Summary: This sermon asks why Jesus chose strange witnesses to the miracles of his life and the reality of his resurrection, and encourages us to share witness this ourselves.
Mary Magdalene is stooped at the entrance of the tomb where the body of Jesus had been interred. Mary had seen that the seal had been broken because the great stone at the entrance had been rolled back. Mary had run home to tell the others this distressing news and there’d been a running race between Peter and John to get there. They had arrived to see the burial cloths but no body, and they’d gone home. But Mary had returned to stay close to the tomb. Now she is there, bent forward in the entranceway, at midpoint between life and light; and death and decay.
What follows is one of the most touching stories in the Bible. She looks out into the light and though she sees a person there, she doesn’t recognise him as the risen Jesus – her Lord and master – until he tenderly calls her name.
Looking at John
This year, we have been looking through John’s gospel at the way Jesus meets people. Everything that John has to say about Jesus is significant – it has something that points to who and how Jesus is.
This morning we are looking at his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As I read it through a few times, I was struck by one question in particular…
John makes it clear that, with Jesus, there are no accidents. He is the Lord of all things. He was a brilliant project-manager who left nothing to chance.
Even in the last week of his life, he arranged for donkey to be ready for his procession into Jerusalem; he arranged a room for the last supper; I believe he made sure no one was there to wash his disciples’ feet so he could do that. On the night he was arrested, he knew exactly what was to happen. There were no accidents. People thought that they were controlling Jesus, but he was arranging every little thing, even to the nature of his own crucifixion.
Jesus was always in control.
So (and this was my question) – on the greatest day of the earth’s history – the day of the resurrection; why did Jesus choose Mary Magdalene to be the first witness of the resurrection? There had to be a reason. And what does this have to tell us about this resurrected Christ that we celebrate this morning?
As I thought about it, I realised that the witness chosen was completely consistent with the witnesses of the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry.
33 years earlier, when Jesus was born (and this is the greatest thing that had happened since creation itself); squadrons of angels lit up the night sky and sang music such as we mortals have never heard – and who did hear this, and see it? Who did God choose to witness this?
Shepherds. Shepherds were not people you would give the box seat to at the Olympics, or Royal Albert Hall, or the SCG, in fact – you wouldn’t give them a seat in the train in the same carriage as you. At that time, they were to be avoided if at all possible. They lived rough, didn’t have top of the range hygiene, and were considered as rogues and thieves. There were some ancient laws which exempted them from testifying in a court of law, because they were regarded as untrustworthy. So - who does God organise to witness the birth of the Messiah? Shepherds!
Years later, Jesus grows up and, in his own home territory, he goes to a wedding with his mother and his disciples. It’s here that Jesus performed his first public miracle – but it’s not public. Who gets to witness this miracle? The master of Ceremonies? Nope. He tastes the wine, but he hasn’t a clue where it came from. No the witnesses are the servants who had been working from sun-up to get the food ready and would be scrubbing plates and pottery for a week and cooking for the wedding celebrations. It’s the servants, from the back room who get to witness the power of Jesus.
Jesus chooses strange witnesses.
And this was the way of it. In the three years of Jesus ministry he brought great signs and wonders and teaching - who to? A great hodgepodge of people…
Jesus sat by a well with a Samaritan. You didn’t go there… …this person was also a woman (you definitely didn’t go there). And yet Jesus chooses her to be the first witness to Jesus admitting that he was the Messiah.
And so it goes on.
Again and again Jesus chooses outcasts, forgotten, broken people, small people, unimportant people to witness his miracles, and his love and his grace.
Gentiles, women, cripple, blind eyewitnesses. (Blind eyewitnesses!)