Living God, on the first day of the week you brought to birth a new creation through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fill us with the hope and joy of new beginnings, so that we may share the good news of your liberating, life-giving power with all the world; through Christ our Savior, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.


The tomb is dark, but empty
The one you are looking for has overcome the darkness
The stone has been rolled away
The one you are looking for has overcome death
The burial clothes are put aside
The one you are looking for is alive!
Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed! Let us worship our Risen Savior!


Living God, with joy we celebrate the presence of your risen Word. Enliven our hearts by your Holy Spirit so that we may proclaim the good news of eternal and abundant life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John 20:1-18

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a]into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “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.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her


“Sur-prise, Sur-prise, Surprise!!”  If you grew up in the sixties, you would recognize that catch phrase.  One of Mayberry, NCs finest residents and later a United States Marine – Gomer Pyle.  The naïve and gentle auto mechanic played by actor Jim Nabors. Gomer provided comic relief, awestruck by the simplest of things, resulting in the exclamation of his catchphrases, “shame, shame, shame!” “Shazam!”, “Golly”, or “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise”, as appropriate.  He is not the only person to exclaim surprise!  It seems that this season is a season of surprises, both in our modern world and in the world of Jesus’ followers.

For the disciples, it begins with the surprising pre-dawn discovery of an empty tomb by Mary, Peter and the unnamed disciple.  After Peter and the other disciple see that the tomb is empty, they return home, but Mary remains.  She stands alone weeping outside the tomb. Let’s enter the story at this juncture, and fasten our attention on Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus.

As we draw near to Mary, the first thing we notice is that she is in tears. When she looks into the empty tomb, John tells us that there are two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, and they ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  At first hearing, their question sounds unnecessary, even foolish.  When you see a woman weeping in a cemetery, it’s safe to assume that she is grieving a loss, shedding tears of sadness, missing a loved one who has died. We might have expected Mary to respond to the question of why she weeps with answers such as,

“I’m crying because Jesus, whom I loved, was nailed to a cross.”
“I’m crying because the one in whom we had placed such hope was put to death.”
“I’m crying because the world is such a wicked place, with so much suffering.”

But what Mary actually said was this:

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

At the very least, Mary might have been thinking, they could let his lifeless body rest in peace.  Wasn’t it enough that he had been beaten, crucified and stabbed?  Yet even in death, Mary assumes, the cruelty continues.  They have taken her Jesus away, and she doesn’t know where they laid him.

Surely many of us today share Mary’s sense of loss.

We expected that the baseball season would begin on March 26th

We expected college students to be on campus for the remainder of the semester

We expected freedom to gather for family reunions, birthdays and anniversaries

We expected to get paper products at the grocery store

We expected to worship during Holy Week with our church family

Surely some of you are remembering with nostalgia the Easters of your childhood—pretty new dresses, Easter egg hunts, dinner with the large extended family. Life seemed simpler then, didn’t it, and faith was accepted without question.  But for modern adults in our mostly secular, postmodern society, belief is no longer easy, nor, as many have concluded, even necessary. “They’ve taken away my Lord, and I have no idea where they’d laid him.”

In 2011, Homeland Security eliminated the color code that we’ve used to indicate the level of terrorist threat in favor of a simpler, two-word code.  From now on, the terrorist threat will be measured by one of two terms:  elevated or imminent.  Such is life in the 21st century.   The threats, the dangers, the uncertainties of our current century are at best elevated and at worst imminent.  Mary’s cry in the pre-dawn darkness of the first Easter is one that echoes in every dark night of the soul, when whatever makes life worthwhile withers away, and hope vanishes.  This is what Martin Buber called “the eclipse of God.” And this is how Easter begins: in darkness, in a cemetery where a woman weeps, but a surprise is coming to her, to the disciples and to us!

First, Jesus calls Mary by name. When Mary turns around she sees Jesus standing before her.  At first, she doesn’t recognize him; she mistakes him for the gardener. Yet as soon as he calls her by name– “Mary!”–at that moment Easter dawn breaks upon her.   As one theologian noted, the surprise of Easter is not just that Jesus was raised from the dead; it was that he rose from the dead TO US.  He appeared first to a powerless, marginalized woman named Mary, and later to the very people who had betrayed and disappointed him. Easter began for Mary not when she finally understood the physics of the resurrection, not when she declared a doctrine or articulated a belief.  No, her Easter faith was born when she heard herself called by name.  “All we know for sure,” writes theologian Craig Barnes, “is that a risen Savior is on the loose and he knows our names.”

On Easter Sunday, you expect to hear glorious music, to see the lovely flowers and a larger than average congregation.  Wouldn’t it be surprising, though, if quite unexpectedly you heard, felt, sensed, knew that Christ is alive and knows you by name?  Maybe that is happening as we worship without all the bells and whistles?  Maybe we can be surprised by knowing that Christ is alive and knows our name – even as we are separated by distance and worship virtually?

And here’s the second surprise of Easter. Jesus then tells Mary not to cling to him.  “Do not hold onto me,” he says to her.  In our current vernacular, “Six Feet of Social Distancing!”  Isn’t that disconcerting?

No sooner does Jesus appear than he vanishes.
He speaks, then disappears;
he comes to us, then quickly leaves us.

If only he’d stick around longer we could have a better understanding of the resurrection. We could confirm our faith, and gather a DNA sample so the lab could analyze the data. But as Mary’s experience shows, the risen Jesus is not to be captured or managed.  He’s impossible to pin down or control. As someone said, “Control freaks don’t do well with Jesus.” What matters, though, is not our ability to hold on to Jesus. What matters is our confidence that he has a hold on us.  As the contemplative monk Thomas Merton put it, “Love enters the darkness and lays hands upon what is its own!”

Jesus isn’t trying to be evasive. Rather, he’s going ahead of us—in John’s words—back to his Father who is also our Father, to his God who is our God. He goes to prepare a place for us.  As Jesus had earlier said to his disciples: “22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Yes, Easter began with a shock, in a cemetery with a woman weeping by an empty tomb. But Easter doesn’t end in surprise. Easter shouts the good news that Christ is alive, and Christ is calling us out of darkness into light, out of despair into hope, out of the past into God’s promised future.


He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed

Commentary provided by Elizabeth Lovell Milford, John Buchanan, Ben Dorr, Craig Barnes, Ken Broman-Fulks, San Williams and Philip W. Martin, Jr.