Three Easter stories

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming last Sunday. And thank you all for coming this morning.

In some ways, it’s more important to be here on the Sunday after Easter, than it is to be here on Easter morning. On Easter Sunday, we’ve got all the hymns and the music. We’ve got food and flowers. It’s a great day of discovery.

A week later, what have we got? It takes as much faith, maybe even more faith, to show up here for worship a week later.

At Bible study, for the last month, we’ve been reading all the Easter stories in all four gospels. They’re all different, you know. They tell the same story, but they’re different eyewitnesses. They remember different things.

It’s like, if you were around on the morning of 9/11, you’ll never forget that day. Most of you could probably tell me exactly what you were doing, when you heard the news.

Easter is the same way. It was the same event, and they all got the same basic story. But the four gospels remember different details.

In Mark, the original ending just says, they were all afraid, and they ran away. In Matthew, the gospel we read last week, it talks about an angel at the tomb, like a white-hot bolt of lightning.

Luke is the only gospel that remembers about Jesus meeting two disciples on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, walking on down the road. Jesus came right up to them, and they didn’t recognize him.

And John tells stories nobody else does. John shares three very special memories that we’re going to read today.

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.

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!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

John 20:1-10

Over across the street at the Allen Jay house, when you go down into the basement, there’s a very low beam at the bottom of the stairs. I’ve gone up and down those stairs dozens of times, and almost every time, I’ve whacked my head against that beam.

I always tell myself to duck, but somehow I never duck low enough. One time last winter, I was in a hurry and the furnace was out, I hit my head so hard against the beam that it drew blood. I saw stars for a few moments. I had to sit down.

I went back the next day, and I brought one of those bright pink pool noodles with me. I cut the pool noodle in half, and I nailed that sucker all the way along both edges of the beam.

I’ve only been down there a couple of times since. But so far, I haven’t hit my head on it again.

After a lot of profound Bible research, I decided that’s what happened to Peter and the other disciple on Easter morning. They bent over to go into the tomb. And they whacked their heads.

It’s the only explanation I have. They hit their heads, real hard, they saw the tomb was empty, and the grave clothes were just lying there. Their heads were spinning, and they didn’t know what was going on.

That’s my personal interpretation, and you’re free to share it with anyone you like.

Actually, it was Mary Magdalene who first discovered the empty tomb. She ran back to town, stumbling in the dark, and she told the others.

Peter and another disciple, whose name we don’t know, came running to see. They both ran, but the other disciple, the one who Jesus specially loved, ran faster and got there first.

They went in, they whacked their heads on the top of the entrance (that’s my interpretation). And they didn’t know what to think. That is the 100%, authentic story of Easter morning.

But then, it says, the other disciple, who was one who Jesus specially loved, held onto his head, and believed.

He didn’t know exactly how it all happened, but he believed that Jesus had to be alive again. He didn’t know where Jesus was, but he believed that Jesus was out there, somewhere. He wasn’t dead any more. He was alive.

That’s the first story John tells about Easter morning. Here’s another one.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and she saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

The angels 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.”

Then Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Jesus 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.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

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.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

John 20:11-18

This is another 100% authentic Easter story. It didn’t start out with joy, but with weeping.

Mary loved Jesus, but she knew good and well that he was dead and buried. She went to pay her respects and say goodbye, but he was up and gone.

So she ran to get help, but the other disciples were headsmacked and clueless.

They saw stars. She saw angels. Then she turned around, and she saw Jesus. And she didn’t recognize him.

Maybe she was crying so hard, she couldn’t see Jesus through her tears.

That’s something to remember. Sometimes we’re hurting so bad, we’re crying so hard, that like Mary, we can’t even see Jesus.

That’s not a failure. It’s not something to feel guilty about. Mary was grieving. She was hurting, all the way down in her heart. Her tears made it impossible for her to see Jesus, even when he was right there, directly in front of her.

It wasn’t till she heard his voice – it wasn’t until Jesus called her by name, that she looked up and knew him.

That is the Easter story, too. Jesus calls us by name, and we have to say, “Lord!” or “Teacher!”, or whatever name Jesus is to us.

You know, don’t you, that this scene is where the hymn we sang, In the Garden comes from? It’s Mary, meeting Jesus.

And after that – that morning, and for the rest of her life, Mary had just one message. She told everyone, “I have seen the Lord!” That was her testimony, forever.

Let me tell you one more Easter story, again from John.

On the evening of that first day of the week – that first Easter Sunday – when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (also known as the Twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later – [that’s today] – his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:19-30

That is the third, 100% authentic Easter story. Doubting Thomas. One of my favorite saints of all time.

I’m telling you these three different stories, all together, partly because in all three of them, people didn’t automatically believe. In fact, in all three stories, people doubted.
They rubbed their heads and wondered.

They cried so much, they couldn’t see. They only believed when they heard Jesus’ voice.

They flat-out wouldn’t believe, unless they could actually touch Jesus. It was all just too incredible for them.

Easter doesn’t answer all your questions. In fact, I promise that if you’re a Christian, you’re going to have questions for the rest of your life. Easter is more like saying, “You know, I think. . . I think maybe I might could believe in Jesus.”

Easter is about just beginning to believe. It’s about just beginning to put your trust in Jesus.

You can spend the rest of your life, learning about what Jesus said, the stories that he told, the people that he helped.

You can spend the rest of your life, finding your own place in the story, and learning about how other people found Jesus, and how that changed their lives.

But it starts now. It starts today. Get to know Jesus. The world is never going to be the same.

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