Yes, it’s been a weird year for Christians. The beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday. That just happened this year to February 14 which is also Valentines Day. And today we celebrate Easter which just happens to fall on April Fools Day. Who would have thought it possible? But it happened and we’re going to make the best of it.
I actually looked it up and the last time Easter fell on April Fools day was in 1956. But that year, Ash Wednesday was not on Valentines Day. The reason is because 1956 was a leap year with an extra day in February so that year Ash Wednesday fell on April 15. The last time both Ash Wednesday fell on Valentines Day and Easter fell on April Fools day was way back in 1945. And can you guess when it will happen again? Actually, it’s not in the too distant future. It will happen again in 2029.
Did anyone try any April Fools Day pranks this morning? Apparently a popular one was to take the foil wrapping off of those little chocolate Easter eggs and reuse it to wrap grapes. Imagine people opening that up in the morning. Not quite the yummy treat you were expecting but at least it would be healthier.
Easter on April Fools Day? It seems oddly appropriate because those who thought they had put an end to Jesus and his message, who worked so hard to have him killed and thought they had won, were greeted by an empty tomb on Easter morning. April fools! It was the ultimate April Fools prank. Jesus fooled them all. “Ha, you thought I was dead? Fooled you!” Jesus broke the chains of sin and shattered the gates of hell so that those who believe in him may be reconciled to God and live eternally with him. The forces of darkness thought they had won but they didn’t because, in the end, Jesus always wins. April fools!
THE EMPTY TOMB
But let’s look at how the story plays out in the Gospel of John. Andy read the first part of the story, about how Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found it open. She ran to get Peter and John who themselves ran back to the tomb to see what was going on. There they discovered that the tomb was empty – well not quite empty. The strips of linen that had been used to wrap Jesus’ body were still there. But Jesus was gone. There was no body in the tomb.
Then we read the oddest thing at the end of that passage. In John 20:8 (NIV) it says, “Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” Okay so far so good. But then John 20:9 (NIV) goes on to say this, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
That raises an important question for me. What did the author mean when he said that, “He saw and believed.” Believe what? Believe in the resurrection? I don’t think so because it also says that still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead according to the Scripture. So what do they believe? All they believed was that the tomb is empty just as Mary said it was.
It’s not until Mary comes along that any of them begin to understand. Let’s see how that unfolds. We start at John 20:10-11a (NIV) which says, “Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.” So Peter and John leave the empty tomb and head back to where the other disciples are staying presumably to tell them what? – probably that they had gone to the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body is missing. So Mary is alone at the tomb and she starts to cry. Why is she crying? Because as we read in verse 9, they still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
But then something amazing happens. John 20:11b-12 (NIV) says this: “As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” Wait a minute. What’s this? Where did these guys come from? Didn’t Peter and John just look in the tomb? They didn’t say anything about someone else being there. And it’s not like you could miss them all dressed in white in contrast to the darkened tomb.
These beings, of course, are not regular guys. They are angels and does anyone remember one of the things that angels do? Angels are the messengers of God. When God wants to tell people something, sometimes he does it through angels. Back at the beginning of the New Testament, that’s how God told Mary that she would have a child. And that’s how God told Joseph not to leave her. God did it though angels. And that’s why they are at the tomb now. They have message for Mary Magdelene.
But first they have a question. John 20:13 (NIV) says, “They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’” Now it comes out. Now we know for sure what Mary and the disciples do not yet understand. They watched Jesus suffer and die on the cross and they watched his body being placed in the tomb. Mary, like Peter and John, still does not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. Instead, she thinks that someone – maybe the guards, maybe the chief priests, who knows – have taken Jesus’ lifeless body in the middle of the night and hid it someplace for some unknown reason.
Mary is devastated. After all the religious leaders had done to her teacher and friend, after all of the beatings and whipping and scourging, after all of the humiliation and suffering they had inflicted on Jesus, could they not a least allow his friends to give him a decent burial? I seems not, at least not to Mary as she stood outside the tomb looking in. This to her is the final indignation.
But then the angels’ message comes. But it does not come in the form of words. It comes in the form of a person. Listen to what it says in John 20:14 (NIV): “At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.” There was Jesus before Mary. Why she does not recognize him, we don’t know. Maybe her eyes are too filled tears. Maybe she’s not actually looking at him. Maybe it’s still too dark or maybe the sun is just poking its head over the eastern horizon right behind where Jesus is standing. We don’t know. All we know is that Mary doesn’t recognize him.
There are two things that I want to say about this. First, when Mary needed Jesus the most, he came to her.
Second, just like Mary, we often don’t recognize Jesus when he comes to us in our need. Maybe like Mary, we are too distracted to see him. Maybe something is blocking our vision. Or maybe we don’t see him because we don’t expect to see him. My experience is that this is a big problem among Christians. We often fail to see Jesus because we really don’t expect him to show up.
So here’s my question. When you ask Jesus to come to you in your time of need, do you look for him in your midst? When you give him thanks and praise for what he has done for him, can you sense the smile on his face? When you pray to him in your need do you really expect him to act? The answers to those questions should all be yes. I know that we’re not all there yet. I know that it takes time to build that level of trust and know where to look for Jesus in your midst. But start by know that he is there and that he does care, especially in your times of need. Take this seriously because it’s important.
It reminds me of something that happened not too long ago. I was with a couple of the people whom I know and they were both anxious about something that was coming up and they weren’t sure if they were ready for it. And so, I asked these two people if I could pray for them. We had never talked before about their faith so I didn’t know where they stand on the issue. But they looked at me and said sure. After all, it couldn’t hurt. So I laid my hands on them both and prayed for comfort and peace, just a short prayer and then I left them alone.
We weren’t the only ones who were in the room when I said that prayer and after a while one of the other people came up to me and said, “You know Kim, after you said that prayer, both of those people said that it helped. It was like they were surprised.”
So I said to this man, “You know that I take this prayers stuff seriously.”
To which he responded, “I know you do and I think they do now too.” I have to confess that I don’t always get it right but I did that evening and it made a difference. The point is that we need to expect Jesus to show up and act. And we need to be willing to look around and find him in our midst and recognize his desire to be with us all the time but especially in our times of need. Jesus comes to us in our times of sorrow to bring comfort, healing and hope, just as he did for Mary on the day of resurrection.
The story continues with John 20:15-16 (NIV): “He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
“Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’
“She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).”
What we have here is the same thing that we see in the previous verses. Mary is expressing one more time her fear that someone has taken away Jesus’ body. In doing so she is once again letting us know that she still does not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead on the third day. And even though she encounters Jesus at the tomb, she still does not recognize him.
But then comes this incredibly tender moment, maybe the most intimate one in the entire Bible where Jesus just says one word. He says her name, Mary. And then we read that she finally turns toward him and cries out, “Rabboni!”
Up until this point, Mary had been fooled by so many things. She had been fooled by the Jewish authorities who had Jesus killed and thought they had won. She had been fooled by her assumption that once Jesus was dead, that was it. She was fooled by her own lack of understanding about what Jesus meant when he taught about the kingdom of God and the resurrection. And she was fooled by he own grief that prevented her from seeing that Jesus had not abandoned her.
But with that one word, with her name, Jesus opens her eyes to new hopes and new possibilities. The cross was not the end. The grave did not have the last word. He who knows Mary’s name is alive and well. He has paid the price of our sin. He has broken the chains of sin and the gates of hell so that through faith in him, we might be alive forever more.
And here’s the neat part. Jesus knew Mary’s name. He knows each of our names as well. The God who has counted the hairs on our heads and numbered the days of our lives, who knew us before we were born as we were formed in our mother’s wombs knows our names and calls to us in our distress the same way he called to Mary.
What that means is that God is not some impersonal being way out there someplace, living on Mount Olympus or Valhalla or residing at Mecca. God is a personal God. Jesus is a personal Messiah who didn’t just die for all humanity. He also died for you, for each and every one of you, for each and every one of us. What that means is that even if you were the only person on the face of the earth who needed to be saved from you sins, Jesus would have died just for you. That is how much he loves you. That is how much he wants you. That is how much you mean to him.
The passage closes with John 20:17-18 (NIV) which says, “Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”
What Jesus means when he tells Mary not to touch him is unclear. We really don’t know what he is getting at when he says that he has not yet ascended to the Father and why that would present a problem for physical contact. All we can really do is take it at face value.
But what Jesus then says to Mary is very meaningful for us. He tells her to go to the other disciples and tell them what has happened. Mary runs off and does exactly that. She tells the disciples that she has seen the Lord, that Jesus is alive and well, risen from the grave just as he said he would.
There are moments in everyone’s life when everything changes. One moment, you think life is on one track and, suddenly, there is a seismic shift and the road you are traveling takes a massive detour. This was one of those moments for Mary. Just minutes before, she was a bewildered, destitute, frightened and frustrated woman. She was overcome by grief and pain at the thought of someone stealing the body of her friend. But at the mention of her name and in recognizing the resurrected Jesus, she is transformed into a woman who has hope and purpose. And she is given a message to share which she does right away. It is a message of hope for all people.
Not only is this a pivotal moment for Mary. It is that also for all of Jesus’ disciples. From now on, nothing will ever be the same again. They have a message that they are going to share with the world. Jesus is alive. He has risen from the grave. He has conquered death and is alive forever more. This message not only transforms them. It transforms the world.
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) says this:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to
us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The cross and the resurrection
are what we are about. Our faith hinges on this message, that Jesus is alive
and that through him, our sins are forgiven and the gates of the kingdom are
open to all who put their faith in him. The world sees this as foolish. They
wonder why we can believe such fairy tales. But the skeptics have never felt
the presence of Jesus in their lives. They have never heard him call their
names and they have never really looked for him because like the disciples who
first saw the empty tomb, they do not understand. But we do understand and we
believe. If that is foolish, than let us rejoice that we are fools for there
are not better fools than fools for Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Might and Holy God, our Father and our Friend, we gather this day to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Day. We give you thanks for the life that is ours through faith in him. We praise you for the forgiveness and reconciliation that has come to Creation because of his victory over sin and death.
You, O God, are the Life of the World. You created everything, every plant, every animal, every bird, fish and insect. You created us as your stewards of Creation. In you, we live and move and have our being.
We stand in awe at how Jesus was raised from the dead. Today, we pray for people who have lost the sense of mystery, who are not able to believe in the Resurrection and the power of new life in Christ. We pray for those who are afraid to wonder, and suspicious of things that they do not understand. Bless them with eyes of faith that will enable them to see the truth and believe in their hearts.
You, O God, sent the angel to roll away the stone. Teach us to trust in your strength and not in the power of our own making. Teach us to be like those first Christians who were sent out to change the world. By your hand, all things are possible. You bless us and you sustain us.
We pray for people who lack any sense of meaning, who feel hopelessly inadequate to make the life giving changes that they need in their lives. Banish the demons of despair that would oppress us and prevent us from being all that you have created us to be. Evil cannot triumph for any who are in Jesus Christ.
We pray for the sick of our congregation and community. Grant them your healing and peace especially when thing look bleak. Renew them – and all of us – by the power of your love. We pray especially today for Sharon, Helen, Lyle, David and John. Grant them a special measure of your Healing and Holy Spirit.
You, Jesus, are alive! You died for
our sin and rose again on the third day. You kept all your promises. Help us
and strengthen us to be faithful regardless of cost or inconvenience. Enable us
to share the message of your word with others at every opportunity. Because you
live, we also live! Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 1, 2018 / Easter
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43; 1 Cor. 15:1-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
Christ is risen! He rose on Easter morn!
Jesus has risen! He rolled away the stone!
God has risen; for us and our salvation!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, we come to you in worship on this day of Resurrection.. When we consider the empty tomb, it is almost beyond our ability to comprehend. We are awed by your power and gentleness. Yet, despite your might, you know each and every one of us and care about our concerns in life. You are mindful of our lives and you provide for every need. You raise us to new life with you. We give you praise for your covenant promises never fail. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord of Mercy, you call us to live our lives with wisdom and discretion. Yet, so often we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, failing in our attempts to live up to your calling. We are incapable of living by our own standards. How could we ever live by yours? Help us to mature in our relationship and love for you. Remind us of the hurt that you feel when we intentionally forsake your leadership and direction. We are grateful for your unconditional and limitless love that offers us forgiveness when we repent and come to you. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our sins were crucified on the Cross of Calvary but our eternal life was secured when Jesus rose from the grave and defeated the chains of death. Repent and believe the Good News. Jesus Christ is risen!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
As you gave yourself for us, we give our gifts to you. Nothing that we can offer will ever repay you for your sacrifice. Still, we are grateful for what we can give and for the blessings that you provide. Amen.
Jesus Christ rose for us and for our salvation. That is our hope. That is our faith. That is the Good News of Easter. That is the message that we are called to share with the world. Believe it and live it.