Summary: A sermon for Easter celebrating the living. Incorporates the passing of my father and his transition to eternal life.
“On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” We might ask why Mary came to the tomb this early in the morning. If we return to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus we remember that according to Luke’s gospel Joseph of Arimethea asked for Jesus’ body. Since it was getting late into the evening and it was the preparation day for the Passover Sabbath, they hurriedly placed Jesus’ body in the tomb. “Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into a rock, where no one had ever been placed.”
The burial customs of those days was quite different from ours today. They did not embalm their dead in the fashion we do; rather they wrapped the body in linen saturated with spices and perfumes. It probably took them three or more hours to properly prepare the body for burial. And since touching a dead body made one ritually unclean, they had to have the preparation done early enough to allow time for purification prior to any religious observances. Jesus died in the afternoon, so they were rushed to get Him into a tomb before the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. This is another difference in Jewish custom; the new day begins at dusk or around 6 p.m.
So, Mary and the other women were going to the tomb to finish the preparation of Jesus’ body. They were also going in order to possibly get closure, or just to verify in their minds Jesus had actually been crucified and was dead. I believe these are the reasons many of us will go to a gravesite shortly following a funeral; to verify the death has really happened. When we see the freshly turned earth, the flowers neatly arranged,and the tent over the gravesite, we are convinced our loved one has truly passed on.
What did Mary and the other women see when they arrived at the gravesite? There are some differences in the reporting by Luke and John, but essentially the same events occurred. The first thing they saw was the stone had been rolled away from the opening of the tomb. Luke tells us the women went into the tomb, saw the body of Jesus was missing, and then two men in “dazzling clothes” stood before them. These two figures said to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has been resurrected!” This is a question I will explore more deeply a bit later. The women then left the tomb, went back to the disciples and reported what they had seen. Peter, ran to the tomb, saw the grave clothes and “went home, amazed at what had happened.”
John’s account is a bit different. As soon as the women saw the stone rolled away they ran back to the disciples. Peter and another disciple, ran to the tomb. Peter went inside and saw the grave clothes folded. But when the other disciple entered the tomb, he saw and believed. I am unsure just what he believed. Did he believe the obvious - Jesus’ body was missing, or did he possibly have a renewed belief in the possibility of resurrection? We can only speculate what he believed. Either way the disciples then went home.
But, Mary stayed behind, crying. She looked in the tomb and it is then she saw the two angels. They asked, “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary replied, “Because they’ve taken away my LORD and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” It was at this time Jesus appeared to Mary and made Himself known to her. Did you notice Mary did not recognize Jesus until He called her by name. “The sheep recognize the voice of the Shepherd and come to Him." She then went back to the disciples and told them what she had seen and heard. I am sure it was difficult for these men to believe the raving of this woman. After all they had also been at the empty tomb and had not seen anything like she was describing.
These are stories we have heard for many years. They never change, we still know how they are going to unfold and eventually end. So what could we possibly learn from them to give us encouragement in our lives today?
Since first learning of Dad’s terminal condition I have also shed many tears. I know many of you have experienced the same thing. Facing the loss of a loved one is a very painful experience. Sandra, my younger sister, was killed in an automobile accident more than 33 years ago. That was a sudden shock, a traumatic event and very painful. However, at least to me, it was relatively easier to accept. But realizing Dad’s death was imminent, watching him slowly decline in health, yet try his best to fight back; and waiting for that inevitable phone call was all much more taxing. Of course I also had a longer and closer relationship with my Dad than with Sandra.