FAMOUS FIRST WORDS! John 20:1-18 April 4, 2010 Easter Sunday 1Early 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. 2So 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!" 3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally 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.) Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene 10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They 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." 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15"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." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.' " 18Mary 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. INTRODUCTION There was a group of four-year-olds gathered for Sunday School on Easter morning at a Baptist church in Chattanooga, TN. The teacher asked the question, “Does anyone remember what last Sunday was?” A precocious little girl raised her hand, “Yes…last Sunday was Palm Sunday.” The teacher responded, “That’s fantastic, Brittany! Now, does anyone know what today is?” The same little girl raised her hand, “Yes, today is Easter Sunday!” “Good, Brittany! Can you tell me what is special about Easter?” Brittany said, “Well, Easter is special because it’s the day Jesus rose from the grave!” But before the teacher could congratulate her, Brittany kept on talking, “But if he sees his shadow, he has to go back inside for six weeks!” There was a time when people recorded the last words of their loved ones. This custom has almost vanished, perhaps in large part because most people die today sequestered in hospital rooms or nursing homes. It’s a shame, because there is comfort in some of those last words. Consider the parting comments of some notable people: Maria Mitchell, first American astronomer, spoke these words, “Well, if this is dying, there is nothing unpleasant about it.” That’s certainly comforting. The great composer Beethoven, who spent the last part of his life totally deaf, unable to hear the strains of his own magnificent music, uttered these victorious words before departing this life, “I shall hear in heaven!” Thomas Edison, that great inventor, the man with such a keen intellect and vivid imagination, proclaimed in his final moments, “It is very beautiful over there!” John Wesley, the forefather of our United Methodist Church, entered into heaven singing the hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.” The great Confederate general, Thomas ―Stonewall‖ Jackson, as he lay stricken and exhausted with pneumonia, whispered, “Let us cross over the river, and rest in the shade of the tree.” And I have always appreciated the wonderful last phrase from Peter Marshall, the former chaplain of the US Senate. In his biography A Man Called Peter, his beloved wife Catherine tells how, as he was being carried from his house on a stretcher on the way to the hospital, he smiled and said to her, “I’ll see you in the morning!” Last words—they can indeed give us great comfort and hope. Untold numbers of sermons have been preached on Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the Cross, including my own series during Lent of this year. And those words are indeed meaningful and inspiring. And yet, I wonder why we haven’t devoted as much time to Jesus’ first words after his resurrection? After all, last words are a dime a dozen. But there have only been a few words spoken by one who has conquered the grave and lives forevermore, and those words come from the mouth of Jesus Christ! I. ―WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?‖ – BECAUSE LIFE STINKS! “Woman, why are you crying?” These are the famous first words of Jesus following his resurrection. He appears to Mary Magdelene, who has come to the tomb early in the morning. Words of compassion, spoken by the Lord of compassion. Mary is standing there, shaking and sobbing. Why is she crying? Because life stinks. Of all the followers of Jesus, Mary had experienced his redemption and hope most vividly. She had been a woman with a very checkered past, a woman possessed by evil, a woman headed down a road marked “Dead End.” Jesus had given her a new beginning, a new direction, a new hope. Her life had found meaning and purpose. But this guiding light had been extinguished on a dark Friday afternoon at a garbage dump beyond the city gates called Golgatha. Her hopes and dreams were vanquished. Life no longer seemed worth living. Life stinks! And to top it off, as she stands there staring at the gaping hole of an empty tomb in the faint light of dawn, she is filled with confusion and anger as she presumes someone has stolen Jesus’ body. It is simply overwhelming. She cannot believe this has happened! ―Why are you crying, Mary?‖ Jesus gently asks. Because life stinks! Charles Conn tells about his two-year-old daughter Vanessa who was given a helium-filled balloon in Sunday School. It was bright blue and almost seemed alive as it floated on the end of her string as she ran through the halls of the church pulling it along. But the inevitable happened. The balloon bumped into the hot bulb of a light fixture and popped. With a single, loud “bang” it burst and fell to her feet. She looked down and saw what had been her beautiful balloon, now a forlorn wad of bright, wet, blue rubber. It took Vanessa only a moment to regain her buoyant mood, however, as she picked up the remains of the balloon, marched cheerfully to where her father was standing in the coffee/refreshment line, and thrust it up to him, “Here, Daddy” she said cheerfully, “Fix it!” My friends, sometimes our lives resemble that wad of wet, blue rubber, laying there on the church social hall floor. Like Mary, our lives have not turned out the way we expected. We’ve run into roadblocks that have stopped us dead in our tracks. We’ve encountered mountains to tall to cross, rivers too deep to wade. Just when things seem to be going our way and life is full of happiness, the balloon pops. ―Here, Daddy,‖ we say to God, ―Fix it!‖ But there are no quick fixes. ―Woman, why are you crying?‖ Jesus asks. Because life stinks! II. ―WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?‖ –BECAUSE DEATH DEVASTATES! “Woman, why are you crying?” It’s very apparent—Mary is utterly devastated by death—Jesus is dead. The grief is overpowering. The shock is too much to bear. Mary feels quite alone, quite abandoned. Some years ago I received the news that Margaret Bowman had passed away. She was the wife of 69 years to Roy Bowman. The two had been inseparable throughout their long life together. As the two had reached their 90’s, Margaret compensated for Roy’s dim eyesight and he for her crippled legs. As I visited Roy a few days after the funeral, his eyes misted over as he told me in a quivering voice, “David, I feel like my right arm has been amputated. Losing Margaret hurts so badly!” I’m sure Mary would concur with this statement, as could many of us here this morning who have been through the same ordeal. She believes God has gone AWOL. The pain is intense, searing, devastating. She thinks this man who has intruded into her grief is the gardener. “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get his body.” “Woman, why are you crying?” Because death devastates. Yet, death is not the final word! III. THE FINAL WORD – RESURRECTION! Certainly Jesus knows that crying is good for us. It allows us to let go of pent-up pain, anger, hurt, fear, loss. There are times when we need to cry and we should never apologize for it. But as the Apostle Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians, ―Although we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope!‖ Jesus turns to this young woman and calls her name, “Mary!” Her knees grow faint and her heart leaps for joy in disbelief! It can’t be, but it is! Jesus is alive, just as he said! And she falls to the ground in exhilaration and clings to his feet in adoration! The first and the final word to all of life’s frustration and death’s devastation is amazing resurrection! Because Christ lives, we shall live also! And when we approach our Lord in faith, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that ever ultimately defeat us in life or in death! We can live courageously, triumphantly, hopefully, for there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God revealed to us in the resurrection of Christ Jesus! Ten years ago this spring I was a pallbearer at the funeral of one of my closest friends and colleagues, the Rev. Jim Snow, pastor of Sterling UMC in Northern Va. Jim had fought a valiant battle against colon, pancreatic and liver cancer over the previous five enduring countless chemotherapy and radiation treatments, along with six major surgeries. I have never known anyone as full of life and faith as Jim Snow. If you could picture Robin Williams as a preacher, that’s who Jim was. Wherever he was—at church, a restaurant, a streetcorner—his booming voice, his hearty laugh, his quick wit— always drew a crowd. And yet, underneath the humor lay a tremendous heart of compassion. He simply loved people, and he was a loyal friend to me. Years ago, when I was starting out in the ministry and Jim was serving at First UMC, Broadway and St. James UMC in Pleasant Valley, he always had time to offer me practical, indispensable advice. Even in the final years of his life, as his battle with cancer grew much more difficult, he would still call periodically to check on my family and me. And when I inquired about his struggle, he would simply say, “Dave Burch, Sunday’s coming, and the Lord’s given me something fantastic to preach!” Preaching was Jim’s greatest passion, and he was simply a master at it. I know of no one in this Va. Conference who could ever hold a candle to his oratory. He would have you splitting your sides in laughter one moment, then drying your eyes with a handkerchief the next. And you would always leave his church knowing that God loved you and God would be with you in that week to come. I’m sure if Jim could have written the script for his life, he would not have chosen to live with the handicaps of disease and dying at the age of 48, leaving behind a beloved wife Laura Jean along with two sons and a daughter. . And yet, in his short years upon this earth, Jim’s faith made a tremendous witness in the lives of countless people. Over 1500 persons turned out to celebrate his life at that memorial service ten years ago—construction workers, bankers, waitresses, teenagers, kids, attorneys, guys with tattoos around their arms and guys with clergy collars around their necks. We caught a glimpse of the risen Christ through Jim—he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith. Just two weeks before he passed away, Jim stood before his congregation on Easter Sunday there at Sterling UMC. He struggled to hold on to the sides of the pulpit in his weakened state. He told that story of the little girl and her blue balloon. And he concluded his message by saying, “When life for you is like a busted balloon, be always encouraged by Christ’s presence and power, knowing that he gives you a second chance!” Indeed, my friends, the resurrection of Christ has something profoundly enduring to say to us when life stinks. The resurrection of Christ has something profoundly enduring to say to us when death devastates. We are not alone—our Lord never forsakes us—we belong to him now and forevermore! We, like my good friend Jim Snow, can live life to its fullest and to its finish, knowing Christ is with us always! CONCLUSION Yes, famous first words…. ―Why are you crying?‖ the risen Christ asks Mary. ―Why are you crying?‖ the risen Christ asks you and me today. Christ is alive, and because he lives, we shall live also! Hear these resurrection words of John, the author of Revelation, and hear them well: Behold, the dwelling of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…it is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. They who overcome will inherit these things, and I will be their God, and they shall be my children! Praise be to God! May you have a most happy and blessed Easter!
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