Sermon for the Vigil of Easter
+ John 20:1-18 +
The Gospels all tell us that a group of women went to Jesus’ tomb very early on Sunday morning to attend to His hastily-wrapped body which was put to rest just as the sun was setting on Friday. But it’s St. John who focuses on Mary Magdalene. She got there, bright and early, with the other women, but as soon as she saw the stone where it shouldn’t have been, it seems that she didn’t go in right away or wait for the other women, but ran back ahead of them to tell Peter and John that Jesus was missing. She was so upset. So sad. It didn’t even occur to her that her Lord might have kept His word, that the tomb might be empty because the Lord had risen from the dead.
But the Lord had a special meeting planned for her.
She got back to the tomb, this time with Peter and John, who went down into the tomb to see for themselves. They found nothing but the grave clothes Jesus had been buried in, neatly arranged on the bed where He had lain. Peter left, still in unbelief. John left believing. But Mary stayed. So upset. So sad. She looked down into the tomb. And there were two men there—angels dressed in pure white, sitting where Jesus had been. Didn’t it seem strange to her? They weren’t there a minute ago when Peter and John went in. Where did they come from? What were they doing there? She’s too upset to think, too sad to hope. She’s so sure Jesus is still dead, and that someone has moved His body.
Woman, why are you weeping? the angels asked. Of course, they knew why, but they wanted her to think through the tears. Why was she weeping? If she had found Jesus’ dead body there in the tomb, wouldn’t she still be weeping? No, if Jesus were still dead on the third day, then He had told Mary and all His disciples some terrible lies and who He was and what He could do for them. But Mary’s not thinking that deeply. She wanted to find Jesus’ body that morning so that she could take care of it, so that she could do her part in one final work of service to Him. But now she couldn’t serve Him anymore. He was not only dead. He was missing.
But He wasn’t missing, was He? He was standing right there. And He didn’t need her service, did He? He lives to serve her and all who believe in Him. He asked her the same question the angels did. Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? She thinks He’s the gardener. The tears and sadness are blinding her to the truth, not allowing her to remember Jesus’ words, not allowing her to hope. But Jesus calls His sheep by name, “Mary,” and now she remembers the voice of her Good Shepherd. And everything is all right again.
As the risen Lord Jesus once called out to Mary, through her tears, and made everything all right again, so He now calls out to all of you in the Gospel. He called you by name in Holy Baptism and now reminds you, He’s no longer in the tomb, and no one took Him away. He defeated death, because He was obedient unto death. He’s no longer in the tomb, and because of that, there’s no reason for Christians to mourn and weep like the world does. He’s no longer in the tomb, and because of that, you won’t be in yours for long, either. He’ll come and speak your name again, after you’ve slept for a while in your tomb. And then all the tears and sorrow will be erased. Because Christ lives, His Father is your Father, and His God is your God, and one day you will ascend to where He has ascended. Believe Mary Magdalene’s story. She’s not a liar. And she’s not alone. Many who mourned the death of Christ were later confronted, just as Mary was, with how needless their tears had been. Because I live, you also shall live, says the Lord Christ. That is the hope we have as Christians. And it’s a sure and lasting hope. Amen.