Three Disciples Walk Into a Tomb…

a sermon for Easter Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading is from St. John, who tells a version of the resurrection story filled with sibling rivalry and mistaken identity.  But it is what happens when the disciples come out of the tomb that makes the difference.


Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Today’s Gospel reading is from St. John, who tells a version of the resurrection story filled with sibling rivalry and mistaken identity. It begins with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb of Jesus and finding that the stone had already been rolled away. Fearing that someone had stolen the body of Jesus, she runs to tell Simon Peter, and John, who refer’s to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Peter and John start out for the tomb together, but soon find themselves in a foot race, each trying to get there before the other. John wins, of course. After all, it’s his Gospel. But for some reason, he doesn’t enter the tomb. Peter goes in first. Then they both look around the empty tomb, see the linen shroud, and turn around and go home.

Now you have to admit, this first part of the story is pretty peculiar. What good is a foot race to the tomb, if all you’re going to do is turn around and go home? But the Gospel seems to suggest that after they entered the tomb, they believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, even if they did not understand it. And that’s a pretty fair definition of faith, believing something, even when we don’t understand. Simon Peter and John were faithful.

Then we come to the second part of the story, where we find Mary, who was was literally left in the dust by the other two disciples, weeping outside the tomb after the big brave disciples she brought went back home. All alone, she screws up her courage to walk into the tomb. But she has a completely different experience. There, instead of an empty tomb, she finds two angels, who engage her in conversation. Then, she meets a man who she first believes to be the gardener. It isn’t until Jesus calls her by name, that she recognizes who he is, and becomes the first person to witness to the resurrected Lord.

I think these two stories sum up our own faith experiences pretty well. A lot of us know the story of Jesus, about how God came to us through him to live as one of us, and to die for us. Like Peter and John, we know what the scriptures say, even if we don’t understand them. And still we believe. We believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, even if we don’t understand it. These people are faithful.

But for others of us, it is a little different; head knowledge just doesn’t cut it. We are more like Mary. Everywhere we look, we see signs of the resurrected Jesus. We see God at work in the world more freely. We are Easter people, and have heard him call us by name. We recognize Jesus as our Lord and teacher, and see the face of Christ in everyone we meet, even in the gardener.

Both types of faith – the head kind and the heart kind – are real. Both kinds can lead us to the Truth that by his resurrection, Christ has changed everything. For some, it takes a while to process and understand. But for others, the reality is much more immediate. Everywhere we look, everything we know about “the way the world works” has already changed.

When the Mary, Peter and John woke up, they were living in a world where men did men’s work and women did women’s work, where power and money were what mattered, where life was hard, and harder still for the poor. They woke up in a world where no matter how good a person was, you could be gone in a instant if you crossed the wrong person. Most of all, they woke up in a world were the dead stayed dead. But Jesus changed all that. Suddenly, everything we have been programmed to see and to hear and to believe about “the way things are” no longer apply. Because suddenly death is no longer the end of life, resurrection is!

Mary was the first Easter person. She was the first to understand in her heart of hearts, that Jesus Christ changes everything. She was the first to be called by name by the resurrected Jesus. And she was the first to respond with a completely different world viewcame to change our world-view.

My brothers and sisters, like Mary, we too are Easter people. We, too, have been called by name by the resurrected Jesus. By our baptisms, we have become joined with Christ, and he has called us by name. And, like Mary, we are now people who cannot possibly look at the world the same way. He has called us by name to view the world through resurrection-colored glasses, to see the world as it truly is, filled with the light and love and grace of God in every person we meet, even the gardener.

As Easter people, we are called to go and tell others. This may be the most important part of the story. Mary went and told the others. For if she had not, we wouldn’t be here today. And if we do not, the story dies with us. Go and tell means for us to give witness, and our witness to the world comes in many forms. It may be a few words of encouragement to a friend. It may be feeding and clothing the homeless. We are called to witness that Christ is alive and living in each and every one of us “not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to Christ’s service.”

As Easter people, we are known by God and called by name. And like Mary, when we are called by name, we finally recognize Jesus for who he truly was. Not just a man who lived many years ago in Palestine, and who may have had nice things to say, but as the one who actually arose from the dead, and lives in every one of us here this morning. For us, the empty tomb is not some abstract concept that resides only in our minds, but an actual fact that colors how we see the world. We are named and we are counted as children of God, and as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a Frank and Ernest comic strip that said, in effect, that being an Easter person is not about how we view a certain thing, but how we view everything. Mary’s personal encounter with the risen Jesus changed the way she viewed everything. She was called by name, and from then on she saw Christ in every person. Like Mary, we have been called by name by the resurrected Christ. We, too, see Christ in everyone we meet. We may not know what to say, at first. But after a while, our thoughts begin to form. Our thoughts become whispers, our whispers become words, our words become shouts.

ALLELUIA, CHRIST IS RISEN!
THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED. ALLELUIA!

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