John 20:1-18: Christ is Risen!

Mary Magdalene with Jesus at the Tomb (610x351)

Christos Anesti!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Gospel reading for today follows the story of Mary Magdalene, Mary from the town of Magdala. The Apostle John only mentions that Mary as she approached the tomb of Christ. The other Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, clearly tell us that other women were there with Mary. But John is telling her story, not theirs.

Those other women lingered around the grave of Christ after Mary had left. The other women heard the message of the angel–but not poor Mary of Magdala. She had seen no angel, for she ran off to tell the disciples what she didn’t see.

Why did she do that? It’s because she leaped to this conclusion: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him” (John 20:2). Now, of course, we know what she didn’t know: There was NO dead body of Jesus. He was then alive, breathing, walking, and talking. We know this–but Mary didn’t.

Mary saw what had happened; well, some of what had happened, and she jumped to a faulty conclusion. She misinterpreted the data. So she ran way in anxious fear to tell the disciples what she was sure had happened.

The past few days were tragic enough. Jesus had suffered torture and execution. They didn’t even have enough time to prepare His body for a proper burial, having to rush because the Sabbath was near. And now His Body was missing; talk about insult added to injury!

Oh, if only she had remembered the words of Jesus, how much bitter heartache she would have spared herself. Didn’t Jesus predict His betrayal, arrest, sufferings, and crucifixion? Yes! He even promised to rise from death. Jesus even mentioned the exact day of His reemergence from the grave: On the third day.  But Mary, in the distress of her emotional pain and confusion, forgot the words of her Lord.

How often do we let our emotions and personal problems erase the words of our Lord? How often do we let our Lord’s promises disappear because something comes along, and we fear all is lost? We let our sin and the byproduct of our sin, our faulty and fallen thinking, cloud and confuse us. Like Mary of Magdala, we quickly leap to conclusions, thinking we know the mind of God, based on what we see or feel, which is always imperfect and deficient.

We can’t measure the invisible God and His hidden works by our feeble eyesight. “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:34). So, we don’t try to plumb the mind of God, especially what He has chosen not to reveal to us. Our sinful nature will only get it wrong. Instead, we turn to what God wants us to know about Him and His ways. Christ’s empty tomb is one such truth. The Holy Spirit has revealed that truth in four different ways in four different Gospels.

So, whatever suffering you experience, resurrection and eternal life are Christ’s promises to you, made real by His life, death, and resurrection for you. Mary of Magdala had forgotten this—for a time. She let go of the words that Jesus spoke to her of His death AND resurrection.

So, Mary ran away, not waiting to see what else would unfold. And what did she miss? She didn’t get the meaning of Jesus’ burial cloth still being there. Oh, Mary knew that Jesus’ body was gone. But what of His burial shroud? It would be strange for grave robbers to strip a body of its burial cloth to steal the body, only to fold the cloth neatly back in the tomb.

And what of the bloodied head wrapping, the sudarium, that had wrapped Jesus’ wounded head? “The face cloth, which had been wrapped around Jesus’ head, wasn’t lying with the linen cloths but was folded in a separate place” (John 20:7).

This was no frantic grave robbery. Body snatchers do not stop to fold up the grave linens so carefully. On further reflection, why would they leave them behind at all?

No, this unhurried folding was done by someone who had all the time in the world. Such folding was done by someone who had conquered death. So, what bother was it then to spend a little extra time in a tomb? This Man had no fear of death; He had just put death in its place! All of life, time, and history were at His command.

John saw and believed. He saw life, not fear. He saw victory, not robbery. Oh, it’s true: he and the other disciples had not yet fully understood the Scriptures that promised all that, but John did have faith that his Lord had risen from death.

May we also, by the Spirit’s power, see this day as more than a holiday with eggs, bunnies, or family time. May we see this great day as God’s defeat of death.

The grave had swallowed up the countless throng of humanity since our fall into sin. But on that Good Friday long ago, death swallowed the wrong Man. For this was a Man unlike any other. Every human he had swallowed so far decayed and rotted away, becoming the dust of death. Every human being he swallowed was vulnerable to death because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But this Man had no sin and deserved no death. And even more, He wasn’t just sinless, but even had life inside Him, the life that no one could quench. He wasn’t just a Man filled with life; no, He was the Source of life. He was Life itself.

So death made a huge mistake when it swallowed that Man. Death suffered a pain so deep that is wasn’t just indigestion. The Lord busted open the belly of death. He mortally wounded the grave. And now Christ is the death of death. Christ is the one whom the tomb now fears. And in the end, Christ will even cast death into the lake of burning fire, so even the grave will be eternally destroyed.

But poor Mary, she was more than contrary. She was despondent. Not knowing where else to go, she returned to the tomb, weeping. But God wasn’t yet done with Mary. As she grieved, she looked into the tomb. There, she saw two angels, next to the burial cloths. This was just like the two angels on the Ark of the Covenant, angels that testified to where God made His presence known to His people in the Old Covenant. The angels, just by being there in such a way, testified that Jesus was God.

Jesus wasn’t done. But Mary was too grief-stricken to get that point. So, the grave killer Himself stood next to Mary. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” It was then she recognized Jesus. She heard the voice of her Good Shepherd. She cried out to Jesus in her native, Aramaic tongue: “Rabboni!” (rabbi, teacher).

But then Jesus tells her: “Don’t hold on to me. I have not yet gone to my Father” (John 20:17). Jesus is already pointing Mary and all the other disciples where to look for Him. Soon, He will no longer be here, walking, talking, preaching, and teaching.

Jesus will ascend to the Father. But He also will send the Holy Spirit, from the Father, to His Church. And so, Jesus will still be with us. Over 30 years earlier, the Spirit brought Jesus into being as a human by the Word of the angel, God’s messenger, in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Now, God uses the same Spirit through His called and ordained messengers to bring Jesus into being in Word and Sacrament.

That’s why Jesus comes to us in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And so He is still with us, but in a way we can only see and believe by faith. Here, in this place, Christ still comes to us. He comes to reassure you, like Mary, that He has conquered death.

So, when death comes to stalk and frighten you, you can say, “Oh, you may hurt me a little now. But wait till my Jesus comes after you!” Then death will tremble, for its days are numbered. Oh, death is still a bad, for it was never meant to be. It is an evil that our sinfulness brought into this world.

But Christ has rescued us from death. He has taken cut off its stinger. Because Christ died in your place, you are righteous and holy in God’s sight. Jesus didn’t die and rise for His benefit. He didn’t have to do that, but He chose to, for you. He shattered death’s icy hold on you. He blotted out your sins by His crucifixion.

In some ways, we can see Christ’s resurrection more clearly than Mary. We may even chuckle a bit that she didn’t recognize Christ. But to be fair, she didn’t expect to see her Lord. She believed He was dead.

Like Mary, when Christ comes to us, we also need to recognize Him. He doesn’t look as we might expect Him to be. He comes to us hidden in bread and wine. After all, Jesus tells us: “This is My Body. … This is My Blood.” So, you can see the bread and say, “That’s the Body of Christ, who rose for me from the dead.”

So we see the risen Body, but in a different way than we might expect. But why would that be strange? Didn’t Jesus promise that He would be with His people as they ate and drank His holy Meal? Like Mary, we are to remember the words of Christ, for it’s then that we will recognize Him when He comes.

Yes, our risen Lord still visits us. He continues to come among His own, even today. Easter wasn’t over that first Sunday, some 2,000 years ago. The reality of Easter isn’t just limited to just once a year, when we celebrate the day of Jesus’ resurrection. No, He still comes to us, strengthening our faith, revealing His power over death, and feeding our bodies and souls the holy Food of immortality, Himself.

Death has died. Christ lives again, never to die. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.