The Empty Tomb
20 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.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
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.
Jackson approaches Delilah, his warm hand falling softly on her cold skin. He places his hand over her chest that does not rise or fall, that contains no beating heart. His tears splash onto her dress and as he kisses her forehead, his tears rain down onto her closed eyes. Though his heart breaks … he knows she is safe with the Lord and that He keeps His eternal promise that they will one day be together again in heaven.
Those who die … they are cold. So cold to a warm touch. The life that had dwelt within them is gone and they are safe from the perils of this world which the face living. No more harm can come to them now. Hearts that used to beat with love are still. Minds that felt so many emotions are blank. We carefully lie them on their backs, feet together, arms folded over their chest, and eyes closed. We make a cross with daisies over their torso and blow them a kiss for the journey.
This is the Jesus Mary Magdalene expects to find as she approaches Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week. Jesus, having been in the tomb for three days would have been stiff, he would be cold, he would not have looked himself nor would he have smelled very good. But as Mary approaches the tomb, she sees that the stone has been rolled away, rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. Instead of going up to the tomb to see if Jesus was even there, Mary takes off running to find Peter and John.
Together, the three of them go back. John gets there first but doesn’t go in. John leans against the wall, bends over and looks in to find the strips of linen which would have been wrapped around Jesus’ body lying there. Peter shows up next and rushes right in. He too sees the strips of linen as well as the burial cloth that has been wrapped around Jesus’ head. But there is one thing missing … the body of Jesus!!!
John, Peter, and Mary have been around long enough to know that when a person dies, they are cold, they are stiff, their chest does not rise or fall, their heart quits beating and that there is no life in the person’s body. But something is obviously different here. They don’t ask any questions, they don’t go searching for the body of Jesus … Scripture says that they saw, believed but didn’t understand, and went back to their homes.
Mary though … she stands outside the tomb and she cries. Her heart is broken and her tears rain down her face. Not only is it hard enough to lose someone, to have someone you care about die … but now he’s missing.
The two angels inside the tomb are totally perplexed at her weeping. “Why are you crying?” (John 20:13). Beyond this, they offer her no consolation. Turning around, Mary sees Jesus, but does not realize it. He asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:15). Mary, thinking she is talking to a gardener, asks for him to tell her where he put the body and she will get him. Mary is obviously confused, but can you blame her?
She first showed up at the tomb when it was still dark and the disciples were fast asleep. She herself probably hadn’t slept for days. In the days following the loss of a loved one, disbelief sets in. “I can’t believe he is really gone. It just doesn’t seem real.” So when Mary sees Jesus and mistakenly takes him to be the gardener … can you really blame her? But this man standing before her is not just any ole gardener.
Behold the man before Mary who once was dead, but who now lives. Jesus’ heart had stopped, but now it beats with a strong new rhythm and vigor. After Jesus cried out with a loud voice that “It was finished” (John 19:30), he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. At that moment, his chest fell and refused to rise again. Now behold, the man standing before Mary has lungs which are filled with fresh air of a new life. His eyes were closed and darken in death, but now they are open and see the beauty of God’s creation. His nailed scarred hands which were folded ever so neatly across his chest have wiggled free and have undone the burial linens and neatly folded the burial cloth which was wrapped around his head. His cold skin now radiates heat and warm. His brain which had been still is now firing on all cylinders. Behold the man who 40 days ago hungered, who since then has prayed, who was beaten, who was exposed, who has thirsted … behold Jesus, true God and true man who lives. Behold the God who rises. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His own creation. Behold the man who stands before Mary who once was dead, but who now lives.
And that is what we are here to celebrate this morning. We celebrate that we have a God who rises, a God through the man of Jesus Christ who has conquered death. Death, no matter how you describe it, is something which no one likes. No one likes it because it is not natural, it was not part of the original plan. As it was read in the reading from 1 Corinthians 15, death came through a man (15:21). Death came into the Garden of Eden through Adam and Eve believing Satan’s lie that their eyes would be open and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Wanting to be like God, together they willfully ate what they were told not eat. The sinful desire to be like God caused Adam and Eve to eat and their eating caused them to realize that what they did was wrong. Out of fear for their lives, when they hear the sound of the Lord God, the master gardener walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid. God wanted nothing but a wonderful life for his creation, for his most prized creation … but instead Adam and Eve chose death.
And since then, the tension between God and man has been a clash of life verses death. When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have left them in that sin, but instead the divine gardener went for his usual stroll through his garden. It should be of no surprise to you and me that when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, when the Creator of life took an extended stroll in his creation, that he exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener as he walked the rows. Brothers and sister in Christ, behold the man who tends to his garden, who, everywhere he went, pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of His Word, the news of the new, irresistible reign of life, swallowing up the regime of death forever. Jesus promised life, but it would come only through death … his death.
And so when Mary Magdalene sees the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was dead and buried in a garden … she made an honest mistake of assuming that he was just another man, just another gardener in the gardens of death … but he’s not.
So here we are, gathered at the dawn of Jesus’ resurrection, in the fresh rays of a new dawn, basking in the glow of life, overcoming the shadows of death, and beholding the man who rose from the dead to destroy death’s icy cold grip on his good creation. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
My dear friends in Christ … behold the man who gives life. Believe in his bodily resurrection and in your bodily resurrection which will be completed upon the day of Christ’s return. Behold the man who immersed himself into our lives, dying the death at the hands of sinful men which you and I deserve. Behold the man whose death and resurrection has destroyed death. Behold the man who emerged from the grave and was immediately confused for the gardener. Behold the man who feeds you today with his very body and blood that rose from the dead to claim victory over death. Behold the man and in him, behold yourself … for through Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan, you are made holy, you are forgiven, you are free. In Christ, behold the person you are, the child of God that you are and will be fully when Jesus raises you up from the grave. Behold the God who rises so that you may be with Jesus and your loved ones forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.