Sermon for Easter Vigil
+ John 20:1-18 +
(This sermon draws on the theme of our midweek Lenten services this year as we followed the Gospel of St. John leading up to Holy Week: The Hour Is Coming for the Son of Man to Be Glorified)
On the night before He laid down His life, Jesus prayed, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
How hollow those words must have rung in the ears of Jesus’ disciples as the events of Thursday and Friday unfolded. If ever a prayer seemed to have gone unanswered, this was it. Where was this eternal glory that Jesus had shared with the Father since before the world was, since before the Word was made flesh? Humbled and crucified and lying dead in a tomb.
Or so Mary Magdalene thought. In truth, Jesus had passed over from death to life. In reality, He had suffered for sin once for all, defeating sin, hell, Satan, and death. He had been dead, but now was alive forever and ever, never to die again. He had been shown with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead, and so was glorified in His resurrection.
But still not glorified in how He appeared. Mary didn’t recognize Him at first on that first day of the week—she certainly didn’t see anything spectacular about His appearance, as Peter, James and John had seen at His transfiguration.
But then Jesus called her by name, and she beheld the glory of the Risen One, not in how He appeared, but in the fact that He appeared at all, in the reality that He who was crucified, died and was buried, now stood before her living and breathing. She beheld His glory in the truth of His life.
Jesus said to Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”
Jesus would receive more glory still; He would fully enter into His glory again when He would ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God and fully share again in the glory He had with the Father since before the world was. That had to happen. Mary wasn’t allowed to cling to Jesus’ risen body to try to hold Him down on earth and keep Him here in this visible way.
But what Mary was given, what Jesus’ disciples were given, what you and I and all Christians have been given, from this very moment until the end of time, is the right to be called Jesus’ brethren—His brothers, the right to call God “our Father” and “our God.” Here’s how St. John had put it way back at the beginning of his Gospel:
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The risen Christ has called each of you by name, too, when through the minister who baptized you, He spoke your name and brought you to faith in Christ crucified and risen, and adopted you, too, as God’s child. Now you claim His death as your death. Now His life is your life, and you will share forever in the glory of the only-begotten Son of God. And the words with which St. John began His Gospel have new meaning for you who have heard and believed the words of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen.