Alleluia! Christ is Risen!


John 20:1-18

"Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”

This resurrection story always makes me smile because it tells about the foot race between Peter and John our gospel writer, to see who could get to the empty tomb first. And John the writer of the story makes sure to tell us that he got there first.  Mary Magdalene and the other women had told them about the stone being rolled away, and so Peter and John come arunning, and bold Peter goes right inside.  

I wonder if John was afraid of what he might find? But Peter, sweet Peter runs full speed straight in and finds the empty tomb. And so they leave and go home while Mary Magdalene stays and tries to figure this all out.  And then she peeks inside and receives her amazing message from an angel of God. What a morning!  

But it’s about to get even better.I therefore love this resurrection story because it sparkles with light and excitement and surprise. Dark Things of this world like sin, and ugliness and torture and death on a cross, they belong in a dark tomb blocked by a stone hidden under wraps. These are the things that suck out life and light. But this resurrection account bursts with the light of the glory of the Lord.  nd so we begin this Easter with the first witness of the Risen Lord by Mary who mistakes Jesus for the gardener!

You know the story of God includes the story of 3 great gardens. The Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden outside the tomb.  And I think it is entirely appropriate that Mary first mistakes Jesus for the Gardener. In the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of creation, Adam and Eve walked with God. And it was in a garden, the garden outside the tomb, at the beginning of the new creation, that Mary first saw her Risen Lord. That Garden, which was supposed to be the memorial garden of Jesus, turned out to be the garden of life leading to the new creation—and the empty tomb was the passageway to the new heaven and new earth.

Seeing Jesus standing there, talking with him, touching him, that is what the New Testament boldly proclaims.  Mary and the women, they all stayed by the cross as Jesus died.  And I think we can relate to what their grief must have been. We all have lost or will lose people we deeply love. But can you also imagine Mary’s great joy?  This meeting with Jesus, so alive so well, so completely unexpected. She wasn’t thinking about Old Testament prophecy or theological issues. She saw alive the very man, and Lord that she had watched just 2 days before, die on a cross.  And this first resurrection meeting had to be the most wonderful thing that ever happened to her.  

Do you ever doubt the existence of God? Do you ever wonder about all of those stories we just read and others like them? Then the stories of the disciples and the followers of the Jesus that we will read over the coming weeks, where they see their Risen Lord are for you. Because you will see that the witness of the resurrection is the turning point in the lives and the faith of Jesus’ followers. Seeing and touching their Risen Lord, was THE ultimate FACT that grounded their witness about Jesus. No one had ever heard this news before. And so we will watch as they literally run around telling everyone they can, this great news—we saw him, we ate with him, we talked with him, we touched him. Indeed the entire New Testament and our Christian faith, hinges on this miraculous event that changed our course for eternity.

Sometimes we say we should read the Old Testament and the New Testament through the lens of the cross, but I believe we also need to read them both through the lens of the resurrection. And the resurrection is truly great news, because if it is true, then it confirms the truth of all those stories that went on before the cross in the ancient history of Israel. Because, if God can raise his son, then surely God has the power to part a red sea and to lead his people to the promised land. But even better, if the resurrection is true, all of those promises of the future, all of those promises of heaven, our promised land, are confirmed as well.  

Jesus said on the cross to the bandit next to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And he tried to leave words of comfort with his disciples at the last supper when he told them, “My Father’s house has many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you … and I will come and get you.” And so through the resurrection, we now know that these promises heaven are true. The resurrection therefore grounds our belief in the past and enlightens our hope for the future.

In the memorial gardens of our own lives, the reminders of death are surrounded by the beauty of a garden, of flowers, and the beauty of creation. And it is there where we meet God.  It is there that we find why the resurrection matters. It is there where we see why it is such good news. Because death snuffs out life. But resurrection is the power of creation. Resurrection is the power of new birth. Resurrection takes the dead stuff in the memorial gardens of this world and infuses it with whole life that lasts forever.  

And through our own resurrection, we will be created anew, and that changes everything.  We who live on this side of Easter know now for certain that death is not our end.  Mary Magdalane, who saw Jesus in his memorial garden that day, amongst the tombs and the flowers, she was overjoyed because she saw the man she deeply loved, her teacher, her Lord, and her friend, and he was alive—and not only alive, but well. The man she loved was restored to her completely whole, and this was the best thing that could have ever happened to her.  

We are therefore truly blessed to be on this side of Easter, because we have the opportunity to view all evil, even death, through the power of the resurrection. And when you get down to it, that is a big reason the resurrection matters to me. Because you see, I want to walk in the garden with God, and I want to see and be with the ones I love as well.  I want to see my father, and my step-father, and all of my loved ones who have passed on before and who will come after me. And I know because of who Jesus is, because of what he did, his life and death and resurrection, I know that he and they will be in heaven, and that is where I will be, and you as well.  And therefore, I boldly proclaim to you:  Alleluia! Christ is Risen!