Sermon: Hear Mary’s Testimony (John 20:1-18)

Text: John 20:1-18
The Resurrection of our Lord
Listen to the sermon here.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

It was Sunday, the first day of a new week. It was still dark. A woman has broken through her fear in order to tend to the dead body of her teacher and friend. In the dim light she saw the stone door had been rolled away, the grave was open. The woman assumes the logical worst – someone had taken the body of her friend and teacher. That was the reasonable thing to think. Dead men don’t rise. Someone must have moved the body. Nevertheless, she runs back to tell others what she believes has happened. “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.” The body of Jesus of Nazareth is missing.

“Mary Stood Weeping”

To start, who exactly is this woman? The woman is Mary of Magdala. Mary Magdalene is often associated with one of the prostitutes who encounter Jesus in the gospels, but there is no evidence that she was a woman of ill repute. The Gospels tell us that Jesus had cast out seven demons from her, and she was among the group of faithful women who accompanied and supported Jesus. She was one of the few who stood with Him at His cross. That’s all we know about her. Clearly she loved the Lord and worshipped Him. 

Clearly she was grief stricken when she found His tomb open and His body gone. When a friend dies, we cry. Mary’s weeping is mentioned no less than four times in four verses. Of course Mary should cry. It would be really strange and awkward if her emotions were not given voice. Of course grief that would accompany this experience. Her dear friend Jesus was dead. He’d been crucified. She was there at the foot of the cross until the end. She wanted time alone. The area around the tomb is a good place to grieve.  It gives her an opportunity to do what she needs to do, to get anything she needs to say off her chest, to say her goodbyes and begin to move on. And now His body was gone.

While Peter and John investigate the tomb and see the folded linens, Mary stood outside, her eyes flood over with tears of grief. Her deep sobs cut through the still dark morning air. It was too much for her to bear.  

As Peter and John return home, there are no shouts of joy, no celebration. The emptiness of the tomb does not seem yet to have made a difference. The disciples went to a house, one locked out of fear. The focus is on Mary standing outside of the tomb. The two apostles were gone, but she was tied to that spot because of her love. To Mary Jesus was as her dead friend. She shared the common grief of the disciples. She was just as afraid as they were. But her love for Jesus made linger near the tomb. 

Yet Mary is weeping in front of an empty tomb. Her grief has in fact, clouded reality. For her, the memory of Jesus’ death, his burial, had become her reality. Her hope died with Him. Everything seemed dark. We would say today that the empty tomb is one of the greatest proofs of the Resurrection. But Mary shows us that evidence alone will never persuade anyone. A close friend of Jesus who walked with him for three years, heard his voice, watched him die, is literally standing in front of the empty tomb, and she’s’ weeping. Unless God opens our hearts, no one will be changed by evidence alone. Mary had all the right facts but she still jumped to the wrong conclusion. 

Do you jump to the wrong conclusion like Mary did? If the tomb isn’t empty it’s all just an interesting story about a man who said some crazy things and then got executed. Have you skipped merrily from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, with barely a regret to darken your way? Or could we learn something from the honesty of Mary who went to the tomb expecting to find a corpse? How do you respond to the empty tomb? What if the tomb is empty after all? Does that change anything? To a lot of people, whether or not the tomb is empty means nothing to them. They simply ignore it. You cannot ignore an empty tomb. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring the empty tomb doesn’t make it any less empty. What do you do with an empty tomb? Mary is the one who invites the disciples, and she invites us as well, to investigate the empty tomb. She expects a corpse … nevertheless, she sticks around to investigate. 

“I have seen the Lord”

Mary does now what she could not do before—she musters enough courage to look into the open tomb. She looked, not that she expected to find him any more than the others, but to see for herself, to see even where he had lain. 

But, the unexpected happened. In the midst of those tears and that grief, Jesus himself comes to her. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it you are looking for?” At first she doesn’t recognize Him. She thinks he’s the gardner and retells the whole sad story and pleads with him. “If you took him, tell me where you put him so I can go to him.” Mary was locked in the darkness of grief. Yet Jesus revealed himself to her before anyone else. When Jesus appears to Mary, she does not recognise him because she is not looking for him. She does not expect him to be alive. But then he calls her by name. The sheep recognise the Shepherd’s voice 

Jesus says to her, “Don’t keep on holding me. No need to hang on. I’m not going anywhere. I have not yet ascended to the Father. I will be with you always, in ways you can’t even imagine yet. But now you go and tell my brothers that I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 

Mary Magdalene is the first eyewitness of the resurrection, the first apostle sent by Jesus to the disciples. Hers are the first human lips to say those glorious, happy words: “I have seen the Lord!” Later that day the disciples would see Him, but she was the first – the first eyewitness. A woman. 

Perhaps it doesn’t mean as much to us today, but in Jesus’ day that was something. If someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people seeing Jesus, they wouldn’t have dreamed of giving the star part to a woman. Let alone Mary Magdalene. That Mary, a woman, was a chosen disciple of Jesus and could call Him “rabbi,” was already radical. That Jesus should select her to bring the good news to the apostles is off the charts. A woman’s testimony had no legal standing in Jesus’ day. And yet He sends her to tell what she had seen, this poor woman who had once been plagued by seven demons was now privileged to be the first person in the world to speak the good news of Easter morning. She is the apostle to the apostles. ‘I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said!’ Nothing like fresh, first-hand evidence.

Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. Mary discovered that Jesus’ tomb is now, and always will be empty. The empty tomb is the outward and visible sign that Jesus has conquered death and a new creation has begun. Mary met her risen Lord. Her grief turned to joy. Jesus sent her out. “Go to my brothers,” He said. And she brings the good news to us. 

Mary does not offer the disciples a third person, impersonal, doctrinal statement about Jesus’ resurrection. She doesn’t simply say “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” No. Her testimony has been proclaimed throughout the ages: “I have seen the Lord.” Mary has a person claim, a testimony, a first hand, eye-witness account about what she has experienced. She tells us that her own personal experience and encounter with Jesus was necessary for her to recognise who Jesus is.

Mary’s testimony is not only a witness about her encounter with the resurrected Jesus, but also an interpretation of it. She realises if Jesus is raised from the dead, then there is hope for her own future. Because Jesus is risen, so all who trust in him will also rise to eternal life. The moment the empty tomb was discovered was a turning point, a game changer. If Christ is not raised, our faith is empty, in vain, and we remain in our sins. But Mary Magdalene speaks to us through the words of the Gospel and declares to us with certainty: “I have seen the Lord.”

Like Mary, we too are sent by the Lord, sent to those who do not know and have not heard and do not believe. No, we have not seen the Lord like Mary did. That is not given us. But we have heard Mary’s own testimony and that means we have something to tell – that this Jesus is Lord and Christ and Savior and Teacher for all, that His death atones for our sin, that His life is now our life, that His glory is our glory, that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a life everlasting because Jesus Himself is risen from the dead and now lives and reigns to all eternity.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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