Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Easter message-- John 20:1-18
April 12, 2020
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Yes! Christ is risen indeed. This Sunday is different than the other Easter Sundays we have celebrated in the past. Due to the coronavirus, all Easter celebrations, including worship services, have been canceled. We are hunkered down in an unexpected quiet. We are not gathered together to sing Easter hymns and to greet each other, saying, “Christ is risen!” We are locked down and afraid to be infected by the coronavirus. We are saddened and anxious. We are sorrowful, and some of us are mourning a loved one who became a victim of COVID-19. Our situation is somehow like the first Easter.
The disciples, according to the gospel of John, locked themselves in the upper room because they were afraid, not of the coronavirus, but of the Jewish leaders who wanted to arrest them (John 28:19). In the early morning and while it was still dark (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to anoint Jesus. Mary, coming to Jesus’ tomb before the sun rises, emphasizes her sorrow and grief over losing her Lord and teacher. I remember very well after my family buried my younger sister, my mother left our house before the sunrise and went to my sister’s tomb weeping. The grief that Mary Magdalene had in her heart overcame her to the point that she thought that somebody had stolen Jesus’ body. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb (v.1), and without looking inside the tomb, she assumed somebody took Jesus’ body. “Unfortunately, such acts were well-known in antiquity, so much so that tomb robbery was listed as a heinous crime in rhetorical handbooks and was a trademark of pirates in ancient novels.”
Mary runs to Simon Peter and Beloved Disciple to notify them about the robbery. Both ran to the tomb, went into the tomb and saw it empty, but these two disciples said nothing. The evangelist John tells us that they returned to their homes. They did not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead (v. 9-10). They were afraid and worried. They might find themselves hopeless. They could not comprehend the whole event. It seems that Peter and the Beloved Disciple believed Mary’s assumption of Jesus’ body being stolen rather than believing in the resurrection. So, they said nothing to Mary and went back home.
But Mary refuses to go back home. She insists on finding Jesus’ body. Mary finds herself again alone at the tomb weeping. Finally, she bends over to look into the tomb and sees two angels, who asked her why she was weeping. At that moment, Mary still believed that Jesus’ body was stolen. When she saw Jesus, she thought that he was the gardener, and she assumed that he took Jesus’ body. Mary was overcome by her sorrow. It did not cross her mind that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus acknowledges her blinding pain and asks her, “woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (v15). Finally, her sorrow turned into joy when she recognized the resurrected Jesus Christ. Mary was over rejoiced and wanted to hold onto Jesus. She didn’t want to lose him again. But the Lord asked her to be the first person in history to announce the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead.
In many ways, we can relate to Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple. In this pandemic, we have experienced sorrow, fear, and anxiety. These troubled emotions have blinded our pain. We become like Mary looking for something to ease our pain and to calm down our anxiety. Our blinding pain scares, and overwhelms. We find ourselves only concentrating on how to pay our bills and provide for our families. This blinding pain makes us fear the uncertainty, and above all, it makes us overlook the resurrected Jesus.
Our resurrected Lord acknowledges your blinding pain. He asks you the same questions he asked Mary, “why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Are you looking to get financial help, looking for a job, find masks and hand sanitizer? These things are essential. But the most important thing is standing before you. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who arose from the dead, is standing before you to offer his comfort and strength. He is standing before you to tell you that he is there for you. He will provide for you in times of need. He defeated the powers of evil, and he will give you victory over Satan’s evil power.
My beloved church, do not let the coronavirus and your blinding pain to overlook the risen Lord. You need to believe in his power to sustain you in this pandemic. Our Lord, who defeated evil, will help you to overcome your fear and sorrow. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4-8). I encourage you to call each other and spread the good news. Let your neighbors hear your shout of joy that our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer among the dead, but he has risen.