Easter is a happy day. It’s the happiest day in the church calendar. But it didn’t start the way. That first Easter morning Jesus’ followers were grieving and heartbroken because the one they loved died. Our story today starts with a grieving woman, Mary Magdalene, as she stands outside Jesus’ tomb crying. She is mourning his death and that someone has stolen his body. In the gospels this word for “weep” is a bitter, loud, wailing (Matt 26:75; Mark 6:38). I’ve only heard ‘this type’ of weeping once in my life, and it was when a loved one died. Easter is a happy day but the first Easter didn’t start that way.
That’s where we are today. Right now we are going through a global crisis, a pandemic, the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Thousands of people are dying ever week. We’ve reached over 500,000 cases and 20,000 deaths in the US. Statistics are turning into names as people we know and care about are getting sick. Everyone will know someone hurt by this virus. So how can our Easter, celebrated in the midst of sadness, be a happy one?
It’s the same question we ask of the first Easter. What could possibly transform the first Easter—a day marked by sadness and grief—into one billions of people celebrate around the world? What could possibly transform Mary Magdalene’s despair into complete joy?It’s the same thing that can transform our day today. Easter transforms us. Today, I want to talk you four ways Easter transforms us:
1) Easter offers us hope.
Easter takes us in our sadness and offers us hope.
John 20:11-13a (NIV)
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
When she goes to the tomb on Sunday morning instead of finding Jesus’ body she finds the stone rolled away and two angels sitting on the slab where his body should have been. They should have been dressed in black for mourning, but instead they’re dressed in white. They’re not despairing. They know Jesus is alive. They ask her, “Woman, why are you crying?” They’re offering her hope in her despair.
Mary Magdalene really needs hope. If you read Mary’s history in Mark and Luke’s gospel accounts you’ll see that when Mary met Jesus she was at a really bad place. When Jesus first met her she was possessed by seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). From what we know of demon possession in the rest of the Bible it wasn’t pretty. One demon possessed man lived naked in the tombs and cut himself. (Mark 5:1-20). People possessed by demons often had incredibly strength or could be thrown around by the demons possessing them (Matt 17:14-20; Luke 4:31-37). Demons could cause people to be mute and deaf, so they couldn’t speak or hear (Matt 9:32-33; 12:22). They acted insane. I wonder if Mary is afraid and wondering if she’ll go back to her old ways with Jesus gone, if the spirits will come back. She desperately needs hope.
When the angels ask Mary, “Woman, why are you crying?” they’re comforting her; and gently calling her to remember all that Jesus has done for her. They’re reminder her that she was once almost dead, but Jesus saved her. If Jesus can save her, what makes her think he’s dead now? Easter offers us hope.
Jesus asks us the same question, “Why are you crying? Why are you upset? Why does COVID-19 bother you? Aren’t I alive? Haven’t I risen from the dead? Haven’t I saved you?” All we can say is, “Yes Lord. Help my unbelief. Resurrect hope in me.” 1) Easter transforms us by offering us hope.
2) Easter surprises us with joy.
You ever been having a really bad day when someone you love or a friend surprises you? You’re so mad because the traffic was bad on your commute from your bedroom to your upstairs office, and to cheer you up your husband or wife makes you a really nice breakfast? Bacon, eggs, pancakes, with all the fixins—and it just transforms your day? Or maybe it’s at the end of the day and a neighbor or friend drops off a meal or your child drew you a picture to give you? Suddenly, a day that was dead feels alive again? Mary is about to have that happen to her. Someone she knows and loves is about to surprise her with joy.
John 20:13b-14 (NIV)
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
When they were dating, my sister-in-law threw a surprise Birthday party for my brother Nathanael. I was tasked with getting him to the party. When I walked in ahead of Nathanael, I saw heads pop around counters ready to jump out and yell “Surprise!” Then they saw it was me and ducked back behind the counter. That’s what’s happening to us right now as we read. We can see it! Jesus is alive, Mary! Jesus is alive and he’s literally standing right behind you! What a surprise! Don’t you see him?! The angels see him! He’s right there! You don’t need to be sad anymore. Jesus is alive.
But isn’t that true for us?! Isn’t Jesus alive? Isn’t he standing right beside us, but we can’t see him? God promises us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). He’s not here physically, but is here spiritually through the Holy Spirit (Matt 18:20). But she doesn’t see him because she thinks he’s a gardener. Maybe she didn’t recognize him because she has tears in her eyes or because when he rose from death Jesus had the same body, only better, a glorified body (1 Cor 15:35). But just because she couldn’t recognize him doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. Just because we can’t see Jesus doesn’t mean he’s not here. Jesus is here. Jesus is alive. Jesus loves us. This gives us joy. 1) Easter transforms us by offering us hope and 2) by surprising us with joy.
3) Easter changes our perspective.
John 20:15 (NIV)
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Mary Magdalene doesn’t get it. She doesn’t recognize the angels and she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. She’s so wrapped up in her world she can’t see what God’s world must be like. We get so wrapped up in our world, in our pandemic, in our numbers and busyness and anxieties that we also can’t see how God is working through it. What’s it going to take for us to see God and this world from his perspective? It’s going to take Jesus rising from the dead and calling us by name.
John 20:16a (NIV) Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
There was once a little girl who wanted to see a hippopotamus. She knew that they were at the river so she went down to the river to look for them. She got up on a big rock and began to look and look; but she could not find any hippopotami. But then the rock began to move and all at once she realized she was standing on a hippopotamus. When Jesus said, “Mary!” he whole world must have shook. The ground beneath her feat must have swayed as she realized that Jesus was alive and calling her by name.
What can take a terrible, no good, rotten pandemic day and make it new? A change in perspective. The good news that Jesus is alive and one day will call you by your name. One day, when Christ returns, he’ll speak your name and it will all be worth it (Rev 2:17). Even now, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is calling you by name. The Lord of the universe knows you. Doesn’t that change the way you see life and reality?
If you don’t know Jesus, he wants to give you a whole new perspective. He wants you to trust him. He’s telling you that he really has risen from the grave and that changes everything. Jesus is inviting you to know him, to let him speak your name. Come to him. Tell him your brokenness and receive him.
If you do know Jesus, he’s calling you again. He’s calling to to keep trusting him, to keep walking with him, to keep believing him, to keep inviting him to change the way you see life. You are standing on Christ, right now. He’s not just beside you. He’s carrying you. He is baring the weight of your suffering, of your COVID, of your dark valley. It’s not just Easter that changes our perspective. It’s Jesus.
1) Easter transforms us by offering us hope, 2) by surprising us with joy, 3) by changing our perspective…
4) Easter gives us resurrection life.
Mary was dead when she arrived at the tomb. She was emotionally dead. She had no hope. Jesus was lost. But suddenly, Jesus is alive and his resurrection gives her resurrection life.
John 20:16 (NIV)
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
This is the moment when she realizes he’s alive and calls him by the name she’s been calling him, “Rabboni! Teacher!” Rabboni is a more personal way of saying rabbi. Not just “teacher” but “my teacher!” She recognizes Jesus. Her eyes open and she realizes just like Jesus had the power to cast out her demons he has the power to defeat death. She realizes that Jesus is alive! It’s this moment that transforms a day of sadness and mourning into a day of life and joy. Her day has turned from death to life.
She must have fallen to his feet and clung to him because Jesus stops her. He tells her she has to go and tell others about his resurrection—that he has risen from the tomb.
John 20:17-18 (NIV)
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Notice Jesus doesn’t just say, “I’m going to my Father” but “I’m going to my Father and your Father.” To be a child of God is to have life. To have God as your Father is to have resurrection life (John 17:3). She was a woman who was once haunted by seven demons and is now a child of God the Father. That’s the same thing Jesus is offering you and me today—resurrection life through a relationship with the Father. She has this new life and goes to tell others.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
She doesn’t just say, “I’ve seen Jesus” or “I’ve seen the Rabbi” but “I have seen the Lord!” In other words, “I’ve seen God! I’ve seen the one who conquers sin and death and can give us all eternal life!” Easter (Jesus) gives us resurrection life.
In Steven Spielberg’s famous movie, Jaws, the second victim the great white shark kills is a young boy named Alex Kintner, played by Jeffrey Voorhees. On a warm summer day, he is plucked from the waters of a busy beach. When the crowd realizes what has happened, there’s a panic, and everyone in the water goes running back to the safety of the beach. Mrs. Kintner, Alex’s mother, stumbles around in the shallows calling for Alex, but he doesn’t return.
Later in the movie Mrs. Kintner dresses herself in black widows garb, approaches the chief of police (the hero of the movie), and slaps him in the face for not closing the beaches. She says, “I just found out that a girl got killed here last week, and you knew it. You knew there was a shark out there. You knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyways. You knew all those things, but still my boy is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead.”
Imdb.com, a film and television, website, picks up the story many years later.
Several decades after the release of Jaws (1975), Lee Fierro, who played Mrs. Kintner, walked into a seafood restaurant and noticed that the menu had an “Alex Kintner Sandwich.” She commented that she had played his mother so many years ago; the owner of the restaurant ran out to meet her, and he was none other than Jeffrey Voorhees, who had played her son. They had not seen each other since the original movie shoot.
When the jaws of death clamped over Jesus, it must have felt like all was lost; for Jesus and all of his followers, including Mary Magdalene. When Jesus rose again; it was like that great evil had never been; and suddenly the world was restored. If you believe in Jesus, one day you will be reunited with your loved ones who know him too as you too will rise from the grave.
Easter transforms us four ways: 1) by offering us hope, 2) by surprising us with joy, 3) by changing our perspective, and 4) by giving us resurrection life. At the end of the day Easter transforms us because…
Easter gives us Jesus.
Jesus defeats the jaws of death on the cross. Jesus is alive and he is calling you by name. He is offering you hope and joy, a change of perspective, and eternal life. Most of all he is offering you himself. Easter transforms us because Easter gives us Jesus.
Pastor Jonathan Romig preached this message on Facebook Live during the 2020 COVID-19 (Coronavirus) lockdown in Massachusetts. You can download a PDF copy of this sermon above, which includes endnotes and references or share it through Apple podcasts. Read the story of our church here.
You and your family or friends can use these group discussion questions to talk through today’s sermon and Bible passage. Please use whatever questions you find helpful.
- How does Easter give you hope?
- How have you felt this week leading up to Easter with everything going on in our world?
- What are some of the things Jesus has done for you? How is your story similar or different than Mary Magdalene’s?
- How do you keep holding onto faith in Christ when you can’t see him?
- What kind of things can God do? Would you ever imagine him bringing someone back from the dead?
- What does it mean, “Jesus is calling you by name”? What does that say about his knowledge of you? What would it take for you to call him by his name in a similar way?
- Do you believe Jesus is alive? How does your belief or disbelief impact how you live?
- How does the promise of one day rising again with Jesus change how you live today?
- How does Jesus defeating the jaws of death give you hope for what we’re going through right now?
- What do you think of today? How do you feel about Easter 2020 in light of Jesus’ resurrection?
End your discussion by praying for Jesus to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask him to save lives, both physically and for all eternity. Pray that Jesus would use this time to further his kingdom and bring our neighbors, friends, and family to him.