Sermon, Easter Sunday
March 31, 2013, St Petri
Believing is Seeing
John 20: 1-18
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 Magdalene11 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.
It was dark before the dawn and she couldn’t see. Before the dawn was finished she would see more than her surroundings, she would see a grand future of faith and love in the Messiah she never thought possible.
How about you?
Will you also ‘see’ a grand future of love and hope in the Saviour for you? Or will you settle for what you can see already?
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
The darkness before the dawn is the worst darkness. Lying awake waiting for the first birdcalls to signal the sun’s rising is the most lonely time. The darkness surrounds us and we feel it. We can’t see what the world is like. We forget what it used to be like. It is very dark.
Match that with a sleepless night.
Match it with blood, gore, an experience of gross injustice done to someone you loved.
Add to it anger, heart wrenching loss, drying up of all hope, and this darkness before the dawn is the pit of true human despair – no seeing, no believing in anything, no direction, no purpose, no clarity on who I am, what the world is or my place in it anymore.
But she still went out to that tomb in love. Did She went out to embalm his body or just ponder what was and what could have been as she looked at that grave. Was it a final act of love and devotion from a student to a loved Teacher and friend?
Her worst fears are realised when in the gloom she can see that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance of the stone-cut grave. She assumes that those oppressive and violent Roman soldiers, or those judgemental and heartless religious elites have stooped so low as to steal his body.
She can’t bring herself to look into the dark tomb. She heads home as the darkness is still present and tells Peter and John. They run off to see for themselves…..
Incredibly, they seem non-plussed! There is no weeping from them. They seem quite able to cope with what they cannot see – Jesus’ body! How come?
A penny drops. A Word from God comes in that moment. John reports of himself, The disciple whom Jesus loved, “saw and believed”. Or is it he didn’t see and believed!? Maybe he could see what was not there because he believed.
Yes. That is it, according to the gospel teller.
“Up to this point they had still did not believe the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
Sure, up to this point – but no longer. The darkness is gone and light abounds. The new dawn of a new day with new eyes to see – eyes of the ears – ears that hear the Scriptures. Faith is created by the Scriptures now, not by seeing or not seeing.
Things have done a big shift. The first disciples had to see in order to believe. They saw the miracles. They saw the compassion and love of the man, Jesus. They saw his suffering, his dying……
But now believing is seeing for the resurrection disciples. In Jesus’ new day the way of life, the truth of life is lived by believing that enables people to see this new day – despite any gloom, hopelessness and pain.
Those hearing this account no longer need to see inside the empty tomb of even see the man, Jesus,. We have the scriptures, the living and active breath of God – the witness of those disciples. The Word is enough for faith and love and life because it is Jesus’ Word powered by his Spirit in the new day, the new community, the new way.
But Mary is again at the tomb and is weeping. Why wouldn’t she?
A life without the love and kindness and power of the Saviour is no life she wants to live. The hope he brought to their lives now seems dead. Their hope of a future in God’s blessing – a life of true life and love and hope for all seems lost. It is dark and the dawn has not come. It is dark, very dark.
She decides to look inside that black tomb. The darkness of the death it held is shattered by white light. Two messengers are enlightening the dark death. And then there is another.
He asks a simple question. “Why are you weeping?”
Amazing how Easter faith in the resurrected Jesus is not a matter of wishful thinking or emotional confusion but only comes as a result of direct interruption that we are never ready for.
As it was in that lit tomb, so now, Easter faith is a surprise because we can never see it on our own, with our own eyes or experience or intellect. Easter faith comes only as direct intervention of the resurrected Saviour – and he is interrupting the world again today! He may even be interrupting your weekend or your whole life?
Then that pure moment comes to Mary. It is in the familiar speaking of her name by this stranger in the empty tomb that brings the new sight.
“Mary” he calls. Then the dawn breaks. The darkness takes flight. Evil is dismantled. Light floods in to her soul. She is now a different creation than she was before he called her by name.
She wants to show her affection for him. She wants to hug him. But then another word pointing to believing is seeing….. “Stop touching me”, says the Saviour.
She cannot touch him like she could before this resurrection. He is now different – not tied to space and time like he chose to be prior to this new day. He is glorified. His body is still human but not tied to human limitation. His work is not quite at an end. He is not ascended to the Father yet. Then he will be present everywhere to everyone all the time – but not quite yet.
There is truth here that will make her Easter joy even greater than she can know.
She will no longer need to touch him like this because when he is ascended to the Father she and all other disciples will be able to hold him in faith. A whole new raft or relationships will begin now. Jesus’ Father is our Father. Jesus’ God is our God. Jesus is our God and we are the gospel family by faith in this resurrected man of God. A new community is born in this light-filled tomb.
Friend, how dark is it for you and can you hear you name being called today?
Will you respond to the gospel call from Jesus today?
Will you choose to stick with what you can see?
Will you go with what you are hearing? Going with hearing his voice is called faith.
Will you respond to Jesus in good faith and see where he leads you?
For many here, your name has been called when we died with Jesus, were buried with him and rose to new life in him when we were immersed in the water and Word at baptism. This new dawn is still going on and we are part of it now.
The glorified man calls you by name in the darkness of your death and proclaims you free, forgiven, enlightened and holy.
You don’t need more miracles (although the Lord still does this for us in more ways than we can see – and we are grateful for these). We don’t need to look inside that tomb. We don’t need to hold on to his earthly body. We instead eat and drink his body and blood for forgiveness and life.
We are people of the new dawn- the new faith. Believing is seeing for us. We hear our Saviour. We listen, we believe, we do his way, his truth and life.
Believing is seeing and we believe on this great day.
May you believe and may you see. May you hear him calling you name today; Calling you back to him; Calling you onwards with him; Calling you to declare with a transformed Mary, “I have seen the Lord”.