Easter Morning Sermon: John 20:1-18 – “And I won the footrace!”
A curious thing happened at the tomb.
Obviously, we celebrate the empty tomb. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we celebrate our salvation. We celebrate our God rising from the dead and defeating death itself. We celebrate everything about that empty tomb.
He is risen! Alleluia!
But this curious thing happens, and the author of John – “The Beloved Disciple” – seems to gloss over it.
Mary arrives to prepare her friend for his final resting place. She goes to his tomb the first moment the “Law” allows so she can give her friend care and compassion one last time. She comes in love, ready to complete this awful and yet wonderful task for her friend.
And she finds an empty tomb! Not the curious part I mentioned, but still very curious and very important. She arrives to find a missing body. She assumes – quite logically – someone stole the body. So, she runs to Peter and “the beloved disciple” for help.
The men race to the tomb, and “the beloved disciple” – again, the author of this gospel – made sure anyone who reads this gospel knows he arrived first. “The Beloved Disciple” and Peter both see the missing body – or rather do not see it – and then they believed Jesus’ body had disappeared.
For some reason they seemed to not believe Mary Magdalene – or at least doubt her – when she told them upon arriving wherever they were staying – and most likely hiding – but when they saw, they believed he disappeared.
And then they left.
Hence forth I will call them cowards because they ran in fear. Read ahead to Jesus revealing himself to the disciples; he appeared as they hid behind a locked door, Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” hiding right along with the rest.
Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” saw the same things Mary Magdalene saw, they the same things she experienced, and they were men with at least one sword between them, giving them much greater ability to deal with a Roman or Jewish Leadership attack.
And they just finished spending three years with Jesus and devoting their entire lives to him. The author calls himself “The Beloved Disciple.” They should have felt some desire – or at least obligation – to find their friend’s missing body, or at least help Mary Magdalene figure out exactly what happened.
And they left like cowards.
Honestly, though, that should not raise eyebrows. They acted like humans, like each one of us would in their situation. They acted like their human selves.
I would have proved myself a coward in the exact same way. I would never stand around and wait for the Romans to arrest or murder me while I figure out what happened to the body of my dead friend, and I would never wait for the Jewish leaders to lead a crowd to stone me.
Missing body, missing Robby. Period. They did nothing curious.
But Mary Magdalene does something very curious at the tomb: she stayed despite having every reason to run because her compassion for her friend outweighed the real, actual, logical fear she definitely felt. She loved Jesus greatly, and she wanted to serve him one last time by giving him the final gift she could before they sealed him away for his final rest.
That should fascinate you. The men from Jesus’ inner circle had too much fear and cowardice to show their dead friend the same level of compassion, but this loving woman risked her safety and possibly her life to show compassion and love to their dead friend.
Then Jesus does something equally curious: he appeared to Mary Magdalene first.
Why would he choose Mary Magdalene? I cannot know for sure, but I believe he chose her in part because she showed him compassion and acted fearlessly in this moment.
She should have run. She should have protected herself. By staying, she placed herself in grave danger and did the exact opposite of the rational course of action. She showed Jesus an irrational amount of love, even after his death, and I believe he rewarded and honored her love and compassion.
I believe Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first because she chose to show love and compassion instead of listening to her fear.
Part of this scene’s curiosity comes from Jesus revealing himself to a woman, a woman no one would believe. In the patriarchal Jewish society under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, a poor, Jewish woman had no power and no voice.
And Jesus chose to reveal himself to this woman first.
A very curious scene has unfolded alongside the curious event of Jesus’ resurrection. Neither Jesus nor Mary do anything proper or what a rational, logical, worldly person would have done. The whole interaction reeks of curious madness.
Maybe we need to stop looking for rationale or reason or logic and just love and care for each other. Maybe we should express the most compassion and love we can without any motive or method apart from compassion and love.
Just love and show compassion to each other.
I find myself, as I think about just doing the compassionate, loving thing despite it going against logic, reason, and worldly instruction, looking towards Fred Rogers and how he served those who needed love. A documentary about Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood comes out in the summer, and the trailer itself has a wonderfulness that speaks to me.
In it, producer Margy Whitmer describes what Fred Rogers did to make his show:
“You take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite; you have ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.’ Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star, yet it worked.”
Fred Rogers did nothing right according to the standards of television, ratings, and entertainment, instead just doing what the children who watched his show needed. Glory, honor, fame, riches, and security did not matter to Fred Rogers. He simply desired to show compassion and love to children who needed it.
In his words, “And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”
Logic, rationale, effectiveness, safety, security, and comfort are all important, but they must take a back seat to showing compassion and love. Forget what the world or the church or anyone else tells you to do, forget your selfish desires, forget “the right thing.” Literally, we need to live in the example of Jesus, and of Mary Magdalene, and of Fred Rogers: act in love and compassion, without other motive or method, and outside of fear.
Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” ran in fear; Mary Magdalene stayed in love.
Forget fear; show love. Amen.
THE NOTE: I don’t preach from a manuscript; it’s something I gave up in the past couple of years ago to challenge myself and open myself to interacting with the congregation more. My effectiveness instantly grew in spite of my delivery suffering.
Effectiveness over pride. I’m less eloquent, but the Word is preached better.
Grace has a tradition that speaks to my soul, though. I believe that there should always be an entry point to worship for everyone, in this case those who are hard of hearing or home-bound. They have a printed manuscript available for those who struggle to hear and they send a manuscript to those who can’t attend.
You probably see my dilemma: no manuscript, no manuscript to print and give out. So I decided to create a written version of my sermons. Same basic outline, but in a smoother style of writing instead of the conversational style my delivery has. It’s a good happy-medium and, as I said, provides the entry point to worship.
I’ve had a huge uptick in subscriptions despite writing very little, and I do a lot of writing for like 10 pairs of eyes, so I decided that I would start putting my manuscripts on the blog like I have done in the past with previous blogs (including this blog’s predecessor).
If you happen upon this little corner of the internet and have strong feelings about it, let me know.