And She Told Them
April 12, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 20:1-18 Acts 10:39-43
Well here we are.
Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.
Even though we are unable to be together, and even though our entire planet is grappling with fear, isolation, depression, sickness, and death, we rejoice because today reminds us that we are a people who are connected to one another by our celebration of resurrection.
Death itself has been defeated.
But, aside from Easter baskets full of candy, a ham in the oven, and maybe, if we can stay six feet apart, a family gathering, what should we take away from today’s celebration?
Well, let’s read the story first, and then we can circle back to that.
We begin in what we now remember as the first Easter morning, the day after the Sabbath day, where in John 20:1-18, we hear this:
20:1 Early 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. 2 So 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!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally 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.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They 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.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary 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.
First, I love the way that John finds a way to write this and include a piece of the rivalry that must have existed between him and Simon Peter. Sure, Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church,” but in this passage, John always makes sure to refer to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and not once, but three times, John points out that as they raced to the tomb, John was faster than Peter. I don’t want to dwell on that, but feel free to read that again and count them. Three times.
The second thing to notice is the shift in tense. Although the disciples don’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death has shifted to the past tense. We hear phrases like, “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.” Jesus used to be there, but now he wasn’t, the cloth used to be wrapped around his head, but now it wasn’t. Although they didn’t yet understand exactly what had happened, clearly something had changed. And so, Peter and John go to the tomb to check things out, they see that the tomb is empty, and they go back to the house where everyone is staying. Maybe that house is where the Upper Room was, where they shared that last meal together with Jesus, and maybe it was someplace else, but they go, they see, they go home.
But Mary stays.
Mary stays by the empty tomb and cries. She is emotionally lost. First, she watched as Jesus, her anchor, mentor, rescuer, and friend is arrested, tortured, hung on a cross, died, and was buried. And now, there isn’t even a place for her to mourn him. The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone. She is emotionally adrift.
And then two angels show up and ask her one of the most ridiculous questions ever to be asked in a cemetery. “Woman, why are you crying?” Seriously, if anyone, ever, sees someone crying in a cemetery, it’s painfully obvious why they are crying. But not to the angels. And, if we think about it at all, it’s certainly because they knew the truth. They aren’t confused as to why someone would be crying. They’re confused as to why anyone would be crying for a person who was no longer dead. But when she turns around, she doesn’t see the two angels who were just there, instead she turns and sees Jesus. But again, blinded by her grief, she doesn’t realize that it is Jesus.
Until he says her name.
There was only, ever, one person who ever said her name like that. Maybe her grief allowed her to confuse the sound of his voice when he said the other things, but as soon as he said her name, she knew.
But what happens next is deeply meaningful for each one of us and for our understanding of our calling as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus says two things, “Don’t hold on to me,” and “Go and tell.” Jesus tells Mary that she has to let him go, because he still has work that needs to be done. She has to let go of the old mission, her old role as his follower, so that both she, and Jesus, can move forward to something new. The first thing on Mary’s new list is to “Go and Tell.” And, John says, Mary goes, “and she told them.”
In that moment, Mary is transformed. Mary’s role, and her mission, is transformed. Instead of being simply a follower of Jesus, instead of being in charge of cooking, or taking care of the disciples, or whatever else she may have done, Mary now becomes the world’s first Christian missionary, and the first human being, ever, to share the good news of his resurrection.
Jesus’ instructions to Mary were to go and tell… and she told them.
Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.
Jesus’ instructions to Mary overflow into the disciples, and into every person who chooses to follow Jesus. In Peter’s famous speech in Acts 10:39-43, he says,
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
“We are witnesses.”
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”
I want you to hear that again.
“We are witnesses.”
On this odd Easter morning when we find our churches empty, we remember what Mary did as she left an empty tomb.
“…and she told them.”
We must do the same.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/v8w2ohL_my4
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