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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Now We Begin

John 20:1-18



New Revised Standard Version

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.



An egg hunt is one of the traditions of Easter for many children. As they head out, the older children try to outrace each other to find the most eggs. At the end of the hunt, they count the eggs in their basket to see who found the most. The youngest children wander about. They look at the grass and swing their basket from their arm. When they find an egg, they run back to show their parent or grandparent their new treasure. The child is happy to sit down with the one egg. The choice, then, is to run to be first or walk to find one treasure. Each child decides for themselves.


We observe a similar dynamic in the account of Jesus’ resurrection found in John. Mary walks to the tomb to mourn, to see her Lord’s body one last time to prepare it for a proper burial. That last glimpse would her treasure, Jesus, the one who’s ministry changed her life.


Arriving at the tomb, Mary was surprised, even shocked to see the tomb open. The stone in front had been rolled away. The treasure she came looking for wasn’t there. Not knowing what else to do, she ran back to tell the disciples what she had found.


Upon hearing Mary’s news, Peter and the other disciple raced each other to the tomb, each wanting to be the first to see if what Mary had said was true. They saw the open tomb. One and then the other went in, saw the linen wrappings that had been around Jesus and then went home. Their basket of eggs was full.


Mary stayed to weep and wonder what had happened. Why would someone steal Jesus’ body and where would they have put it? Then she found a treasure. Not the one she was looking for, but a treasure, nonetheless. Two angels sitting in the place where Jesus had been laid and a gardener whom she could ask about where the body may have been taken. When the gardener spoke, Mary recognized Jesus, the one she had come to see, only he was alive, the risen Lord! A greater treasure than the one she had been looking for. Mary immediately ran back to share what she had seen and experienced with the disciples.


So there you go. The story of Jesus’ life is completed once he was resurrected. We have followed his story from his birth through his ministry of teaching and healing, to the last supper, his arrest, and crucifixion. Now he has risen from the dead. We can close the book – the story is finished. The End.


If that were the end of the story, why would we be here on this Easter morning? Maybe as a reason to gather, go to brunch (in other years more than this one), have a special dinner with family, or as an excuse to eat all that candy the Easter bunny left. But maybe it is because Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of the story after all.


When we read on, we learn that Jesus’ appearance to Mary after he was resurrected wasn’t the only one. He appeared to his disciples who were hiding in fear in a locked room of a house. Jesus showed himself to Thomas who doubted that the story of his resurrection was true. He appeared on the beach making breakfast for the disciples while they were fishing. According to the gospels, Jesus also made other appearances to his disciples before he ascended into heaven.


So is the resurrection of Jesus really the end of the story? Of course not! The sequel stars the disciples who carry the narrative forward by sharing their own experiences and observances of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.


The second sequel brings the apostle Paul into the picture. Paul, who is confronted by Jesus on the Damascus Road and sees the light, continues the story through his mission trips, establishing churches, and sharing the good news of Christ. The other disciples, including Peter and John, become secondary characters in this movie.


Watching the sequels, we are certain we know the overall plot of the story. Each is, we think, a retelling of the original story by new characters. Jesus is born, lives, dies, and is resurrected. Different voices, same story.


I wonder if there is more going on here than meets the eye.


We might think of the ongoing story of Jesus in terms of a course of study in college. A student starts with the basics – English, math, history, science, etc. to get an overview. Then he or she chooses a major narrowing down the course of study to specific courses. Many of these require pre-requisites. If the student hasn’t taken the first one, then he or she can’t take the next and so on.


Ideally, by the time the student graduates, she or he is prepared to go out into the world. To get a job, start a career, and manage all the responsibilities that come with being an adult.


Those who wrote the accounts of Jesus’ life had more to say than the story portrayed in the first film of the series. They realized that the initial story, the first pre-requisite, had depth, meaning, and purpose that couldn’t be adequately addressed in that initial story. This first pre-requisite covered Jesus’ birth, life, teaching and healing ministry, death, and resurrection. Like a course of study in college, this initial story formed the foundation for the advanced courses to come.


Easter isn’t the dramatic conclusion to Jesus’ story. Rather, it is the beginning of the on-going, life-changing story.


The first sequel begins with the initial sermons preached by Peter and the other disciples. These are recorded in Acts. Reading these sermons, we see that, for the most part, they begin with the resurrection. Rarely do they reference Jesus’ teachings and ministry. Little attention is paid to his earthly life prior to the resurrection.


It is through the lens of Easter that Jesus’ story becomes important. We can only see the significance of his life and ministry when we understand who the Teacher really is.


Would the story of an itinerant preacher really have had as much impact if it had ended with his death? Not really. Jesus would simply be a footnote in history. It is because he has risen from the dead that Easter is so important, so meaningful.


Easter is the beginning, not the end of the story. Easter is the starting point for the early followers of Jesus. His story is the one that they continually referred back to. His resurrection, that fact that he is risen, impacted the disciples in a profound way. That is the story they shared – the importance of Jesus’ resurrection for them and its impact in their own lives.


The Easter story is recounted, not only on this day, but regularly. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation for preaching and teaching. It is the basis for living a life of faith.


Through the lens of Easter, we see the depth and meaning in the apostle’s words as they told of Jesus’ birth, life, and death as recorded in the first pre-requisite, the gospels. When we consider their accounts through the lens of Easter, we begin to understand why the story continues to be told. How Jesus’ resurrection has truly changed lives.


Perhaps Easter is really a pre-requisite for what comes after. The preparation for the advanced study of living a life of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ.


Amen.

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