"I Have Seen the Lord!"Dr. Ronald D. Vaughan John 20:1-18 Year C - Resurrection of the Lord - Easter Day
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. 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!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 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.”
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.
‘” 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. (John 20:1-18)
Mary is on her way to the tomb. It is Sunday morning. The required rest of the Sabbath is over. Now she can visit Jesus’ tomb and grieve. It is still dark, but the darkness of the road and the sky are no blacker than the darkness she carries in her heart. Jesus is dead. Days later it is still difficult to believe, but she knows that it happened because she saw him die. She stood near the cross and watched him bleed, heard him cry out and saw him die. She travels along the road to the tomb with others, but John does not name them, perhaps because Mary is all alone in the world of her thoughts. She remembers how Jesus changed her life by ending her struggle, a struggle so oppressive that the gospel writers describe it as “seven evil spirits.” She remembers the miles she traveled with him to hear him preach the good news, to see him touch and bless the lives of people. She remembers how she trembled as he journeyed to Jerusalem, the very stronghold of religious authority, and challenged the pious and powerful to repent. She remembers how many roads they traveled together, but now, because Jesus is dead, she walks alone.
Why is she coming to the tomb?
Perhaps to anoint his body as one last act of love and devotion, one last gift to give to this man who gave her a new life. As grieving minds are slow to think, she and the nameless others have given no thought to how they will roll away the massive stone which seals the tomb. All they know is they need to see his body again, to touch his lifeless form to persuade their grieving hearts that Jesus truly is dead.
How many of you are beginning this Easter Sunday in darkness?
The sun may be shining outside but, in your heart, is there light or darkness? Are you, like Mary, walking in the darkness of despair and grief on the way to a tomb–the tomb of life as you wish it could be, the tomb of a loved one who has died, the tomb of faith which has grown cold and lifeless, the tomb of a life without meaning or direction? If you are walking with Mary this morning, then I challenge you to stay with her until she finds that reality which drives away the darkness from her heart and gives rise to the dawn of a new and glorious day.
THE EMPTY TOMB DOES NOT DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS
Mary finds an empty tomb, but not the answer to her need.
As Mary and the unnamed other women arrive at the tomb, they discover that something very disturbing has happened. The stone has been rolled away and the body of Jesus is missing. She thinks she knows what’s happened. She runs from the opened tomb to find Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved and tells them that someone has added insult to injury by stealing the body of Christ and her opportunity to anoint him and grieve over him. She says, with painful tears,
They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him. (John 20:2b)
Instead of giving Mary an answer to the pain she feels in her heart, this empty tomb confronts her with another painful question, “Where have they taken the body of Jesus?” Is it not enough that her life has been so disrupted by his death? Must her grief now be disrupted by the taking of his body?
The empty tomb may only add to your pain.
Easter Sunday makes a claim that something of great consequence has happened, but you may not know what has happened or what it has to do with you. Like Mary, you may see the signs of Easter and think that the season adds insult to injury, wishful thinking for weak people in a dark world. The empty tomb alone does not drive the darkness away, for Mary or for us.
THE FAITH OF OTHERS DOES NOT DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS
The faith of others does not bind up Mary’s wounds.
Peter and John (we assume) run to the tomb. John outruns Peter, being younger and smaller than the “Big Fisherman.” John does not go in, but stands at the door of the tomb staring at the discarded strips of linen in the place where Jesus’ body had been placed. Peter arrives and, true to character, bursts into the tomb to see the discarded grave clothes for himself. John enters and the light of faith begins to dawn in his heart. They do not understand all that they need to know, but the story indicates that these two begin to wonder if what they are seeing is not a mockery, but a miracle.
But this dawn of faith in the hearts of these two disciples does not bind up Mary’s broken heart. As Peter and John leave the tomb to return to their homes, Mary still stands outside it crying. She hardly noticed them. In her heart and in her pain, she is still very much alone.
She looks into the tomb and sees two angels, seated where Jesus’ body had been. They ask her,
Woman, why are you crying? (John 20:13a)
Her heart is still in turmoil because she cannot find the body of Jesus. She gives the angels the same answer she had given the disciples. Not even the presence of these heavenly messengers brings peace to her heart. Her heart is still gripped by darkness,
They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.( John 20:13b)
The faith of others will not bind up your wounds.
We come to this day surrounded by signs of hope. Anthems of joy and victory ring out from choirs and congregations. Sermons retell the story of the empty tomb and the risen Christ. Even new clothes say that this is a special day. But you, like Mary, may be surrounded by signs of hope and still live in the grip of darkness. You need something else–something that makes Easter real and life-changing for you.
FAITH DAWNS WHEN THE RISEN CHRIST CALLS YOU BY NAME
Mary comes face to face with Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him.
Suddenly, Jesus is there, standing behind Mary as she gazes into the tomb weeping. She turns around and sees a man standing before her, but she does not recognize him to be Jesus. He repeats the angels’ question,
Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it you are looking for? (John 20:15a)
Mary wonders if this man could be a gardener and if he could have taken the body of Jesus away. She pleads with him,
Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him. (John 20:15b)
Why doesn’t Mary recognize Jesus?
She has seen so much and yet she has seen nothing. She has seen that his grave is empty. She has seen two of his disciples come in terror and leave in hope. She has heard the voice of heavenly messengers. And now she stands face to face with Jesus but she does not recognize him. Why? Does he look so different? Or are her eyes blinded by the darkness of despair that has so gripped her heart? Mary needs one thing more to bring her from despair to faith, and Jesus gives that to her.
Jesus calls Mary by name.
When Jesus calls her by name, “Mary,” the light of faith begins to dawn in her heart, for now she knows that Jesus is not a missing corpse but a living Savior. Not an empty tomb, but a living Lord who comes to her and calls her by name, shatters her darkness and brings the dawn of hope.
Jesus calls Mary to a new relationship with God.
“Rabboni,” she cries out, “my great one,” “my teacher.” Mary’s heart must leap within her, for her greatest wish has come true! She is now reunited with the Jesus who taught her, who loved her and set her free, and things, she believes, can be the same as they were before his death.
But Jesus tells Mary something which sounds very strange,
Do not hold on to me…(John 20:17a)
What does he mean? Why can’t Mary “hold on to him”? Because Mary needs to see that Jesus is no longer the carpenter from Nazareth. He is now the victorious Christ who has conquered sin, death and the grave, the Savior who has opened up a new life for all who love and trust him. Though this is the same Jesus Mary knows and loves, everything in heaven and earth is different because Jesus has made it possible for her to know God as Father like He knows God as Father. He says,
I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. (John 20:17b)
Mary’s journey, which begins in terrible darkness–a journey which brings her agony as she searches for the Jesus she cannot find–now ends in the brightness of a new day and a new life:
Jesus has come to her and called her by name!
Jesus has called her to a new life with God!
The light which shines from her heart and her lips is this,
I have seen the Lord! (John 20: 18b
FAITH WILL DAWN IN OUR HEARTS WHEN WE HEAR THE RISEN CHIST CALL US BY NAME.
The story of an empty tomb will not bring Christ to life for you. The experiences of others that you hear through song and sermon and testimony will not make his presence real. You must open the ears of your heart and listen—listen as the risen Christ comes to you, calls you by name, and gives you the news that will drive the darkness from your heart.
His Father can be your Father, his God can be your God. Everything in heaven and earth can change for those who hear his voice and place their trust in him.
Mary leaves the tomb, the place of her grief and despair, overflowing with the news which has driven the darkness from her heart: not that she has seen an empty tomb, not that she has heard stories of hope and promise, but that she has seen the Lord!
Very soon we will leave this place and our shared celebration of Easter will end. What is the news that you will carry away from Easter?
I have been to church.
I heard some beautiful music.
The children were precious in their outfits.
I saw my friends.
I enjoyed the sermon.
All of this is well and good, but it is not enough to drive the darkness from your heart and usher in the dawn of the light of faith. You need something more.
Dare to open your life to Jesus Christ as he comes to you.
Listen with your heart as he lovingly calls you by name.
Answer his call as he invites you to partake of life that is abundant and eternal–life with God our Father.
Leave this place to enter a world and a life forever changed because, like Mary, you can say with joy and hope, “I have seen the Lord!”
About the writer: Dr. Ronald D. Vaughan is a native of Greenville, SC and is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.). In forty years of ministry, “Dee,” as he is known to most people, has served as a hospital and fire department chaplain, a university teacher and pastor of five congregations. Since 2011 he has served as senior pastor of St. Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
Dee is married to Linda, a native of Gaffney and a graduate of Furman University. Linda works as an adult education teacher for Lexington County Schools. The Vaughan’s have three children and three grandchildren.
Dee has published four books, including Seeing in the Dark: Biblical Meditations for People Dealing with Depression by Smyth and Helwys. He enjoys playing the guitar and banjo, occasionally writing a song, portraying Biblical characters, and seeing the amazing ways God works in the lives of people.
Scripture and Music
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
We Welcome Glad Easter
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
The Day of Resurrection
Now the Green Blade Riseth
Hail Thee, Festival Day
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Thine Is the Glory
Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious
Christ Is Alive
Christ the Lord Is Risen Again! (John Rutter)
O Be Joyful for Christ the Lord Is Risen (J.S. Bach)
Christ Is Alive (arr. Hal Hopson)
This Is the Day (Blankenship)
In Thee Is Gladness ( arr. Kallman)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Martin or Mallory)
He Is Alive! (Buryl Red from Celebrate Life!)
Hallelujah (G. F. Handel from Messiah)
Hallelujah (Beethoven from Mount of Olives)
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel)
Rise Again (Holm)
Were You There (spiritual)