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John 20:1-18 Easter April 16, 2017

Alternative Facts

Today is Easter Sunday and it is something special. As you can see, we have
a few more flowers up front. And there is a table of candy in back.
There are also a few more guests folks that dont normally come to church.
This mornings sermon is for you and for anyone, anywhere who has ever been
dragged to church by a mother, a mother-in-law, or a friend.
You might be wondering Whats the big deal with Easter? Why should I even
be in church today?
There are all kinds of special sales going on in the stores, baseball season is
underway, and the family is getting together for a barbecue. And dont forget to
check out The Fate of the Furious. How could Dom turn against his family?

We are here this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our
songs and our prayers proclaim that God came to us in Jesus, a teacher and
healer who proclaimed the love of God until he was betrayed by his friend, falsely
accused of crimes against Rome and put to death on a Friday afternoon by
crucifixion on a cross. He body was taken off of the cross, wrapped in a linen
funeral shroud and buried in a borrowed tomb that was carved out of the side of
a large rock, with a heavy stone was rolled to close off the entrance. Every one of
the four gospels agree about these facts.
But on the third day Easter morning the day in which we say Jesus rose
from the dead and first appeared to his disciples and friends no one seems to
agree about what happened.
In Matthews version, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb
and there is suddenly an earthquake and a bright shining angel that scares the
guards who are stationed outside so much that they become like dead men:
they faint! Then the angel tells the two women to go and tell the disciples that
Jesus has already left and is on his way to meet them in Galilee! Once the
women set on their journey, they encounter Jesus. After worshiping Him for a bit
(and He lets them!), Jesus repeats their instructions and sends them off.
In Marks original version there is no earthquake but this time there are three
women Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James) and Salome (traditionally
thought to be the mother of James and John). They encounter a young man in a
white robe who tells them that Jesus has left the tomb and that they are to go
and tell the disciples that Jesus is going ahead to meet them in Galilee. They
leave the scene terrified and amazed, afraid to say anything.
In Lukes reporting, it is Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James) and
Joanna! (traditionally the wife of King Herods steward, although there is no
Biblical record of this), along with other women who come to the tomb. They
meet two men in the empty tomb who tell them to share the news of Jesus
resurrection with the disciples. The disciples do not believe the women and
consider this an idle tale. But Peter takes a trip back to the empty tomb, sees
the linen cloths lying there, and walks away amazed!
Then we get to Johns description of Easter morning. In this version, we first
encounter Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb by herself. Finding the body
gone, she runs home to tell Peter and another disciple that someone has stolen
the body. The two race to the tomb and the other disciple wins the race and gets
there first. (John is the other disciple and wants his readers to know this fun fact.)
John says that seeing the empty grave cloths that he believed, although neither
of them understood really what happened.
Mary stands outside the tomb weeping and sees two angels in white who
ask her why she is crying. Mary says that shes crying because someone has
taken the body of Jesus away. It is only in Johns gospel that Jesus makes an
appearance. First Mary Magdalene assumes that he is the gardener. But when
he calls her by name Mary she answers Rabbouni! She starts to hug
him and he tells her to stop clinging to him. I have not yet ascended to the
Father, but go and tell the disciples about what youve heard from me. Jesus
doesnt tell them to head to Galilee, but will appear to them in the Upper Room
later that day.
So many versions of the Easter story so many alternative facts! If you are
here as a non-Christian, you may wonder how anyone could believe a story with
no many different versions. But thats the way it is with most events, isnt it?
Often in criminal trials the lawyers will bring in multiple witnesses who were at the
scene of the crime and they will all have accounts that differ, and yet all of them
are telling the truth to the best of their ability.
But this is the story of a person who was put to death, buried, and came to life
again, not simply to freak us out although that would have been cool enough
but to proclaim that the power of Gods love was stronger than death and not
only willing to forgive us of all of our shortcomings and sins, but to offer us the
Good News of eternal life as well as the invitation to share that Good News with
everyone. God has a plan for the world and it is for the Kingdom of the World to
become the Kingdom of God!
Probably my favorite detail in all of the Easter stories is Jesus desire to be on
the move. He really wants to get out of that cave and into the world. He has
already fled the scene in Matthew, Mark and Luke and tries to shake himself
loose from Marys clinging in Johns version. All during his earthly ministry there
were Pharisee and scribes trying to undermine His teachings and disciples afraid
to let His love have the final say. But now there is no stopping him. Gods love is
not in our control any longer. Love is not only the answer but on our side.
What does Jesus tell Mary to do? Is she to go out and make the world believe
in Jesus as God? No, all she is told to do is to tell the world about her experience
with Jesus. If every Christian in this room were emboldened to share their story
about how Jesus became Lord in their life, what alternative stories would be
theirs to share. Thats because the love of God is personal and real.
Church attendance has been decreasing for quite some time, but I believe
that its not because weve failed to tell our story but that weve failed to tell
enough stories. Instead of allowing the love of God to turn us into a tapestry of
witnesses, the church stumbles as it tries to agree on the best version of the
story. Lets stop trying to hold onto Jesus. Let him be on the move ahead of us
first. And then let us tell our multitude of stories through acts of forgiveness and
love to a world in need of Good News. Amen.