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.

       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
         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
         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
         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
       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!

        “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
        ―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
        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!

        “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!
        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
        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
        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!
        Yes, famous first words….
        ―Why are you crying?‖ the risen Christ asks Mary.
        ―Why are you crying?‖ the risen Christ asks you and me
        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

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