Jesus said to her, ‘Whom Are You Seeking? - Easter Sunday
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 20:1-18
April 04, 2021

Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, when we left here a couple of days ago on Friday evening, the story concluded with Jesus’s life-less body being laid in the tomb. We told that story once again in anticipation of what we can say this morning: Jesus is risen. He is rise indeed. Alleluia.

We are blessed to be able to tell the story of His suffering once again and be consumed in its meaning, knowing that He would rise again on the third day. But the first Easter morning was much different for Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s friends and followers. They had not yet seen the reality; Jesus alive again. When we find them in the Scriptures on that day of Christ’s resurrection, we find them in despair, and fear, and wondering what to do now.

It is early in the morning on that first day of the week. It was still dark. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, along with some other women, to anoint Jesus’s body with more aromatic herbs. They were expecting to still find Jesus’s life-less body there. If we are being spontaneous without stopping to consider, we might say: “Well of course that is what they were expecting to find.”

Stopping to consider what, we might ask? Stopping to consider that Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He would live again on the third day. The women had undoubtedly heard this word from Jesus as well. But now His word seems to be forgotten.

So Mary assumed the worst, when she and the women came to the tomb and found the stone rolled away from the entrance and did not find Jesus’s body lying in there. So she ran to find Peter and John. She told them that they had taken the Lord Jesus out of the tomb. And now she and the other women do not know where they have put Him.

So Peter and John ran to the tomb.

By the way, did you notice who runs faster? I find it actually quite fascinating that this seemingly insignificant detail is inserted into the account of our Lord’s resurrection. We are told that John ran faster. They started out together, but John got to the tomb first.

Maybe it was that Peter had a little more weight to haul around, around the mid-section, if you know what I mean.

No, actually, he was probably in pretty good shape, being a fisherman by trade. You know some guys and gals just run faster than others. So John got there first. But he did not immediately go into the tomb. When Peter got there, he immediately went in. So John is more fleet of foot, but Peter kind of charged right in, which was like him, except when he lost his courage in the courtyard of the high priest after they had arrested Jesus, three days before this.

We can find humor in these little details about Peter and John, but they are actually quite important. They are important because they show us that the people of the Bible story were real people like you and me, not fairy tale characters. There was John, who runs faster than Peter. There is Peter, who may be slower of foot, but is bold and somewhat impetuous in his personality. And whatever their running ability or their personal tendencies, the same issue of faith confronted them both. And they were both redeemed by the One whom they had followed from Galilee, who had been crucified, and whose body they did not find in the tomb.

This is important for you and me because, as real people like them, it could have been you or me there that day. But of course, it wasn’t, because you and me are not Peter and John and Mary. We were not created by God and called to be there on that day. But we are created by God and called to be here on this day, in this time and place. And the reality of the resurrection confronts us in the same way as it did for them; calling forth faith; transforming our worldview; transforming our vision of who we are, and who is Lord.

Peter and John found some clues in the tomb. The linens that were used to wrap Jesus’s body were lying there. The cloth that was used to wrap Jesus head was lying there neatly folded up and lying by itself where Jesus’s head had lain. That little detail is like the footprint of deliberate human action; Jesus’s deliberate action; the living Jesus. It should have registered: He is alive.

It appears that this did register with John to some extent, but not yet with Peter, for the promise of the Scripture that He must rise again, had not yet sunken in.

Back to Mary. The promise of the Scripture had not yet sunken in for her either. We find her back at the entrance to the tomb. She still thinks Jesus’s body had been taken away by somebody. She is beside herself with grief. Her world came undone when Jesus died. Now insult is added to injury. There is utter despair in her voice: “I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13).

When she said this the second time, she said it to the angels who had appeared in the tomb. They asked her why she was weeping. She tells them that they have taken away her Lord, and she does not know where they have put Him. You can tell how beside herself she is because it does not seem to register with her that she is talking to angels.

She turns away from the tomb. She sees a man standing there; well, she sort of sees Him. She can’t see through her grief to recognize who is talking to her. Her expectation of death being final is so strong; her grief is so strong; her understanding of what could possibly be real and true and happen is so strong; she just can’t see what she is looking at.

She supposes that He is the gardener. She generates a theory, without much effort (theories come easy for us), that the Gardner must have taken His body away. So she asks him to tell her where he has put the body of Jesus, so that she can take it away. At least there will be some comfort in that.

She still just cannot see what she is looking at, until He calls her name: “Mary.”

His calling her name is like the rays of the sun penetrating the fog. Her eyes, which seemed not to be able to focus on who He is, now focus on Him with razor sharp vision. She sees Him as Him.

Oh my goodness it is Jesus. Teacher, she calls Him. Oh yes, teacher; the one who had delivered her from the clutches of the Devil and restored her in grace and truth to her human dignity. She embraces Him. She is now overwhelmed with joy.

Whom are you seeking is the question He asked her? She was seeking Jesus, but the dead body of Jesus. This is what she was expecting to find. She was seeking Him dead. But He is alive and seeking her and calling her by name.

Now her undone world is undone again; or we should say not undone, but re-made, re-born; not believing Jesus’s word, now believing it; despair giving way to joy and hope; the expectations and assumptions of who is Lord and who has the final say is reversed. Her assumptions of God as creator and redeemer and what is possible for Him as such are re-worked or re-organized to be utterly sure who of Him as such. Her whole attitude and inner being is transformed from unbelief, and sorrow, and despair to this: “Mary went and announced to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord.” He lives again. Her heart is filled with joy, and confidence, and a sort of unshakeable conviction and resolve. “They have taken Him away” gives way to “I have seen the Lord.”

What about us? We have not seen Him, not with our eyes. It is not for us like it was for Mary, the other women, and Peter, and the rest of the disciples, and the five hundred brothers at one time, and then James, and then Paul, who all saw Him alive again.

By the way, I wonder if it is often thought today that the resurrection appearances of Christ were some sort of private affair. Actually, it was very public since He was seen alive by five hundred of the brothers at one time. It was not something that took place in a closet.

We live in their testimony and in the congregation of Christ’s people down through the centuries to this place right here and now. And like the saints who have come before us, we celebrate this wonderful day, and live in its truth. And we hear from Jesus next week a most important blessing in which we live, as He spoke to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 19:29).

You live in this blessing.

So we can go back to where we started the service: “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14). “The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1b). These sayings are true because our Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the dead for us, and has overcome all things. We hold these things as the utmost truth, because He has enabled us to say this day and always: “Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” Amen.


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