Sunday, April 24, 2011

The New Words of Christ: John 20:1-18 and 19-29

For the last five weeks we have focused our time together around the seven last words of Christ. Those words of forgiveness, salvation, care, abandonment, humanity, covenant, and commitment to see the power and model for how we are to live as Easter people. Today I want us to look at the new words of Christ, those words Christ speaks as a result of His resurrection and His victory over death, and how those words can be a tremendous affirmation of worth in ourselves, hope in our calling, and how they can set the foundation for our eternities.

A Day Like No Other
As our Easter story opens this morning we find Mary Magdalene, our stalwart. A model of perseverance and faith. Remember, Mary is the one that has been by Jesus' side without fail. Mary was there at his trial listening as the Sanhedrin pushed for Jesus' crucifixion. Mary was there as they flogged Jesus, ripping the skin off his back. Mary was there as Jesus was mocked by having a crown of thorns pushed into His flesh. Mary was there watching and grieving as Jesus hang on the cross. Mary was there to comfort Jesus' mother. Mary was there as they took Jesus' lifeless body down. In fact, there are many images and paintings that depict Mary Magdalene weeping at Jesus' feet, holding them as he was removed from the cross. While we do not know for sure that she did those acts, we know she could have, because she was there.

Mary has been totally invested in Jesus and His ministry since he dismissed seven demons from within her. Mary was believed to be a wealthy woman that had the means and ability to help fund portions of Jesus' ministry and to follow Jesus and his disciples around Judea. Now out of respect for Jesus, and for their customs, Mary sets out to go and prepare Jesus' body.

Remember, Jesus died just a few hours before the beginning of Passover so there was not time to procure the ingredients and properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial. So Mary sets out to make this right. Mary consumed in her grief does not even wait until daybreak as Scripture tells us she set out in the darkness to perform these rituals. Little did Mary know the great honor Jesus was about to bestow upon her.

As Mary reaches Jesus' tomb, imagine her surprise and confusion when she sees the tomb and the stone is rolled away. This stone would have been too large for just one person to move from the outside much less from the inside. However, it is still rolled away exposing the tomb. Mary, swimming in a sea of emotion, did not even venture in, but immediately turned around and ran to find Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, thought by many to be John.

After she finds them and explains what she saw, all three, race back to the tomb. Peter and John out pace Mary, leaving her desperately trying to keep up. They arrive, John first, then Peter, and finally Mary. John was only willing to peek inside at this point, but Peter goes straight into the tomb. He discovers the linens used to wrap the body of Jesus empty and laying there. John having now summoned the courage to go in, and after seeing the empty clothes, Scripture tells us he believes. Now what he believes we are not sure. Did he believe Mary's story or did he believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Since the concept of resurrection is not mentioned in the Old Testament, and the New Testament did not exist, we are not sure what John believed.

But, Mary has still not ventured into the tomb. In fact, once Peter and John see the tomb is empty, they leave her. Mary sits outside the tomb, weeping and alone. Eventually she musters the courage to peek in...and it begins. The telling of Jesus' resurrection begins.

Now It Begins
Mary sees two angels at each end of Jesus empty tomb asking her why she is weeping. She explains to them she is looking for Jesus and at that moment she turns to see a man standing before her. From there we hear the familiar exchange, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Mary, mistaking this man for a gardener, again asks for the location of Jesus' body. This man simply replies, “Mary”. At that instant she realizes that this man is Jesus. Reaching out for Him she is told to stop because Jesus still has not yet ascended to His Father. Then Jesus gives her a wonderful honor, the honor of being the very first preacher of the resurrection. He tells her to go to His disciples and tell them what she has seen.

In this culture and in this age, women were not highly regarded. In fact, their testimony was thought of to be worthless. However, Jesus entrusted Mary with one of the most important messages in history. These words of resurrection given to Mary, by Christ, were new words. New words of a concept previously unknown to humanity. New words that we celebrate today, that Christ is Risen! That death has been defeated! That sin has lost its power! That the bridge between humanity and God our Father is now established.

Jesus entrusting Mary with this responsibility tells us that we are all important and have a vital role in the Kingdom of God. There is no one that does not have one! Jesus saw past the cultural limitations of His day and knew the worth of His Father's creation. Jesus knows the worth of all of God's creation. Take heart, take pride in knowing God created you for a reason. And one of those reasons is to follow Mary's example and proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Savior as Easter people. Proclaim it with boldness, confidence, and the support of your Father in Heaven.

The Hope
Fortunately for us, the story does not end there. Now after Mary proclaims the resurrection of Christ to the disciples, Jesus follows it up with His own visit to His brothers. A visit seeking to give the disciples confirmation and support. A visit to give them more new words, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21, NRSV).

Jesus was giving the apostles a new charge. Up to this point, Jesus had been preparing these twelve men. Jesus taught them, affirmed them, lived with them, and opened their minds to the new ways of God. Now it was time to take all of that training and exposure and go forth. They were instructed to go and be Christ's ambassadors to the world. They were to take the stories and teaching of Christ out into the world.

Just as Christ commissioned these twelve so now are all of us commissioned. We are charged to be the light of Christ in a world of darkness. Have you witnessed God at work? Tell someone. Have you seen the hand of God provide for you? Tell someone. Have you felt the comfort and companionship of Christ in your hour of need? Tell someone. You each have a calling to be disciples. I encourage you to find excitement in that. That does not mean quit your jobs and stand on the street corner yelling about Jesus to anyone that might listen. Instead, look for doors, look for windows, look for cracks to love another. There is no joy in this world, like the joy of Christ.

Eternity Secured!
I have found my life is the easiest if I can find a routine to follow. I remember more things, I get more accomplished, I feel more at ease when I know what is coming. I have also discovered that a routine for my two boys at bed time, makes my life easier and extends the life of my boys.

This routine makes sure the bath gets done, the vitamins get swallowed, the teeth get brushed, the clothes get laid out for the next day and everyone's belongings are where they need to be to make those early morning hours of the next day go smoothly. This routine is my friend.

However, routines do not work with God. My various routines tries to confine the wonder and majesty that is God and besides, in my experience, God hardly ever acts within my routine. And I love that! I love those moments when I am in total awe at what God has done. When I am simply left speechless at the movement of the Holy Spirit. When I can look in the face of another, and without a doubt, know I am witnessing the love of Christ. I love it when God is more than I imagine!

Max Lucado once wrote: “Have you got God figured out? Have you got God captured on a flowchart and frozen on a flannelboard? If so, then listen. Listen to God's surprises. Hear the rocks meant for the body of the adulterous woman drop to the ground. Listen as Jesus invites a death-row convict to ride with him to the kingdom in the front seat of the limo. Listen as the Messiah whispers to the Samaritan woman, 'I who speak to you am he.' Listen to the widow from Nain eating dinner with her son who is supposed to be dead. And listen to the surprise as Mary's name is spoken by a man she loved-a man she had buried. 'Mary.'

God appearing at the strangest of places. Doing the strangest of things. Stretching smiles where there had hung only frowns. Placing twinkles where there were only tears. Hanging a bright star in a dark sky. Arching rainbows in the midst of thunderclouds. Calling names in a cemetery.”

This life is but a glimpse of something bigger. This life is the beginning of an eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What we do in this life matters. What we learn in this life will have eternal implications. Jesus knew that when He gave Mary the honor of preaching the very first resurrection message. He knew that when He commissioned the disciples to go as His ambassadors. He knew that when gave Himself up to be crucified on the cross.

These last several weeks we have looked at the fully human side Christ. His feelings of abandonment, His body aching from thirst, His humanity coming through, strengthening His bond with us. Today, this day, we see Christ as fully divine through His resurrection. We get to witness His victory over sin and death and we gain assurance, peace, and hope that all Christ promised will come to pass.

Mary, who was devalued by her culture, was given one of the most important messages in history to carry to the world. The disciples, enveloped in fear and trepidation, regarded as the poor and working class in their culture, were commissioned to be Christ's ambassadors to all the world. There is not a person in this room, there is not a person on this planet, that does not have worth as given to them by God. You have worth, you will always have worth. Worth because you have been created by God. Worth because Jesus redeemed you to our Father. Worth because Jesus rose from the dead so that you may have eternal life with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Celebrate that. Embrace that. Today you have been given the grace of God, the mercy of God so that you may have life eternal and so that you may share the knowledge of that gift with others. Go forth from this place and be Easter people. Celebrate the gift of grace and mercy. And always remember, Christ called you.

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