Easter Message 2016
John’s account of what happened early that first Easter morning is a little different than Luke’s account that we read earlier this morning. In fact, each of the four Gospels tells the story a little differently. The basics of the story are the same, but the details are different. This is probably a good example of why we should not read the Bible as a factual history book, but instead look for the truths in the story. In each story someone comes to the tomb. In Mathew, it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. In Marks account it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome. Luke reported that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women all went to the tomb. And in our reading from John this morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone.
Mathew tells of a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord descending and rolling away the stone at the entrance to the tomb. In the other three Gospels, the stone was already rolled away when they arrived at the tomb, and only Mathew mentions an earthquake.
Mathew tells of an angel descending from heaven who talks with the women. In Mark’s account there is a young man dressed in a white robe. In both Luke’s account and John’s account, there are two angels who talk to Mary.
In Mathew’s account, the women meet Jesus on their way to tell the disciples and take hold of his feet and worship him. In John, Mary meets Jesus at the tomb but Jesus tells her not to hold him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. Mark and Luke do not mention any meeting with Jesus.
In Luke’s account, Peter runs to the tomb to verify the story the women told him. In John’s account Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved ran to the tomb when Mary Magdalene told them Jesus’ body was missing. Neither Mark or Mathew mention the disciples going to the tomb.
If we were to read these accounts literally, as factual, these discrepancies may be a problem for us. We wouldn’t know which one is correct and which one to believe. The story is the same in all four accounts; just the details differ. The story is the story of God’s love for humankind.
We have just come through a week full of emotions as we remember what the disciples were going through this week so many years ago. We started with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We read about the people, Jesus’ followers lining the streets, laying down palms and their cloaks before him and shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Then, on Thursday we remembered the Passover celebration Jesus shared with his disciples for the last time. We remember how on that night Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, handed over to the authorities, arrested, and tried. We remembered the humiliation and ridicule he suffered. We remembered how his disciples abandoned him.
On Friday we remembered how those same followers that lined the street last Sunday were now shouting “Crucify Him”. We remembered his crucifixion, how he carried his own cross. It is hard to imagine the pain he must have felt. It is hard to imagine the feeling of helplessness as he struggled to take each breath. We remember how Jesus died.
Yesterday, was a day of mourning. Jesus was dead and buried. There was that empty feeling of loss, of not knowing what was going to happen, or how we would move forward without him in our lives.
Then this morning, this joyous morning we celebrate his resurrection. Jesus is not dead, he is alive, he has indeed risen. The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. Mary is beside herself, they have taken Jesus’ body and she doesn’t know where they have taken him. She needs to pay her respects, to anoint his body. There is a sense of urgency because she has had to put this off during the Sabbath, but now she can go out and do these things, but the body is gone. What can she do? She must find out where they took Jesus’ body. She ran and told Simon Peter, and the other disciple, the one who Jesus loved. They ran back to the tomb with her. The disciples took turns going into the tomb.
Then they believed. They remembered what Jesus had been telling them, that he must die and would be raised after three days. It was true.
But Mary, poor Mary, she just stood there outside the tomb crying. Two angels appeared to her, and then Jesus himself appeared to her and asked her why she was crying. She did not recognize him and she told him her story. Then he called her name and she recognized him.
The truth is, we do not know who went to the tomb early that morning. We do not know how many angels or messengers appeared. We do not know if Jesus appeared to them or not. But none of that really matters. That isn’t the story. We do know that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb, that Jesus had risen from the dead, that by his resurrection, the power of death had been defeated.
We do know that Jesus had risen and by his resurrection we are reconciled to God and can be in relation with God.
We do know that Jesus had risen, and by faith in him our sins are forgiven.
We do know that Jesus had risen, and by his resurrection we can leave the darkness of our former earthly lives and live new lives in the light of Jesus. That is the story.
We have an advantage over Mary, for we know how the story continues. We have the Bible, the inspired Word of God, which tells us the rest of the story. Mary did not. We may not see the Lord as Mary did, but we do experience the Risen Lord, not only on Easter morning, but every day of our lives. Jesus is always with us, no matter what we are going through, whether good or bad. Jesus gave his life, willingly, for us. Jesus calls each one of us to use the gifts God has given us to serve God by serving God’s people.
I often wonder, if we take the Easter story for granted. Yes it is a very special Holy day for us Christians. We come to Church, we share the Sacrament of Holy Communion with our Christian brothers and sisters. Many will spend part of their day with extended family and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. But we have done this before, perhaps many times before. For Mary, that first Easter morning was full of emotions, from sadness as she found the empty tomb, to overwhelming joy as she discovered that Jesus truly has been resurrected. She went and shared the good news with the disciples announcing “I have seen the Lord”.
At first she didn’t recognize Jesus, but then he called her name, Mary. She recognized his voice and answered Rabbi. Jesus is calling our names also. Jesus is calling us to follow him, even to the cross. Jesus is calling us to live our lives in service to God’s children, to our brothers and sisters. Jesus is calling us out of the darkness and into the light, the light that comes from God. Jesus is calling us to live in him as he lived. Jesus is calling us to love each other as Jesus has loved us.
When Jesus calls us, do we recognize his voice? Do we listen to what Jesus is telling us? Do we answer? Jesus came and lived as one of us, felt the joys and sorrows we feel, and is with us each day, to guide us, to comfort us when we are in need, to live in communion with humankind, including us. Take time and listen for the still soft voice of the Lord in your lives. Listen for Jesus calling your name, and follow him wherever he leads you.