Easter Dawn (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Easter Dawn + April 21, 2019

Text: John 20:1-18



When you wake up, you usually come up with a plan of what to expect that day.   Mary was expecting to go to the tomb, numb to what had happened and finish giving her Lord a proper burial.  What she found was worse than her expectations could have told her: The tomb was open and his body was gone!

“So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”

After they go home, Mary remains behind, weeping.  Weeping not only because Jesus has died, but now because there is something else that’s happened.  Something terrible!  Her mind goes to all the worst scenarios, like one of His enemies in a fury took His body and did some awful thing with it.  She is in the utter pit of despair.

There is a reason that Easter begins in a graveyard, in the deepest place of loss.  If you walk around a cemetery, the tombstones tell a story.  If you look at the date of birth and the date of death, a picture unfolds in your mind.  It may have happened in old age, it could have happened in middle age, or it could have happened to a child (even a miscarriage or a stillbirth).  No matter the cause or the time, it’s still the same because they’re gone, and they will never be back.  You will never hear them speak again, except perhaps in a recording.  You’ll never be able to share new memories with them or call them on the phone when you want to share something.  You’ll never be able to hold them again.  All that seems to be left is memories.

Imagine Mary’s anguish at the tomb.  That is where God came to her.  First, He sent two angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?”  But then God comes to her personally and says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”  Still grasping for answers, she implores this man to tell her where Jesus is, until He calls her by name—remember that voice you never thought you would hear again?  Oh wonderful surprise!  She wanted Him to stay, to revel in this moment.  Can you blame her, after being spared from such excruciating emptiness?  But He says, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Easter begins in a graveyard as a proof to who God is.  There, in the place of death, He doesn’t stand far off, or shy away from comforting us.  He is compassionate toward all of our loss and pain.  He’s no stranger to it, because Jesus, the Son of God, also shares our mortal life.  He is acquainted with us in the way only our Creator could be, but He also became our brother.  Don’t think God does not understand your pain.  He feels it in His own body.

Here in the place of death, He shows His great power to save.  We think of death as final because that’s what our heart and our experience tells us.  No scientist (mad or otherwise) has been able to reverse when someone dies.  But God the Father did by raising His Son from the grave.  He breathed into His nostrils His Holy Spirit and Jesus lives forevermore.  He is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God of the living.

Even standing amidst other tombs, this God is the one who proclaims and delivers hope.  Many can talk about hope and silver linings at the time of death, but so much of it is just platitudes—they’re in a better place; God needed another angel.  The Word of Jesus proclaims and delivers that hope, because it is the Word that formed the heaven and earth, and it is that Word which will bring a new heavens and earth.  Jesus did not rise for Himself, but for us, that by believing in Him we might have life. He rose so that you could laugh at death and say, “This person is not dead, but sleeping”[1] and it’s no euphemism; it is the truth because God Himself has made it true.

There, in the graveyard, at her lowest point, Mary learned what St. Paul later wrote for our benefit:

34 Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

                  “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But Jesus was not done with His work as He stood outside the tomb: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  He destroyed the power of sin and death, and He ascended to the Father, there to intercede on our behalf with His holy wounds.  There, He goes as a forerunner, so that as Jesus stands before God the Father, so we who are in Him will be able to stand in the presence of a holy God.  He goes there to rule over all creation, where by His almighty power, He indeed works all things for the good of those who are called by His Name.

The Almighty God, the Victor over Death comes to you today.  Amen!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Mark 5:39