When Was the Easter Moment?
Easter Day - April 8, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
John 20: 1-18
When was the Easter Moment? When was the starburst time when the pivotal moment of history occurred? When was it that the transforming moment of Easter truly happened?
Was it the moment that Christ arose?
I believe totally and completely in the factual event called the Resurrection. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead in a remarkably transformed body - a body unexplainable in the terms of His day - and even in our own. On the third day, He rose from the dead. I believe that this is a historical fact.
But - the fact that He rose - was that in itself "Easter?"
Jesus could have risen, escaped the tomb, and simply ascended to His Father. The atonement for sin had been paid, hadn't it?
So, when was it? When was the Easter moment?
When was that explosive burst of spiritual light that illuminated the world so much that 2000 years later, we sit here, thinking about it, awed by it, amazed by it.
I believe that Easter was not just when the glorious Christ burst forth from the tomb, my Friend. Easter happened when He burst into our hearts.
This Easter morning, let's explore how that happened.
Easter Begins in Darkness
Let’s take a look at today’s Scripture, John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb …
The Easter event started in darkness. Please underline the phrase, “while it was still dark.”
I wonder if you know anyone who is experiencing a time of darkness - the “3 AM” of the soul; a time of darkness of the heart. If that's you, this part of the story is especially for you.
It is from the standpoint of hopelessness that the Easter story began. But there is a lesson to be learned here. Mary walked out in darkness. She took her first steps that Easter morning while there was only an inner light to guide her, only the light of love and faith to carry her forward, to put one foot in front of the other, to keep on doing, and keep on going, even when all appearances around her gave her no reason to do so.
It's the beginning of a story with an extraordinary outcome. "Early… while it was still dark… Mary came to the tomb."
Maybe there is a message here for us "3 AM of the soul" people. Walk forward with courage, Friend. One step at a time. Even if you don't feel like it. Do the good thing, do the right thing, walk by the light of faith. That first step you take, that first step in the dark, may bring you one step closer to an Easter experience.
…and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
Mary arrived at the tomb, and there was a heart-pounding experience. The tomb was empty. She understandably thought that the body had been stolen or relocated.
(The phrase, “The other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,” is referring to the writer, John. John is the writer of this Gospel and he identified himself in this way rather than in the first person, or by name, as a gesture of humility.)
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
We had a remarkable experience here at the church the other day during our Good Friday service. We read the parts of the Gospel as a drama. After the service was over I felt very moved. We all just sat for awhile in silent meditation. I was thinking of the sadness of Jesus in the tomb. An amazing thought came ringing clear to my mind. I heard a thought that said, "not for long brother, not for long." And it was so. "weeping lasted for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Psalm 30) It was darkest right before the dawn.
Miraculous Events: Is This When Easter Happened?
Let’s see what happened next. They started in darkness, then they saw amazing things. Was that the Easter moment?
The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
What does this mean, the description of the grave clothes? Why write it down?
It means that the body had not been disrupted and hastily taken away. Rather the grave cloths were lying like a cocoon with the headpiece collapsed, but just as it had been when it was wrapped around the head. Strange. Very strange - that's why John wrote it down. The cloths just were lying there, as if Jesus had just - vanished. It was very unusual. They saw this amazing thing. Was that when Easter happened?
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
What? They went in; they saw; John "believed." Really? What was the result of that?
They went home. They just went home.
Was that the Easter moment?
Was that the radiant transformation of the heart that Easter evokes? That inspires one to just "go home?'
Maybe not. Amazing, yes. Transforming, not so much.
Wait! There are more amazing observations.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
How amazing! Mary saw two angels and they spoke to her! Angels dressed in white! Speaking angels! How amazing was that? Her reply? Total, devastated grief. Was this the Easter moment? Doesn't seem so.
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
She saw Him but did not know that it was Him. Fasten your seatbelt, here it comes!
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
Please underline the phrase, “Whom are you looking for?” My goodness gracious, that is what our Savior is like!
If you want to know what Jesus is like, take a look at these sentences. He didn’t just rise and go to heaven; He could have, but He didn’t. His saving work was done. He stayed for Mary, for you and for me. He stayed - so that Easter could happen, not just in fact, but in our hearts.
If you want to know what your Lord is like, look here. Read this part. Read about His caring before she even knew what was happening. This is prevenient grace, my Friend - God's love that loves us even before we know we need it, even before we know what is going on, knowing our needs even before we know them ourselves. Caring for us even before we know how we need to be cared for.
He spoke gently to Mary. He didn’t surprise her or overwhelm her. He took her feelings into account. Jesus cares and He listens. He loves with an understanding love.
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her,… "Mary!"
She knew that voice. There was only one who could say her name like that. There was only One who could say her name with the mixture of tenderness and understanding, with the blend of joy and forgiveness, with the tone of strength and encouragement, with the echo of everlasting love.
It could only be one.
It was Jesus.
Her arms opened wide, and through the curtain of tears, she saw it was Him.
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,"Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).
This, my Friend, is the Easter moment.
It is when Mary heard her own name spoken so lovingly by the voice of the Savior.
It is when Easter truly began.
I believe it was in this moment that the dawning brilliance of Easter morning filled the earth like the blazing radiance of the sunrise. The truth the triumph of Easter filled Mary's heart.
She was overwhelmed with joy. She flung herself at Him, and embraced Him with all her might - every ounce of strength she had, as though by the power of her embrace He might never go away again.
Jesus reassured her, saying, in effect, "All is well. No need to hold me down. I'm not going anywhere."
Then Jesus gave her a job to do: to "Go and tell the others."
And because she did, you and I are here today, touched and transformed and filled with hope by the Easter story - even as she was when she heard Him call her name. From that Easter moment, her eyes were opened - and she knew Him.
Friend, whatever your name may be - Jesus is calling you today.
He lived, and died, and rose again - for you.
Here is my invitation to you. Won’t you listen deep in your heart and hear Jesus,
the spirit of the risen Christ, calling your name. Hear it and be open to His friendship - and the amazing event called Easter will happen for you.
God loves you, Friend. I do too. Happy Easter!
© 2012 Anthony J. Godlefski