Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
March 31, 2013 – Easter Sunday

Scripture: John 20:1-18

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. 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.

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

“Why Are You Weeping?”

“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! Our Triumphant Holy Day, Alleluia!…”

“Thine is the glory, Risen, conquering Son; Endless is the victory Thou o’er death has won….”

Ok, I will stop singing there. Heaven knows I have tortured you enough on this fine Easter morning. But that is the best part of Easter; singing these powerful hymns that speak so eloquently about the triumph of Jesus; singing these hymns that express our faith and belief about the power of God’s love for each and every last one of us.

Words like “Triumphant,” “Conquering,” and “victory” hanging in the air as the amazing sounds of brass and drums and organ fill this space along with the smells of spring. What a triumphant morning. Just what Easter should be. When Missy, Shawn and I were discussing which stained glass window should appear on the cover of the bulletin, we knew there was only one choice. It had to be the Resurrection window, the big reveal, the moment when the women were greeted by an angel and then see and recognize Jesus alive again as he foretold.

But as our scripture passage today tells the story, that first Easter was not so glorious. There were no trumpets, there weren’t any drums, there were no hymns and the followers of Jesus certainly did not feel triumphant, victorious or like conquerors.

Early on the first day of that week, three days after Jesus had been crucified and died, there was darkness, there was grief, there was fear. In the Gospel of John, it is Mary Magdalene alone who braves the darkness of the early morning to journey to the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. In the other Gospels she is accompanied by other women, but here, we see Mary Magdalene, carried by her grief, come to the place where Christ was buried. As she enters the garden surrounding the tomb she stops dead in her tracks. She thinks the darkness must be playing tricks on her eyes. “Why is it open? Where is the stone covering the entrance?”

She is horrified. You can feel it in the text. She doesn’t take another step toward the tomb. She does not look inside; she does not confirm her assumptions. She turns and she runs! She runs straight to Simon Peter and the other disciple. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

We do not see any conversation about the merits of Mary’s observation. Like Mary, they simply run.

There is a lot of running in this text. Running to discover the truth about their teacher and Lord, but I also imagine their minds are running as well. How can this be? What is going on? All those comments Jesus made about dying and rising again, but that isn’t possible… He did raise Lazarus…But he can’t raise himself… Minds running faster than their feet can carry them.

At first they are running together, side by side toward the garden and tomb, but slowly the unnamed disciple pulls ahead and gets there first. But this disciple just can’t go inside quite yet. He bends down, looks inside and sees nothing but the linen wrappings used to cover Jesus’ body lying in piles on the ground.

About that time Simon Peter, totally out of breath, pushes him aside and without hesitation walks right into the tomb to search for Jesus. He finds the linen grave clothes used to cover Jesus body together on the ground and then in another part of the tomb the head-dressing rolled up and discarded. At that point the other disciple enters and after seeing the full picture begins to believe. What he believes we can’t be sure. He and Simon Peter leave, they walk out of the tomb without another word.

Whatever they believe can’t be too dramatic because the story tells us they return to their homes. We know they gather later that same night behind locked doors with the other disciples, but there is little conversation about what they have discovered. Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t leave. Having run one leg of this trip already she trails the other two disciples back to garden and empty tomb. She arrives, just where she was earlier and approaches the mouth of the cave.

Every step toward the tomb brings waves of grief and tears. In the span of three verses the text tells us three times that Mary is weeping. She must have been inconsolable. She never enters into the tomb; she bends down and peers in, where she sees two angels in white sitting where Jesus had once been laid, but even this sight doesn’t entice her into the emptiness of that space. “Why are you weeping?” they ask her. She barely hears them through her tears, and only gives them a passing response. So focused on missing Jesus, she doesn’t have time for angels in white. Living in the land of grief, she has no time for signs of hope; she has no time for the harbingers of new life; she has no patience for the heralds of grace.

She, like so many of us, never enters into the empty tomb. She never picks up those grave clothes or is able to listen to the Good News echoing from its depths. Grief, anger despair and disappointment hold her back, hold her on the edge, safely away from a real encounter.

We know something about that grief and anger that holds Mary back, those same feelings keep us sitting in the darkness looking at the empty tomb and wondering, “What’s next!” Some of you have been called into a supervisor’s office to be told that your job no longer exists; some of you have received terrible news from doctors; some of you have been or know someone else who has been a victim of violence; some of you struggle or know someone who struggles with addiction; some of you struggle with estranged relationships with children or parents; some of you are overwhelmed by the news about the Syrian refugees; some of you distraught about the tones of wars sounding from North Korea…

Some of you, most of you, probably all of you know something about the grief and the weeping that keeps Mary from entering that tomb.

That place in the darkness in the garden, filled with anger and grief and disbelief is familiar to us, but the empty tomb just does not make sense. We don’t seem to mind walking the tough days of Lent because the way of the cross, the way of suffering and despair is at least familiar. It is easier to accept because we know what it looks like and what it feels like. But when it comes to that empty tomb, we keep ourselves outside in the darkness of the garden because resurrection, because abundant life isn’t so easy to grasp; it isn’t so familiar.

That’s what Mary was doing. She kept herself away from the signs of new life because it just did not fit into her understandings. She was there when Jesus was put into that tomb. She was there when the stone was put in place. She was there. But Jesus isn’t THERE anymore.

So there she stands, on the edge of walking into the emptiness, on the edge of understanding, but unable to take the next steps because her grief has immobilized her. But the story does not end there, my friends. Mary turns to go and practically knocks the resurrected Jesus off his feet. She doesn’t recognize him through the mist of her tears, but he recognizes her. Jesus meets her on the edge of the emptiness, he comes to where she is and calls her by name and in that moment Mary recognizes him.

In the same way the risen Christ comes to us. If we, like Simon Peter, charge right into the tomb to sing the glorious choruses or if we sit in the darkness of the garden in our grief and doubt, the Risen Christ comes to meet us, he comes to call us by name and to send us out so that we may tell the world that “we have seen the Lord.” The Risen Christ does not leave us to dwell in fear and grief. The Risen Christ does not abandon us, he comes to us, wherever we are and calls us by name.

A light shines in the DARKNESS.

And the DARKNESS did not overcome it.

Christ is Risen.


Alleluia! Amen.