First Mennonite Church
April 12, 2020
I Have Seen the Lord: A Personal Testimony
Text: John 20:1-23
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. 2 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look 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, “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.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
It is very likely that the people who are lamenting the most for not being able to gather to celebrate one of the most significant religious holy days are Christians. Most of the non-religious segment of society are not as sad that Easter Sunday happened to be when gatherings and social interactions are banned. I wonder how great a reaction, lament, and frustration would have been if the stay-at-home order had happened on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas. (I pray the ban will not extend that far.) Strictly speaking, Easter is a very solemn day. Besides the added bunnies, chicks, and eggs to it, there is not much that appeals to those who do not understand the profound significance of Easter. Easter, which is the remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ coming out from the tomb alive, not only has great personal meaning to those who have a living relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior but is also their immovable hope beyond this earthly life.
Easter, for many reasons, is not like other holidays—let us say, Thanksgiving or Christmas. Although Christmas is a religious holiday, its fanfare is like no other, appealing even to the secular society. There are various images or icons related to Christmas that are hard to miss, maybe because we can easily relate to them. Images like the Mother and Child, the Baby in a manger, a hut with farm animals gazing down into a trough, and the shepherds are images gleaned from the biblical story of the nativity. Most people can relate to the tenderness and joy there are in the birth of child. We are used to seeing farm animals, thus, we are familiar with the images of Christmas. And, that not to mention the embellishment we have added to this holiday, the tree, lights, Santa Claus, bells and more. Christmas, with all its characters, is fit for a major stage production. But Easter? People rising from the dead? An empty tomb? Easter is unfamiliar to us. Even the Gospel writers aren’t harmonious about their account of it. Maybe, the time the resurrection occurred is metaphoric to the difficulty we have understanding Easter. It was still dark and it happened when no one was around. Added that are the small discrepancies there are in the gospel stories. One gospel says two dazzling-clad angels, the other says one. One says Mary went by herself, while the other says three women, including Mary Magdalene; one says there was an earthquake, while others are silent about that, etc.
What is so amazing, however, is that being the resurrection of Jesus a fundamental part of the gospel message, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not decide to harmonize or seek to sensationalize their story of the resurrection. They simply sought to tell their story in its most simple way, convinced that they were speaking the truth about Jesus. The gospel writers did not give importance of the small details that were unnecessary just to give credence to what happened. Their proof that Jesus was resurrected and alive was that he was still appearing to them. They saw him alive. They heard his voice. Jesus ate with them. Jesus restored their faith, commissioned them to tell others about him and his salvation, and promised them he will return.
This Easter Sunday, I want for us to think for a moment on two particular points in John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Let me jump to verse 19 and then I will go back to an earlier verse. John tells us that the disciples were locked behind closed doors, even after the resurrection. The disciples were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. What this tells us is that none of Jesus’ disciples was there when he was resurrected. The power of God opened Jesus’ eyes and brought him out of the tomb and no one was around to cheer for him. Jesus was all by himself that Easter morning.
Today, many churches will not be able to have their Sunrise Services, which is some way intended to gather the faithful to welcome Easter, the Lord’s resurrection. Many, like we, are sheltered in our homes, not because of the same kind of fear the disciples had, but in compliance to health officials trying to prevent the spread and acquisition of Covid-19. The word of hope and truth about Easter is, however, that even if every house of worship is empty today, nothing can change the fact that Jesus is alive and dwelling among his scattered people this morning. Jesus is alive today, whether he is acknowledged or not. Easter is a message of hope, not only for the dead or dying but must importantly for us who are living.
So how can we claim the Easter hope? How can we in the middle of anxiety and fear find hope in Easter? John’s account of the resurrection can give us the answer. John tells us that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that Easter morning. Upon realizing that the body of Jesus was missing, she went to tell the disciples about it. After John and Peter confirmed what Mary had told them, they left, but Mary stayed there sobbing. As she gazed into the empty tomb, she heard a voice asking her, “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary thought it was the gardener who she thought would know where Jesus’ body might have been moved to. But then, Jesus called her by her name, Mary! And she recognized his voice.
My dear friends, despite the testimony of the gospels about the resurrection, an empty tomb is not powerful enough to convince anyone that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.
The only convincing power there is to prove to us that Jesus is alive is a personal encounter with him as Mary had. Mary’s personal testimony afterward was short, yet powerful: “I have seen the Lord!” Mary’s message was not a confession of the church, nor the repetition of a third person’s account about an event. “I have seen the Lord,” was the personal testimony of an experience with the Risen Lord who appeared to Mary.
Christ, the Risen Lord, is calling you and me by our name. He wants us to be able to confess, “I have seen the Lord.” To be able to confess, “I have seen the Lord,” is to declare the power of life in the midst of ruin and death. To confess the resurrection of Jesus is to testify that love will overcome hate, that truth will outlive lies, that compassion will defeat indifference, that justice will prevail. To be able to say, “I have seen the Lord,” is to be empowered with hope, regardless of the loud the voices telling us the opposite. To confess, “I have seen the Lord,” is give witness that we have come out of own tombs of fear, despair, and, in fact, from the tomb of spiritual death.
Everyone who says, “I have seen the Risen Lord,” also has an obligation to go and tell the good news those who are hunkered in behind the various kinds of closed doors. It could be the closed door of fear of death, broken relationships, sorrow, despair, and especially spiritual bondage. Mary went to tell the eleven disciple about her encounter with Jesus, who called her by her name. Mary went to give her personal testimony to the eleven disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” It was her personal testimony of Easter.
Today, let us rejoice that Christ Jesus is alive. He is living and is living in our heart. The joy of Easter is not confined to be celebrated in a church sanctuary, but maybe even more so in our living rooms where we spent most of our time. We should take advantage of celebrating Easter in our homes with our loved one because it is with them that we live the power of Jesus’ resurrection every day.
Let us make keen the ears of our heart to hear Jesus’ voice calling our name as he did to Mary. Let us become messengers like Mary Magdalene who said, “I have seen the Lord. He has risen!” Amen!
May God, the Father, bless us with the power that raised Jesus from the dead.
May the God bless you with the joy and peace Jesus’ resurrection brought to the world. Amen!