A sermon delivered on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Friends, as we listen to the Gospel account in John, I want you to be asking yourself, “Where am I in the midst of this Story?” Listen to the Word of the Lord!
20.1 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. 2So 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.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and 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. 13They 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.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Two years ago today. That was the last time we were gathered together on this lawn. Two years ago. A lot has happened since we last gathered for Easter together, hasn’t it? What’s gone on in your life? Since the last time we’ve met on Easter morning, I have lost my dad to COVID and my mother to cancer; indeed, many of us have lost someone since then. Some of you have welcomed one, even two new children to your family. Others of you have experienced strokes or heart attacks and have fought your way back to health. Then there are those of you who have lost their jobs and have been rehired while others are still waiting for work. Think about the changes your life has undergone since the last time we gathered together here for Easter two years ago.
Reflect upon all those changes we have endured individually as well as socially. Not one of us has escaped them! And yet, in the midst of all the swirliness, one thing stands as a constant sentinel in time that no matter what life hurls against our life’s battered doors, we shall be immovable with the love of God in Jesus Christ on Easter morning! While the world and circumstances have changed over the last two years since we gathered on this lawn, the one constant that pulls us together, is that death and the lasting effects of suffering have been upended and conquered because of Easter day. Because he lives, we live. Why? Because he is risen! And the people say together, “He is risen, indeed!”
Unlike Mary, Peter and John the Beloved, we can anticipate this glorious day in ways they could not that first Easter morning. Mary made her way to the tomb expecting it to be sealed and guarded. Peter, John and the others had no intention of leaving their self-induced lockdown for fear of being arrested. Their lives were in turmoil and the city of Jerusalem was swirling with political intrigue, conspiracy theories and paranoia. Jesus was dead; what hope was there? The first Easter morning came as a surprise for Mary, Peter, John and the others. They had already settled back into life’s anxious routines by the time Sunday morning rolled around.
Before Mary and the other women could sit shiva as is Jewish custom and truly grieve Jesus’ death, they had to ensure he had a proper ceremonial washing, anointing and burial. It makes perfect sense that they would come in the cool of pre-dawn to work in close quarters with a three-day old dead body. Once the sun came up and the heat of the day began to rise, well, their task would become more unbearable.
Upon discovering the tomb entrance was open and empty, she races to tell the frightened, huddled disciples the news of Jesus’ absence. Peter and John bolt out and run to the tomb and I have this wonderful image in my mind of a heavier built Peter plodding his way along huffing and puffing while John is in a full sprint. Peter goes into the tomb and John follows. They behold the folded graveclothes and scripture says they believed but did not fully understand. So what did they do? They simply came, saw, and then went back home. Mary stayed behind.
Mary stayed behind and let the weight of that first Easter morning settle in a bit. She lingered at the tomb and prayed the most beautiful prayer through the rawness of her upspoken tears. It was in the midst of her lingering at the tomb that first Easter morning she received a second gift and surprise: She beheld Jesus himself! And did you notice when it clicked for Mary and she recognized Jesus? It was when he spoke her name, “Maria!”
Beloved, where are you in this Story? What did you come out to see this Easter morning? What were your expectations? What are your expectations for Easter? Do you even have any? The larger question for you and me is whether we respond like Mary or do we respond like Peter and John? Peter and John looked around and believed, but frankly we are not sure what it is they believed. Was it they believed Mary because Jesus wasn’t there? Was it they believed Jesus was alive? We are not sure but we are sure of one thing: They experienced that first Easter morning and simply went home. They did not know what to make of it all nor did they understand the scriptures, we are reminded, that he had to rise from the dead. They came, they saw, and they went home.
What did Mary do? Mary came, saw, and lingered at the tomb the first Easter morning. She honored the moment and wrapped herself up in its uncertainty and it was in the midst of her lingering she encountered Jesus. It was while she tarried at the tomb she gets a glimpse of the risen Christ and then recognizes him when he speaks her name.
So here you and I are once again on this lawn on Easter morning. Much has happened since the last time we were here together. By God’s grace, we are able to actually worship together this glorious blustery morning. But it’s also by God’s grace, you and I are invited to determine what to do with what we encounter this morning.
Do we simply go home and live life as though it’s business as usual as the disciples did, or do we hang around a bit and linger in the Easter moment? This year we have been given the grace to be together again. There is no more living life as though everything is going back to normal and it will be business as usual. Easter is the time when we can pause and linger awhile, and in the midst of that uncertain waiting, Jesus will show up to you and speak your name. Jesus will appear to you and wipe away your tears and hold you close. Jesus will look at you in the eyes and say, “Beloved, go and tell my brothers and sisters.”
“What shall I say, Lord?”
“Tell them, ‘He is risen!’”
And the people say, “He is risen, indeed!” Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.