Sermon – April 4, 2021 – Easter Sunrise

Printable PDF:  4-4-2021 Easter 1 Sunrise Sermon

Pastor Mark R Jacobson  †  Easter  †  April 4, 2021  †  John 20:1-18

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15He 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.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17Jesus 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.’” 18Mary 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.


Ordinarily empty is not good. An empty gas tank won’t get you anywhere. Cupboards that are empty won’t satisfy your hunger. A wallet or purse that is empty won’t pay the bills. Initially, the empty tomb didn’t look good to Mary Magdalene either. A living Jesus was never a possibility for her. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus die. She saw the soldiers make sure when they pierced his side. Mary watched Joseph and Nicodemus take the lifeless body of Jesus down from the cross, wrap the body in linen and placed it in the tomb. When the stone was rolled over the entrance Mary could no longer deny what she couldn’t believe. Jesus was dead.

Jesus had done so much for Mary. The Bible says Jesus drove seven demons out of her body. When Jesus had done that, it was like he had given her life back to her. In return, Mary had dedicated her life to serving Jesus, and as Mary went to the tomb, she did so with the intention of serving him one last time by anointing his body with spices.

Mary’s heart was heavy as she went to the tomb, but her heart began to pound as soon as she saw the tomb. Something wasn’t right. The stone had been rolled away and Mary assumed the worst. She thought that someone, probably those bloodthirsty Jews, had stolen the body. And, later, as Mary Magdalene returned to the scene of what she thought was a horrendous crime, Mary was inconsolable, so inconsolable was Mary that the appearance and the conversation of angels did nothing for her. These angels, who had so scared the mighty guards at Jesus’ tomb that the Bible says they shook and became like dead men, were practically invisible to Mary, and so was Jesus. Mary thought Jesus was the gardener.   

Do we have any Mary Magdalenes here, people who have come to church this morning with heavy hearts? What is it that makes you so sad? What is your brain so busy trying to understand? Are you sad and at times inconsolable because like Mary Magdalene, you are living on the wrong side of Easter, assuming the worst about your situation? Don’t judge your situation too quickly. Don’t be so overcome with emotion that you cannot see Jesus and his holy angels ministering to your soul’s deepest needs. Read your Bible, keep coming to church, attend a Bible class and see what this empty tomb means to you.

And in a way that’s exactly what Peter and John did, didn’t they? In the shuttle run of Easter morning Mary Magdalene handed the baton to them, and they raced to the tomb. John got to the finish line first, but Peter broke through the tape when he went into the tomb. And they didn’t need their FBI training certificate to start eliminating possibilities. They both saw the strips of linen lying there and the burial cloth folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Thieves do many things to a house, but one thing they don’t do is housekeeping. The evangelist Luke writes that Peter, “wondered what had happened.” John himself writes that he saw and believed, but qualifies his faith in parenthesis by writing, “(They still did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

We’ll give these disciples a participation ribbon for their investigation, but they were too slow to receive the prize that Jesus wanted them to receive from the starting line. Peter and John didn’t need to run. They didn’t even need to go. Peter and John could have simply sat back in their rocking chair or headed to fish had they simply took to heart the words of their Savior Jesus. Jesus had predicted his death, and Jesus had also predicted his resurrection. They heard Jesus say to the Pharisees, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Jesus said to the disciples, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay it down on my own accord…and I have authority to take it up again.”  And if the imagery of buildings and shepherding were too difficult, time and again they heard Jesus say, “The Son of Man…On the third day he will be raised to life.” That was why Pilate posted a guard in the first place. A proper investigation wouldn’t have left these disciples to simply return to their home as it says in verse 10, but to rejoice and to be glad that what Jesus said about his rising from the dead was true.

How is your investigation going?  Are you searching the Scriptures and taking God’s Word to heart, or has your attention to God’s Word lapsed like these disciples? Don’t be slow in your study and understanding of God’s Word. Though your life might be fine today, you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow and this week. Mary Magdalene thought the empty tomb meant that the body was stolen. Peter and John weren’t sure what to make of the empty tomb. Do you know the full meaning of the empty tomb, so you are ready in a time of crisis? It’s time to wake up and listen. Learn what the empty tomb means for you. We start to learn what the empty tomb means as soon as Jesus says, “Mary.”

“Mary.” What did this little word mean? It means Jesus wasn’t the gardener. Jesus was and still is Rabboni (which means teacher) and the first lesson of Easter is ‘Jesus lives.’ Jesus has power over death. Yes, he was dead, the soldiers made sure of it, but now he lives. And because Jesus lives, we also will live. The stone was rolled away for the benefit of the women, not for Jesus, and so I don’t know if the coffins will be dug out of the ground and opened or if the urns with ashes will break, but as surely as Jesus physically made his way out of that tomb, so also all of our believing loved ones will be physically raised from the dead to be with Jesus and all believers. And as Jesus was made perfect so also will we be. Jesus did not come out of tomb with crutches or a wheelchair. Jesus didn’t walk with a limp or speak with a sore throat. Jesus experienced no side effects from the resurrection, no post dramatic stress from all he had been through. His resurrection from the grave was easier than your getting out of bed. Jesus only kept the nail marks and the pieced side because they are cool. Those war wounds tell the story of his great victory. In the same way we, too, will live like him without the ache of arthritis or the pain of disease or the loss of hearing. We will live as he lives. That’s what Easter means, but that’s only half the story.

Jesus will raise us up physically from the dead. Jesus will also raise us spiritually. The empty tomb also means we live with peace and purpose. Jesus told Mary, Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” “My brothers,” Jesus called them. Jesus didn’t call them, “traitors,” or “scaredy-cats.” Jesus doesn’t kick them out of the family and the church. Jesus says, “my father and YOUR Father, my God and YOUR God.” The empty tomb announces that God the Father accepted his Son’s holy life and sacrificial death as the full payment for the world’s sins – including the sins of the disciples and your sins and mine. The empty tomb proclaims peace. The empty tomb also proclaims purpose.

I don’t know what Mary Magdalene did with those spices. Did she use them on someone else? Did she keep them as a memento? She didn’t use them on Jesus. Instead Jesus used Mary as an apostle to the Apostles. Jesus sent Mary for the sole purpose of proclaiming peace to the Apostles and in turn the Apostles would be sent to proclaim to peace to the world. That was their mission for the rest of their lives, and as Christians that mission is now our mission. It’s our turn. We turn from “Come and See” investigation to our “Go and Tell” purpose. Share the good news of the empty tomb. Don’t just tell people how your Easter weekend was. Tell them what your Easter means. Tell them your Easter was empty, and that empty never felt so good. An empty tomb means a full life, a life filled with forgiveness and filled with peace and filled with joy. Amen.