen the Lord recently.
(I have asked three people from our congregation to share stories for about two minutes each about how they have witnessed God moving in their lives and in the lives of others in the last year.)
We have seen the Lord. Part of my job as a pastor is that I get invited to be a part of some of the most memorable and important parts of your lives. In the last year I have been to the hospital to welcome babies into the world and experience the gift of new life. I have been in hospitals holding the hands of and praying for those who are ill. I have baptized a new member of this congregation. I have been a part of two people beginning their life together in marriage and I have stood by a grave as you have said good-bye to loved ones.
I have seen the Lord because you have allowed me to walk with you through these experiences. And I thank you all for that. On this Easter Sunday, I echo the words of Garlan, Kristin, Kathy, and Mary Magdalene. We have seen the Lord, because he is not dead. He lives among us and within us today.
So what do we do with this information? Don’t keep it to yourself. Let others know that you have seen the Lord. Share your stories with your neighbors. Tell them how you have seen God move in your life and in the lives of others. Help them to see the Lord as well. Because we serve a God who was not only crucified, but a God that was raised again to new life, a new life that is available to us all. We have a lifetime guarantee that we can see and show others. You can see it and believe it.
Easter Sunday is our guarantee that death does not have the final word. Easter Sunday is our guarantee that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, nor things of this time or things to come will ever separate us from the love of God. Easter Sunday is our guarantee that all those who name Jesus as Lord will have eternal life because love conquers all. We have seen the Lord. Let’s make sure others see the Lord in us as well.