March 27, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
John 20: 1-18
The Empty Tomb
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!”
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13They 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.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15“Woman,” he said, “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.”
16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
18Mary 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.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. Happy Easter!
There is an ancient greeting that has been exchanged between Christians over hundreds and hundreds of years. It goes something like this:
One says, “Christ is risen.”
And the response is, “He is risen indeed.”
And together we say, “Hallelujah! Amen.”
Dear friends, on this Easter morning, the topic I’d like to share with you today is “Good news!” I invite you to picture yourself in the place where you work. You’re doing your job. Things are going along as usual. And then someone bursts into the room and says, “I’ve got good news.”
What does that feel like? What would you do? Wouldn’t you drop everything and want to know what was going on? I sure would.
I had an experience like that this week. I get many emails everyday, as I’m sure you do, and I try to respond to each of them. Along the list of topics, there was one that simply said, “Good news.” And it wasn’t a forward—it was an original. So I confess to you: I opened that one first. It was from a member of our church who said “I just wanted to share with you some news that happened to me today. I came into work this morning and found out that I was getting a raise and a special bonus and special words of appreciation from my boss. I tell you, that was amazing to me. I just feel so good about it, and that’s the good news.”
Well, I tell you, I felt great about it myself. It was as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I could celebrate with this person.
Friends, good news is powerful, and it’s powerful medicine. In this morning’s gospel, we hear some very good news, indeed. It didn’t start out that way, though. Broken-hearted disciples went to the tomb of Jesus that first Easter morning. They didn’t know what they would do. They were just moved by grief and partial disbelief that such a thing could happen. They came to the tomb, and they found something amazing. There were angels there who told them Jesus was alive. The stone had been rolled away. Peter and John left in bewilderment, but Mary stayed, weeping and weeping for her beloved Lord.
And then, she saw Jesus. Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have taken Him, tell me where you have placed Him, and I will go find Him and carry Him away myself.”
And Jesus said, “Whom are you looking for? Whom do you seek?”
Mary was blinded by tears. And then, in that remarkable moment—I wonder what it was like in the heart of Jesus, when He knew that the very next word that He said would change the world forever—He took a breath and looked at her and said, “Mary.”
She looked up, and she said, “My teacher.” She embraced Him. She must have held onto His feet so strongly, like a football tackle.
The gospel says that Jesus said, “Do not touch me.” It means, “You don’t have to hold onto me. You don’t have to hold me down. It’s okay; I’m not going anywhere. I’ve not yet ascended to my Father. It’s okay, Mary.” And as she released Him, He said, “Now, go and tell the good news to the disciples. Tell them I’m going to Jerusalem ahead of them. I’ll meet them there. Go and tell!” And she ran to tell the good news.
Friends, I’ve got good news for you this morning. I think you might know what it is. But let me tell it to you in a special way that it was told to me, one week ago today, right here in the front of our church by one of our children. A week ago the children and I were talking about some pictures—of Jesus having dinner with His friends, of Jesus praying in the garden, of Jesus being crucified. But, I told them, there’s a happy ending to this story. If you want to know what it is, you have to come back next week.
As I went back up after the children’s message, one of the children tapped me on the arm and said, “He came back to life.” Isn’t that wonderful? He came back to life. What a way to phrase it. That, my friends, is the good news. Some people call this Easter Day. Some prefer to call it Resurrection Day. I like to call it “Come back to life” Day, because that’s what Jesus did, and that’s what can happen for us.
My dear friends, I’ve got good news for you, and the good news is this: Jesus came back to life on Easter Day, and so can we. This day, I pray that you would take in your two good hands two beautiful gifts from Jesus. Take them home with you, won’t you? One gift is that there is life after death. Yes! Jesus said so. He promised. I take Him up on His promise. Don’t you? He said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you also may be.” That is our solid Christian faith, that there is life after death, for you and for me and for our loved ones.
It is as though there is a bridge we must cross between here and there. Jesus said, “I’ll go first,” and He crossed the bridge. And the bridge is safe, my friends. We can rest assured in the solemn assurance that if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and take Him into our hearts with a simple prayer, the blessed assurance of everlasting life is yours and mine. There is life after death. That’s the first gift of Easter Day.
The second—won’t you take this one home, too?—gift is that there is life before death. Yes! There is life before death, and some of us are only living partially, because we are so burdened with our guilt or our hopelessness or our depression, or we’re stuck in a rut of negative thinking. Does that make sense? We get so stuck in the rut of negativity that we need to hear the new message of Jesus. There is life before death. We need to say to ourselves, “Turn the page. What else shall we think about, besides the rut of negative thinking?” Turn the page, and know that there is more in store for you. Turn the page, and know that life has more to offer you. Turn the page, and know that God has more planned for you than you can dream. There is life before death, and we ought to enjoy it and savor it and take it for its fullness.
Oh, my friends, my prayer for you is that Easter Day would bring a smile to your face, that there would be laughter in your heart, that you would find something to laugh and smile about. My prayer for you is that you would have “come alive” moments. I’m hoping that you will come to me next week and say, “Oh, Pastor, I had one of those ‘come alive’ moments this week” where joy burst forth for you in a glad surprise.
I had a moment not long ago that made me smile and laugh out loud. I was on a wonderful spiritual retreat to England, a land I love very much, and everywhere I turned there were blessings of the spirit to be had. One of them was in a little post office in the town of Harlickston, England, where I spent a morning. It was a little general store and post office combined in a little room. I went in for some bottled water and got chatting with one of the local folks, a dear lady. I said, “Isn’t it a beautiful day? I’ve been enjoying your town so much. I’ve been taking pictures of the daffodils and the crocuses and the roses and the beautiful lawns. It’s all so beautiful.”
She said, “Yes, it is a beautiful day. Of course, you know, it hasn’t been so lately. My gracious, it’s been blustery and windy and cold and wet and awful.”
I said, “Well, today is really nice. You know, I have to tell you, I’ve been so blessed. Just about every single time I’ve come to England, which is many times now, I’ve been blessed with such beautiful weather.”
She thought about it, and she said, “Well, maybe you’ll have to think about visiting a little more often then.” She made me smile. She made me laugh. And I love to see you smile and hear you laugh. And God loves to hear you laugh.
May it be so for you. May you have “come alive” moments. And may you know that the blessing of Jesus offers life after death and life before death, too. Here’s the good news: Jesus came back to life, and so can we!
God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful Easter. Amen.
©2005 Anthony J. Godlefski