4/4/99, Easter, Year A

John 20: 1-18

 six year old came home from his first time visit to a church and his skeptical parents asked him how it was; “ It was just great! This Jesus was a space traveler and he got evaporated because he was the good guy, and his friends were all crying and stuff, but he came flying back from another galaxy, and...” His Mom and Dad interrupted and said, “Tommy, are you sure that’s what the preacher said?” “Well, not exactly, but if I told you the stuff he really said, you would never believe it!”

This Easter tale is a fantastic story... That’s why its called, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It is so out of this world that only God could have thought it up, and pulled it off.

The bottom line that we cut to this morning is: Did it happen? And, Will it happen again?

John believed that it happened. He was the only Apostle to live to an old age and die a natural death, and he never recanted. Mary Magdalene believed it happened, for she talked to him in the garden on that first Easter morning. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus during his trial and crucifixion, came to believe in the resurrection because he saw the empty tomb, and later talked to Jesus many times prior to His Ascension. In fact, history records that none of those thousands who actually saw the resurrected Jesus ever recanted, even though many were tortured and promised pardon if they would just say it was not so.

Preachers make a big deal out of John outrunning Peter to the tomb, and point out that when Peter, the impetuous one, arrived in second place, he ran right on into the tomb, while the more mild mannered John hung at the entrance. I like to think that John ran faster because he loved Jesus more. In his edition of Jesus’ biography, John does not refer to himself by name; but as, “...the one whom Jesus loved.” (Jn 20: 2). John also shares that when he did go on into the empty tomb, “...he saw and believed.” (v. 9). The one who loved him so much was the first one to believe in His resurrection.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. Perhaps she loved Him so much that she could not bare the thought that his precious body had perhaps been stolen. Jesus had transformed her life from sinner to saint. When tourists go to the ruins of the Magdala village church, just north of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, the guide tells the story of how she would stand at the intersection of the gentile city road and sell herself to foreigners. But Jesus had come down her street and her life had been turned around. It has always been precious to me that Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast demons, became Saint Mary of Magdala, the one who first saw him in his resurrected form. Peter and John, and later Paul, were male leaders of the early Church, but Mary Magdalene was obviously also one whose influence shaped the theological, and experiential, understanding of those first believers.

One of the questions doubters have to deal with is: Would people of such great character hatch up a lie? And if they did, would they have been able to tell the same falsehood for so long? And would they have been willing to die for a lie?

We believe in the empty tomb story because we believe in God. You see, if we can believe in Him then we can believe that He can step into time and alter events. The resurrection of the Son was a Divine miracle. We believe that it really did happen?

Secondly, we believe that it will happen again, to us someday, hopefully a long time off. My faith was greatly strengthened this year by the experience I had with prostate cancer surgery. Amid the terror of that first diagnosis, I picked up a New Testament and randomly put my finger down upon the words of Jesus from The Sermon on the Mount: “In truth, in very truth I tell you, the believer possesses eternal life.” (John 6:47). An assurance was given me that, not only would I survive death, but also my dearly departed Dad was alive and waiting for me, along with so many others that I so much want to see again in heaven. I have no doubts anymore. It was a miracle, just for me.

Yet, there is a third question even more bottom line than, Did it happen, and Will it Happen? This question is; “Will we allow the resurrection to happen in us in the now? Will we allow His power to resurrect us from our sinful and selfish lives? Will we live new now?

Mary Magdalene represents us in living a new life. The Easter story is meant to speak to us at this point. No matter what grave sins we have committed we too can be forgiven. From the murderer on death row, to the child who lied about spending her milk money on a Coke, the Good News of Easter is twofold: Resurrection after death; but also, Transformed Living from now on in this life. Rev. Ike was not too far off when he promised, “Pie in the sky in the by and by, and blessings now with ice cream on it!” Our positive response to His invitation to begin a new life is the beginning of our being able to believe in the resurrection.

The hymns we belted out with such great gusto this morning were written by people just like us who had come to experience the reality of resurrection living. Charles Wesley wrote our first Methodist Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” His theology was based upon a personal experience of grace. His powerful words signify our participation in Christ’s victory over death and our fear of the grave. Our second hymn tune contrasts Jesus’ death, in somber notes, with the exciting tempo of the refrain, “Up From the Grave He Arose,” I still want to stomp my feet to the rhythm when I sing it. Presbyterian pastor Alfred Ackley in 1933 was asked by a young Jew, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” “But Jesus lives!” was Ackley’s response, and the result of that conversation was our final hymn: “He Lives.” It is often used as a sending forth in faith at the conclusion of an Easter Sunday. “I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today... the hope of all who seek him, the help of all who find... He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way... You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Does He Live for you? He wants to today... Don’t turn Him away!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

4/4/99, Easter, Year A