JOHN 20:11-18


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            Have you noticed how many important things in the bible take place in a garden?  It all began in a garden, in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve rebelled and through self-will alienated themselves from the love of God.  

            It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus fought his greatest battle, a struggle so intense that he sweat drops of blood.  He knew what was before him, and undoubtedly he was talking about the Cross when he anguished, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me."  In the Garden Gethsemane, our Lord surrendered his will to the will of the Father: "Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done."

            And, in our scripture for this Easter morn, we are once again in a garden.

            John's account of the resurrection appearances of Jesus is the longest in the New Testament.  He includes more stories of the resurrection than any other gospel writer.  In fact, he devotes two chapters to Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  Compare that to Mark.  Mark devotes just eight verses to the resurrection, and today we turn to the Garden portion of John’s resurrection narrative. 

            Let’s try to put ourselves in Mary's place.  She was broken-hearted by her Lord's death.  She had come to his garden tomb, anxious, distracted by her grief.  The dreams of that small group of followers of Jesus, in fact, the dreams of Israel for a Messiah which rose to pitch height in Jesus for three brief years were shattered to pieces.

            To intensify all those feelings of pain and despair, insult was added to injury.  She, along with Peter and John, discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, and the body of Jesus had been taken.  Peter and John, the disciples who were with Mary at the tomb that early morning went back into the city, back to their own homes to nurse their pain and depression, because the Gospel writer John says, "They did not know that Jesus must rise again from the dead."

            Was it a woman's intuition or the fact that a woman was willing to show her grief and enter into that grief in a deeper way, perhaps in a more open way than a man, is that the reason Mary didn't return to her home immediately as did the men?  Whatever the reason, she remained outside the tomb weeping.  She just couldn't believe it, so she took another look into the tomb.  This time she saw two angels sitting on the stone where the body of Jesus had been laying, and they asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

            What pathos is in her response. "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."

            And then it happened. She turned around and saw Jesus standing there but she didn't know it was Jesus.  He said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping; whom are you seeking?"

            This is the Easter Question at which we look on this glorious Easter Sunday as we conclude our series of sermons on questions posed in John’s Gospel.

            As we do, let's focus first on some learnings for us from Mary.  She teaches us two lessons we need to learn in order to get the Easter message.

            First, she didn't recognize Jesus for a very simple reason: her tears.

            She was crying so much that she was blinded.  It happens to us, doesn't it?  Our tears sometimes blind us to what's going on around us.  We miss the lessons life is trying to teach us because we are so preoccupied with our own pain and grief, our disappointment and defeat.  We can be blinded by our tears.

            Let me tell you about a woman named Leigh Hobson.  Leigh had lost one of the most important persons in her life, a great-aunt who was almost a mother to her.  It was painful and she had done a lot of crying.

            One morning, Leigh's six-year-old daughter, Katy, witnessing her mother's grief, painted her a picture and gave it, with some other love tokens, to her mom and said, "I want you to feel better."

            That night when Leigh was tucking Katy into bed she thanked her and told her that her love gifts did make her feel better.  Then she added, "But Katy, I want you to know that Mommy may cry a lot more, because I loved Ola so much."

            "But Mommy," Katy said, "I'm afraid you'll turn into a tear."

            "Well," said Leigh, "if I turned into a tear, would you wipe me up?"

            "No," said Katy, "I'd put you into my eye."

            What beautiful love.  What unpolluted wisdom.  No wonder Jesus said, "A little child will lead you."

            That's what Jesus wants to do with our tears.  Take them himself.  He doesn't want us to be blinded by them.  He doesn't want our suffering to be wasted.

            There's an anonymous poem about tears that says it well.


            Not now, but in the coming years

            It may be in the better land

            We'll read the meaning of our tears,

            And there, sometime, we'll understand.

            We'll know why clouds, instead of sun

            Were over many a cherished plan;

            why song has ceased when scarce begun;

            Tis there, sometime, we'll understand.

            God knows the way, He holds the key

            He guides us with unerring hand;

            Sometime with tearless eyes we'll see;

            Yes, there, up there, we'll understand.[1]


            Mary didn't recognize Jesus because of her tears. May God give us the grace not to be blinded by our tears, but to see Christ and life more clearly through our tears.

            But there's a second reason why Mary did not recognize Jesus: She was facing in the wrong direction.  Not just her eyes, but her mind was on the tomb.

            We sometimes fall into that snare.  We focus on our defeat, our loss. 

            Maxie Dunham says that one of his richest experiences has been corresponding with prisoners, and every now and then, he’s amazed at the way it happens.   Somehow something he had written, Dunham is the author of many books, gets into the hands of someone in prison and they write to him.  In this particular case a woman in prison wrote Dunham.  She wrote and he responded.  Let me share a portion of one of her letters.


            I am very grateful for the literature you sent.  Thank you also for your prayers.  I had to write again and give you my testimony for the Lord.  I  am a mother of six.  I got into trouble writing bad checks.  When I heard they had a warrant out for me, I gave myself up.  My husband of 17 years left me and divorced me.  I didn't fight him over the divorce or over the custody of the children.  I tried two times in the next three and a half months I spent in jail to take my own life...


            Do you see it?  She was focusing on the tomb.  She was looking in the wrong direction.  She tried to take her own life.  But listen as she continues:


            ... but God had other plans for me.  Both times I failed (in my suicide efforts) so with no one around, I got down on my knees and prayed.  Lord, I've always believed in you, and I can go no deeper in sorrow than I am.  Please put your loving arms around me and give me your understanding and love and forgive me for all I have done."  Jesus came into that cell, even bars cannot keep him out, and gave me a new heart.  I am now serving three and a half years in this women's correctional institution.  I serve our Lord daily.  I wake up and talk to him, read The Upper Room, and then go through the day seeking to share him with others.  Then at night I go to sleep after reading my Bible and talking with him.


            We will miss Jesus if we keep our eyes on the tomb, if we concentrate on our past, or our loss.  Easter calls us to look in the direction of new life, and new possibility.

            So, those are a couple possible reasons Mary did not recognize Jesus: her tears blinded her eyes, and she was facing in the wrong direction.

            Let's turn in another direction and consider another Easter question in John's Gospel that we should not ignore.  It's back at the beginning of chapter 14.  It’s one of Jesus' most familiar words.  Listen to the first three verses of that 14th Chapter,


            Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.


            Two of the disciples, Thomas and Philip, don't understand any of that.  They say, “We don’t get it.  Where are you going?” and Jesus responds with “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except except through me, and if you know me, you will know my Father.”

            Well, Philip is still is not tracking, and says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us."  It was then that Jesus asked him another Easter question, "Have I been with you all this time, and you still do not know me?"

            That's the Easter question for us.  Have I been with you so long ... Trudy ... Becky ... Jim ... Audry ... Rich ... and you still do not know me?  He’s been with us all this time, as the Resurrected Lord.  Do we not yet know him?  What Jesus did on earth, he continues to do as our Resurrected Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are not alone.  We have the presence of the Risen One with us.  Do we not yet know that?

            I like the story of a pastor who on Easter morning was visiting the grave of his parents.  He was quietly standing before their headstone when he heard the music blasting from a car radio.  He said he could hear the base even before he spotted the car.  Down the road of the cemetery came a car filled with teenagers.  They were laughing and shouting and his first inclination was that they were there simply to create trouble.

            Surprisingly, however, the car stopped by a grave in the distance.  They all got out and they went over to a particular marker.  They stood there quietly, and they all broke out in tears.  They embraced one another.  Then they slowly got back into their car and quietly they drove away.  They came in joy and departed in sadness.

            The pastor later said, "I cannot help but think how that first Easter was different. Mary came in sorrow and left in joy."

             Because of Easter every thing has changed.  Our view of death has changed.  Our view of life has changed.  It has all changed if we know him.  You see, we can sing the great hymns of Easter, we can hear again the familiar stories of scripture, we can enjoy the lilies, and we can join in on the Hallelujah Chorus.  Easter can be experienced in these ways.  But the real power of Easter is the way that people's lives are moved from death to life, from sealed tomb to open doorway, from despair to hope, from the old ways to new opportunities.  That is Easter.  That is resurrection.

            Do we believe it?  Yes?  Then why are we weeping?  We have found whom we are seeking.

[1] J.C. Macaulay, Devotional Studies in John’s Gospel, p. 171.