By Cherie Dearth
John 20:1-18 (NIV)
1 Early 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. 2 So 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!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple
outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there
but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw
the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The
cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally 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.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
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?”
“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.
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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
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.’”
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.
Easter is about endings and beginnings.
Mary Magdalene, on the way to the tomb on the first Easter, thought that she was in the midst of an ending.
In many communities all over the world, families gather around grave plots on this day, placing flowers on them.
Easter is about memory. Mary went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body. It would be a time to remember. It was an ending.
A wise teacher made the comment: “What looks like a beginning is actually an ending, and what looks like an
ending is actually a beginning.” The hymn we just sang, “Hymn of Promise” by Natalie Sleeth, says it well: “In our
end is our beginning” (Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing, 1986).
Life is about endings and beginnings. Life is a series of losses. It was the same for Jesus: eating at table with those
who would betray and abandon him—ending; facing death, a redemptive death but an unjust death—ending; feeling
the strength and life and breath leave his body at the place of the skull, Golgotha—ending.
In our lives there are many Good Fridays. You could probably make a list of the Good Fridays in your own life: days
when you have felt forsaken—ending; days when strength and life and breath seem to be leaving your body—ending;
days when you were betrayed, and you wrestled with forgiveness—ending.
And yet . . . Easter reminds us . . . what looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
Early, while it is still dark, Mary comes to the tomb. The body is missing. She thinks it has been stolen. She runs to tell
Peter and John. They race back. John goes into the tomb; it is empty. He sees and believes. It is like a new beginning.
But Mary is still standing outside the tomb. For her, this is still an ending. That sometimes happens, doesn’t it? Two of
us can be close together, near the same situation, one sees a beginning; another sees an ending. Then she hears a voice,
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
“They’ve stolen the body,” she says, “he is missing.” And now we come to the heart of the story. We know something that
Mary doesn’t know. Have you ever listened to someone, maybe your child, maybe a friend, and they are describing a situation,
and to them it seems like an ending, but you know that it is not an ending but a beginning?
We know the story here. She thinks she is talking with the gardener. Isn’t it amazing how God comes to us through ordinary
people? God’s grace never comes to us in the abstract but comes through ordinary people.
She tries to explain that the body has been stolen. He looks at her and says, “Mary,” and she sees that it is Jesus. And she says,
“Teacher.” And she goes and announces to the others, “I have seen the Lord.” Can you imagine? Going and telling your friends
this? “I have seen the Lord!” What looked like an ending is actually a beginning.
And this … this my friends is our Easter faith.
- Easter faith makes us aware of the One who is with us, even when we mistakenly assume that we are alone.
- Easter faith is built upon the foundation of the One who rolls away the stone, even when we are at the end of our own strengths
- Easter faith is rooted in the One who continually teaches us, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, in other words, if we are
willing to pay attention, that endings can be beginnings.
- Easter faith gives birth to resurrection living, doubt as a way to belief, mourning as a way to dancing, despair as a way to hope,
death as a way to life. Death as a way to life? Yes.
- Easter faith is about glory and victory, but it is also about fear and uncertainty. Have you ever had the experience when watching
a really good movie, and you think it’s over—everything has been tied together, maybe not the way you would have liked, but it is all
done—and then there is a surprise?
On Good Friday even Jesus said, “It is finished.” And maybe those who were listening were thinking, “It’s all over, let’s go home.”
Maybe you have been feeling that way over the last several weeks.
It looks like an ending.
Maybe you are here today because you’re here most Sundays; or maybe you are here because it’s Easter. Maybe you are here
because you have come to an ending.
Endings are about obstacles that seem too large for us to overcome, like a huge stone covering the entrance to a grave.
What are the obstacles in your life?
- Sometimes holding onto the past is an obstacle.
- Sometimes not seeing the holy in the ordinary is an obstacle.
- Sometimes being afraid is an obstacle.
- Sometimes doing it all yourself, in your own strength, is an obstacle.
- Sometimes avoiding the tomb is an obstacle.
In life, there are endings. We reach an obstacle, and it seems to be over. But, what looks like an ending, when seen through
the lens of Easter faith, when we look at it through Easter faith, is always a beginning. Easter is about overcoming obstacles,
about looking at what we think we know in new ways.
Overcoming obstacles is the great theme of the Bible.
Abraham and Sarah are too old . . . it looks like an ending. And God speaks and says to them, “I am going to give you a child,
and from you all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed” (see Genesis 17). What looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
Moses has obeyed God and led the people out of slavery under Pharaoh, and he finds himself at the edge of the waters of the
sea . . . it looks like an ending. They’re trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army. And God speaks and says, “Stretch out
your hand and divide the seas, and you will pass through the waters” and they make it across the Red Sea to safety (see Exodus 14).
What looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
Israel has suffered in exile, they have been driven away from their land, their temple is destroyed . . . it looks like an ending. And
God speaks and says through the prophet Isaiah:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together.
(Isaiah 40:1-2a, 4-5a)
What looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
The writer of Psalm 30 has known illness and danger, fear and insecurity, sin and brokenness. There are times when . . . it
looks like an ending. And God speaks and says,
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. (5b)
What looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
In the early morning, the darkness is just giving way to daybreak, and Mary is weeping . . . it looks like an ending. And someone
speaks, and says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (John 20:15).
And then someone speaks, and says, “Mary.”
God says her name. God always says our name. And she tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (20:18). What looks like an
ending is actually a beginning.
In the early morning, the darkness is just giving way to daybreak; the disciples of Jesus know this hour. Maybe you are here because
you are at an ending, maybe there is some obstacle in front of you that seems insurmountable, maybe you are weeping . . .
Easter is about endings and beginnings. Easter is about obstacles and the power of God to overcome them.
- Ending or beginning—”In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).
- Ending or beginning—”I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live , even though they die; whoever
- lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
- Ending or beginning—”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . I am with you always, to the very end of
- the age” (Matthew 28: 18, 20).
There is a parable about three trees that stood in the forest and prayed about their ultimate destinations.
- Ending or beginning—One tree wanted to be used in a magnificent building. Instead the tree was cut down and used for a
- trough in a stable, in Bethlehem.
- Ending or beginning—The second tree wanted to be used in the construction of a great merchant ship. Instead, the tree was
- cut down, and used to build a small fishing boat to sail on the Sea of Galilee.
- Ending or beginning—The third tree wanted to point people to God. This tree wanted to stay in the forest. Instead it was cut
- down and made into a cross.
Ending or beginning?
Our hopes are in a future that is “unrevealed until its season, / something God alone can see” (“Hymn of Promise,” by Natalie Sleeth, 1986).
Something God alone can see. Sometimes, especially at Easter, what looks like an ending is actually a beginning.
The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed!
Glory to God!