“The Power of Easter Hope”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
April 12, 2020
Mary waited as long as she could. Perhaps she planned to go to the tomb where Jesus had been buried as soon as the sun rose on Sunday morning, but she could wait no longer.
I am confident she would have gone on Saturday had it not been for the Sabbath travel restrictions. You had to stay close to home on the Sabbath, this sacred day of rest when normal activities came to a halt. Even her grief would not give her permission to ignore this tradition.
Those restrictions lifted Saturday evening as the Sabbath ended. This meant Sunday she could go to the center of her grief.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb,” John recorded. (John 20:1a) Her wait was over.
When Mary arrived at the tomb she was surprised to discover the stone at the entrance had been rolled away. To her dismay, Jesus’ body was missing, which broke her heart even more.
It appears she believed his body had been stolen by thieves or moved by the authorities, which led her to wonder how anyone could be so insensitive and cruel. Hadn’t Jesus’ enemies done enough to this innocent man she loved so dearly? Would this nightmare never end? Yes, it would, but not the way she could have ever imagined.
Looking at that empty tomb, Mary did the only thing she knew to do. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the beloved disciple what she had discovered. Immediately, they ran to the tomb to find things as she described. Without any answers they returned home, but Mary lingered at the tomb.
As Mary stood weeping outside the empty tomb, she had an encounter with two angels and then a man whom she thought to be the gardener. Instead of providing answers for Mary, all three asked her why she was weeping. She replied by telling them she was disturbed because someone had taken the body of her Lord, and she volunteered to retrieve his body if she was told where to go.
As it turned out, she did not need to go anywhere. The one she was seeking was standing beside her, and she recognized him once he spoke her name.
After they embraced, Jesus told Mary to go tell the disciples what she had experienced, which she did. “I have seen the Lord,” she said to them as she told them about their encounter and conversation.
It is hard to find a more comforting and inspiring story in scripture. It speaks to everyone who has suffered loss, experienced disappointment and searched for hope. Surely, this includes all of us.
What message do you think the writer was sending his readers through his account of Jesus’ resurrection? Of course, he wanted them to know Jesus’ resurrection meant they, too, would live beyond the grave.
Death would not have the final word in their lives. God would, and that word would be a good one. What God did for Jesus, God would do for them and those they dearly loved.
In addition to this, what lessons did the Evangelist have in mind for his readers, including us? I pondered this question last week and want to share some ideas for you to consider.
Just because you don’t see a way for things to get better, don’t think they can’t. Mary didn’t go to the tomb that morning to see if Jesus was alive. She went to grieve.
When Jesus died, so did most of her hopes and dreams for a better life. Yes, she would cherish her time with Jesus and forever appreciate his delivering her from seven demons who made her life miserable, but her time with him was over, and all she had left were some fond memories. Her best days were behind her, and to a great degree life was going to return to how it had been before Jesus came her way.
This was how Mary must have felt before she had an encounter with the risen Lord. That experience changed everything, though.
The future filled with hope and joy Mary could not see on Friday after the crucifixion came clearly into focus on Sunday after the resurrection. As a result, no longer would Mary look at life merely through human eyes but also through eyes of faith.
If God could reach into a sealed and guarded tomb to raise Jesus from the dead, God could help her with any problem she had. From this point on, what appeared to Mary as an insurmountable challenge and dead end was an opportunity for God to create something new.
I believe this is one message John had in mind when he penned his account of Jesus’ resurrection. Quite frankly, I cannot think of a message we need to hear more as we struggle with this pandemic that has shattered many hopes and dreams.
Specifically, what is the message John was eager to share with his readers, including us? Easter is about starting over when you thought all hope was gone.
As Christians, we believe hope is connected to grief and despair because we believe in a God who makes all things new. Easter assures us there is no situation our faith cannot embrace and change for the better if we let God help us.
We never have to settle for things as they are and give in to despair. Always, and at all times, God is working on our behalf to bring good out of bad and life out of death, just as God did for Jesus. In our humblest and most desperate circumstances, we can trust God to draw close and to lead us toward a new and better life.
Just because you or I don’t see a way for things to get better, don’t think they can’t. With God’s help, all things are possible.
As Old Testament scholar, Dr. Walter Brueggemann reminds us, “The most distinguishing characteristic of God is God’s ability to make something new.” This is what Brueggemann refers to as ‘the always more of God’.
There are no dead ends on the road of faith. Every ending is the launching pad for a new beginning.
This is as true for us as we make our way through this current crisis as it was for Mary and those early disciples. As Dr. John Claypool was fond of saying, “The basis of our hope rests upon the assurance that the seemingly worst things are never the last things. It is never too late to wonder how God may take your situation, bad as it may seem in the moment, and bring from it incredible good. God can take just about anything and do just about everything with it.”
Again, just because you don’t see a way for things to get better, don’t think they can’t. With God’s help, all things are possible.
Just because you don’t see God working, don’t think God isn’t. God is always working on your behalf, whether you notice it or not.
When did the resurrection of Jesus occur? It was during the night. Who saw the stone roll away and Jesus walk out of that tomb? No one did.
When everyone was asleep, God performed God’s greatest miracle. When no one was watching, God quietly went about His work.
We don’t have to see God at work to know God is. What we must do, however, is trust God like a child trusts a loving and responsible parent.
This means we must draw close to God and rely upon the Holy Spirit to help us make wise decisions. We must allow God to lead us toward a new and better future, one step at a time.
Let that empty tomb remind you the same God who worked on Jesus’ behalf after he was buried is working for you now. God knows how you feel and what challenges you are facing, especially in these unprecedented times.
Give God time to pave the road you will walk down toward a new and better life. Allow God to open doors of opportunity and to bring people into your life that will help you overcome your present challenges and rebuild your life.
You are the beloved of God. You are not alone and never will be as you navigate these uncharted and turbulent times.
The words of the Psalmist speak clearly to what I am saying.
“I will lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (121:1-4)
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (27:14)
We were playing basketball when it happened. After Prayer Meeting, many of the men of the church where I was the pastor gathered in a nearby gym to play basketball.
We had not been playing long that evening when Chuck, a young man in his twenties who had been a star track in high school, collapsed while running down the court. All efforts by the paramedics to revive him failed.
He died suddenly and instantly that evening, one week before his wife gave birth to their first child. Few times in my career did I experience the level of anguish I felt during this unspeakable tragedy.
I still recall what Chuck’s mother said to me on one of my many visits to her home. Most of our conversations focused on how others were doing and what they needed. I paused once, however, and asked, “Joyce, how are you doing?”
With no hesitation she replied, “I am not all right now, but I will be.”
I knew what she meant by this. Her strong faith made her strong and gave her hope. She knew darkness would eventually give way to light and despair to hope. Until then, God would provide what she and all her family needed.
This, my friends, is the power of Easter hope.
Just because you are only one voice, don’t think you are unable to change the world around you. Mary did.
At the conclusion of Mary’s encounter with Jesus, she was told to go tell her story to the disciples. Her testimony was used by God to lift their spirits and to fill their hearts with hope and joy.
Do you realize Mary Magdalene became the first evangelist? This strategic responsibility was not given to one of the original disciples called along the Galilean seashore to travel with Jesus throughout his ministry.
This obscure woman whom Jesus met along the way as he traveled from one village to another was chosen to deliver the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Why?
Mary, perhaps more than anyone else, knew the difference Jesus could make in someone’s life. On both sides of the crucifixion, before and after, her life was changed by Jesus for the better.
On two occasions, Mary found herself walking through the cemetery of broken dreams wondering if the clouds of uncertainty, doubt, despair and fear would ever lift. Both times they did because of what Jesus did for her.
Who better to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection than Mary? Her message of hope and healing would come from a grateful heart and include her own experiences.
Your voice needs to be heard, too. Your story can lift spirits and change lives as Mary’s did.
You may only be one person, but you may be the very person someone needs to hear to turn his or her life around. For such a time as this, you may be the one who can help someone who is struggling during these trying times to chart a new path forward. You may be the one who makes hope visible when it is needed most.
Never underestimate how God can use you to influence those around you who are struggling. Your story and insights could make the difference in how someone responds to this crisis. This is how powerful Easter hope is.