Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
Message from April 17, Easter Sunday by Pastor Richard Pokora
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today the Gospel of John tells the story of the first Easter through the eyes of Mary Magdalene.
Scripture tells us Jesus had twelve disciples. Some of those disciples, such as Peter, James, and John, are very familiar to us from Bible stories. Others, such as James, son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananean, are merely names about whom we know nothing. We also know no women were included among the twelve, though women are routinely mentioned as part of his traveling entourage.
Yet of all the names mentioned as followers of Jesus none stands out more prominently than that of Mary Magdalene. Mary was from the city of Magdala in Galilee. We do not know much about the biography of Mary Magdalene. Some Biblical traditions suggest that she was the woman brought before Jesus to be stoned for adultery, but this tale is based on heresy. All four of the Gospel mention the name of Mary Magdalene and associate her with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel of John first makes mention of Mary with these words: “Standing by the cross were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. From this description of her we might assume Mary was either a relative of Jesus or a close friend of the family.
We can also add one additional fact about Mary. She did not flee from Jesus through all of the catastrophic events of the crucifixion. She stood on Golgotha when all of the other disciples fled and went into hiding. She was not intimidated by the Roman soldiers or the temple priests. She put herself at risk for her Lord. When permission came from Pontius Pilate for Joseph of Arimathea, to take the body of Jesus down from the cross, Mary was there to help with this difficult task.
There is one fact all of the Gospels agree upon; Mary was present on Easter morning when Christ rose from the grave. The Gospel of Mark records that Mary helped lay the body of Jesus in the tomb on Good Friday and came with Mary, the mother of Jesus. on Easter morning to finish preparations of the body. The two women. found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. There is one additional and substantial point the Gospel agree upon. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Christ risen from the grave.
It is at this point that our Gospel for this Easter Sunday takes up the story of the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of John tell us that on that first day of the week, Sunday, Mary rose early in the morning, when it was still dark to go to the tomb of Jesus.
When she arrived at the tomb, she was stunned to see that the stone had been rolled away. She immediately runs back to the house where Simon Peter and another disciple were staying to tell them what she had seen. Peter and the other disciple and Mary hurry back to the tomb. Curiously, the Gospel makes it sound like a race between Peter and the other disciple. The one disciple beats Peter to the tomb, but Peter enters the tomb first and sees the linen wrappings rolled up where Jesus had laid. Scripture tells us these disciples did not understand what had happened. We read: for as yet they did not understand scripture, that he must rise from the dead. In other words, they don’t know what to make of the stone rolled away and the empty grave. They simply return to their home as baffled as when they left.
Now our story turns focuses again on Mary. She is left in the garden crying. She looks into the tomb and then sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus laid, one at the head and the other at the feet. The angels ask Mary why she has been weeping. She tells them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Clearly Mary does not understand that the resurrection has taken place.
At this point Mary turns around and she sees someone but does not understand that the figure she sees is Jesus. In fact, she thinks he is the gardener. Jesus asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Mary, still assuming he is the gardener, asks him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away?” Mary only wants to know where the body is.
But Jesus responds by calling her by name. He says, “Mary.” And she understands immediately who it is that stands in front of her. It is Jesus himself. Before she can say anything, he tells her this, “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.” We may wonder why Jesus does not want her to touch. But clearly, he anticipates his ascension and wants her to announce that he lives to the disciples.
Mary does precisely as Jesus instructs her. She tells the disciples that she has seen the Risen Lord. Jesus who died on the cross and now has risen from the grave. She is the first witness to the resurrection.
Several observations can be made about Mary this morning. She may not have been identified as one of the twelve disciples, but she is the very epitome, the very definition, of a disciple. She remained with Jesus until his death, while all of the other disciples fled in fear for their lives. She helped take Jesus down from the cross and carry him to the grave. Can we imagine a more difficult task? On Easter morning she witnessed the resurrection. She saw the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. Mary was also the first person to encounter the Risen Christ. He commissioned her to go and tell the disciples what she had seen, which she did.
Today I want you to see the resurrection through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. Her story has become our story. She is the model of our discipleship. She did not shrink from her trust in Christ when he was nailed to the cross. She was there at the empty tomb to proclaim the good news of the resurrection to the other disciples. Jesus asks us on this day to walk the path which Mary trod. We are to cling to the Christ of the cross and we are to hail his resurrection on Easter morning. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your minds and heart in Christ Jesus.