We’ve spent these four Sundays leading up to Easter considering the dimensions of Jesus’ kingship. We’ve been poking around John’s account of Jesus’ Passion Week listening to the stories of people who were there. We’ve learned that Jesus is a lowly king, a servant king, and a suffering king. None of those adjectives sound very kingly. And when Jesus is riding a donkey’s colt instead of a stallion, washing the disciples’ feet instead of the disciples washing His, and willingly enduring suffering rather than dishing it out, well, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a king.
That all changes on Resurrection morning. That all changes in John 20, when Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Jesus is the risen King. It was the resurrection of Jesus that caused His followers to take a second look at Jesus’ life and ministry. Maybe Jesus wasn’t just a Nazarene peasant with a bunch of new ideas. Maybe Jesus was more than just another martyr for a lost cause. He really is the Messiah King. This is Jesus’ followers’ conclusion: “Though in disguise, the eternal King was among us all the time.”
I don’t know why I went to the tomb so early on Sunday morning. I couldn’t sleep. It was still dark. I guess I just had to be near him. I guess I just had to convince myself that it was true—that this was not just a nightmare from which I’d awake. Jesus is really dead.
On the way to tomb, I replayed it over and over in my mind. There are images of sights and sounds seared in my memory that I suspect will never go away.
· The shouts of the crowd: “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
· The snap of the whip upon His back, coupled with the grimace on his face and the guttural groan rising out of the agony of bloody wounds that covered him from head to toe.
· The clank of the hammer on the nails driven into his hands and feet.
· The mocking crowd.
· The laughing soldiers throwing dice for his clothes, carrying on as if killing Jesus was no different than butchering a cow.
· I remember his gasping for every breath … his last breath.
I’m afraid to close my eyes lest I see it all over again. If I’m going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable at his grave. At least I will feel that I am close to him again.
It was dark and I was careful not to trip over a rock or a root as I made my way to the tomb where we had buried Jesus’ body just two nights before. But dark as it was, even from a distance, I could tell something was wrong. Things were not as we had left them Friday night. I could smell damp earth, cold rock from inside. Oh, no … the stone … someone has moved the stone! Were they afraid Jesus would become a saint, afraid His tomb would become a shrine? Wasn’t killing him enough? They can’t even let his body rest in peace. And where have they taken him? To toss him off a steep cliff? To bury him among the garbage at the town dump? Why disturb his body? His body is all I have left, and now it’s gone too?
I didn’t stay to investigate. I’ve got to tell Peter and John. I ran faster than I’d ever run in my life to find them. I banged my fist on the door. “Peter? John? Wake up. I’ve got terrible, terrible news!” Apparently they weren’t sleeping all that well either; they opened the door immediately. Gasping for breath, I fell into Peter’s arms. “Catch your breath,” he said, “and tell me what’s wrong.”
So I took a deep breath and said, “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve laid him.”
Their eyes got big. “What?”
“Somebody’s taken Jesus’ body and who knows where he is now.”
Without a word, they pushed right past me on a dead run to the tomb to check this for themselves. I followed as best I could. By the time I got there, they were just coming out of the tomb. I hadn’t thought to go in. But with daylight breaking, they could see at least a little bit. They told me they saw the linen burial cloths there. And strangely enough they found his head cloth folded and in its own place. They weren’t sure what to make of it. Nor was I. If someone stole his body, why take the time to unwrap the burial cloths? It made no sense. Our heads were spinning. Puzzled, Peter and John returned to their homes.
I stayed. I had come to the tomb to be near him, and even though he was no longer there, it’s the last place he was. I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t know what to do next. I just stood there and cried like a baby.
Finally, I composed myself enough to stoop down and peek into the tomb. I saw what must have been two angels. “Why are you weeping?” they asked.
“Why am I weeping? They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.”
It never occurred to me that these angels might have done the taking, but I was not doing my best thinking in those moments. I was in something of a daze, I guess. So much so, that when I left the tomb I didn’t see the gardener either and bumped right into him. “Why are you weeping?” he asked. “Who are you looking for?”
“Sir,” I said, “if you’ve carried away my Lord, tell me where you’ve laid him, and I will take him away.” Like I said, I wasn’t thinking clearly. What was I going to do, pick him up all by myself, or ask the gardener to throw him over my shoulders? My request must have sounded rather silly, but the gardener didn’t seem to mind.
“Mary,” he said to me.
Hmm? I know that voice. I turned into the sun to get a better look. “Rabboni!” I said, “My Teacher!”
It was Jesus … alive! “Don’t hold on to me,” he cautioned, “because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
“Don’t hold on to me?” What did that mean? I wasn’t holding on to him. And then, before I could respond, he gave me a job to do: “Go now to my brothers and tell them I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Go? He told me to “go”? I wanted to stay with him. I wanted to be sure it was really him. We were together, and in those moments, that’s all that mattered to me. But he said, “Go.”
So I went. I took only a few steps and looked back, but he was gone. I don’t know if the disciples will even believe me. When I arrived at the house most of the disciples were there, buzzing about the empty tomb Peter and John had told them about, speculating about what it might mean. “Mary,” they said, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost, the Lord. I have seen the Lord.” And they stared at me as if I had two heads: stunned silence. I told them the things the Lord had told me. More silence. I don’t know if they believed me or not. And we sat in that room not sure whether to laugh or to cry or to shout for joy, without one clue as to what to do next. But we were certain of this—at least I was: things would never be the same again.
Mary was right. Things were never the same. Jesus’ resurrection changed the course of history and the course of countless lives across the ages. So join me in worshiping Jesus Christ, the Risen King, on this Easter Day. All hail King Jesus! All hail!