From despair to joy, grief to hope, darkness to light, death to life.

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Sermon for Easter Sunday.  Text John 20:1-18

The disciples were devastated because their Master, their friend and their Lord had been taken away from them in the cruellest fashion imaginable. He had been beaten and flogged, paraded through a show-trial and sentenced to an agonising death on a cross and hung there between two criminals. It was overwhelming for Jesus’s friends to see and experience this. Some of them ran away and deserted Him, some of them stood by and watched in horror at all that was taking place. As darkness descended it must have seemed that the sun would never shine again, that the world was over, evil had won and that all hope had gone. What little scraps of hope there were was found in the fact that at least they had Jesus’s body, disfigured through suffering but safe now inside a tomb, guarded by soldiers and sealed behind a giant stone. At least Jesus’s friends could go to the tomb, they could weep there, they could try and whisper a few dry, cracked words of prayer…

In John’s gospel, of the women that went to the tomb at dawn on the Sunday morning, the focus is on Mary Magdalene. This Mary doesn’t appear at all in John’s gospel until she stands at the foot of the cross with the other Mary’s, but what an important role she has now. To her shock and dismay she discovers that upon reaching the tomb that the stone which had sealed the entrance had been rolled away. She runs back to tell Peter and John and says to them:

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (2b)

On top of everything else that has happened this seems a very cruel blow – they have even stolen the Lord’s body… Peter and John get up and run to the tomb, with the younger John getting there first. John pokes his head through the entrance, with there now being enough daylight to see in and he sees the linen body wrappings lying there. Peter now comes in and true to form there is no waiting or beating-about-the-bush, he just goes right in and he sees the wrappings also, specifically noticing that the separate piece that had been around Jesus’s head was rolled up and apart from the other cloths. What a curious situation this is – if someone had gone to the trouble of taking the body, why had they bothered to unwrap it and even more than that why had they unwrapped it so neatly? It seemed unreal and impossible but perhaps there was an explanation, one that seemed so far-fetched but yet it was the one that Jesus had told them about several times before and that they had seen with their own eyes when Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Yes it had happened, really it had. John, referring to himself as ‘the other disciple’ declares this as the moment of belief. (v.8) Of course John had believed before, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God, but this was a whole new depth of belief, a new level of faith and maturity and trust and commitment. It is a bit like that for many of us; we may have been churchgoers all of our lives, we have a certain level of faith, of trust and belief, but then one Sunday perhaps a line of a hymn, some words said in prayer or something that the visiting preacher said spoke to us in a way that we knew it was God speaking to us and it opened up for us a whole new level of belief, faith and commitment; suddenly Jesus was more real to us than ever before and we wanted Him to change us, to forgive us more deeply than we had ever wanted before and He became to us, from that moment on, the most important Person in our life and living for Him then became not only the most important thing in our life, it became the whole point, purpose and meaning of our lives…

So the disciples return to their homes, but Mary stays, weeping. Her Lord is gone, why is He not there? Mary goes to look into the tomb and see for herself and she sees two angels sitting at either end of the place where Jesus’s body had been. The angels ask her why she is weeping and through her tears, Mary says:

‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ (13b)

Perhaps she sensed someone standing behind her, because Mary turns around and the man standing there, whom she does not recognise, says to her:

‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ (15b)

Mary thinks the man is the gardener and so she asks him if he has carried the body away and if he has, may she have it back. The man says to her ‘Mary!’ and at that point she knows. She clings to Him and calls him Rabbi, or teacher. She holds on to Him because she is so overwhelmingly happy to see Him – in the shortest of moments her tears of grief, darkness and despair, have become tears of utter joy, light and hope. Jesus says 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.” ’ (v.17)

There was now going to be a new and deeper relationship with Jesus. Notice how he asks Mary to go to ‘my brothers’ and how he refers to God as ‘your Father’ and ‘your God’. All the barriers had come down. Jesus had risen from the dead – death itself had been ‘swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54). A new depth of friendship, a new level of intimacy with Jesus was now possible. Because of what He had done, God the Father was now very much ‘Father’ to all of Jesus’s followers too; they could now be children of God and know God in the same way that Jesus did during His time on earth. Everyone who knocked on the door was now welcome into the Father’s house.

Perhaps that seems an impossible dream to you. You have patiently listened to the reading and all that has taken place in the service this morning but there is a barrier and you know it. But please listen to this, the stone in front of the tomb was seemingly an insurmountable barrier, not to mention the barrier of death itself and Jesus overcame them. Don’t you ever think that the barrier between you and God is an insurmountable one, God knows your life, He knows everything about you and everything you have ever done, but relax, He still loves you anyway and even more than that, He wants to forgive you and He wants to be your Heavenly Father and for you to know Him, love Him and know with every fibre of your being just how very very much He loves you, loves you so much that He gave His own Son to die for you in order that all the bad things you have ever done wrong would be forgiven. Imagine that, He did it all for you. Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, (thank you that I can call you that), I am so relieved that you know my life and everything that I have ever done and yet You love me anyway. I thought that you would just be angry with me, so I never really bothered to talk to you much before. But when I think of what you did for me through Jesus it blows me away that you would love me, even me that much. I don’t have much to give you Lord except to say that ‘I’m sorry’. I’m sorry for all the bad things that I have ever done and I ask you now to forgive me … Holy Spirit of God, I ask you to come into my heart, into the depths of my being and cleanse me, forgive me and change me. I thank you so much for Jesus, help me to walk in His way, in Your way now and for the rest of my life … Amen.

—————————————–

Of great help in writing this sermon was Tom Wright’s Book, “John for Everyone” (Part 2), SPCK 2004. ISBN: 978-0-281-05520-3.

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4 Comments to “From despair to joy, grief to hope, darkness to light, death to life.”

  1. Thank you for your words on this the best of days….a reminder of the price paid for us all and the hope we have in the risen Christ.

    Happy Easter

    Tomas

  2. Thank you Daniel. I too find Tom Wright a great help and use all his commentaries. This Lent I got Lent for Everyone for Year A. It follows much the same format as his other books, using his own translations and closing with a prayer.

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