Resurrection means transformation

Scripture: John 20:10-18

 

Title: Resurrection means transformation

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Jesus’ resurrection transforms Mary’s life
  • Jesus’ resurrection transforms our relationship with God
  • Jesus’ resurrection transforms death
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Three of four weeks ago I went to see the latest version of Beauty and the Beast at the movies with one of my daughters

–         The theatre was packed – in fact there were signs up when we arrived saying the movie had been sold out for the day

–         Fortunately we had booked online so we got a seat

 

In a number of ways Beauty and the Beast is a parable of the Gospel story

–         It’s not an exact match with the gospel but it does speak to some of the deepest needs of the human soul – in particular our need for redemption and transformation. I think that’s why it’s so popular

 

For those who aren’t familiar with the story a selfish prince is turned from a man into a hideous beast and love is the only thing that will break the spell

–         Not superficial romantic love, but real love

–         Deep unselfish love which sees beneath the surface and is committed to the other at great personal cost

 

The hero of the story is a young woman called Belle

–         And the villain is a man called Gaston

–         All the villagers love Gaston but (like the Pharisees in the gospel) he is not as good as he appears – Belle sees through him

 

Long story short, Belle is the Christ figure in the story – she shows the beast what unselfish love looks like

–         The beast learns to love unselfishly too and becomes the recipient of Belle’s love, thus setting him free so he is transformed into a man again

 

The prince turned beast represents humanity under the spell of sin

–         Through the fall we have become beast like

–         Christ is the one who shows us what it is to be fully human

–         Jesus redeems us and transforms us

–         He sets us free from the spell we are under and restores our full humanity

 

Of course we can’t press the analogy too far

–         Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale – it is a made up story

–         While the gospel is a true story – the death and resurrection of Jesus actually happened in history

 

Today is Easter Sunday

–         Easter Sunday is about the resurrection of Jesus

–         The resurrection is the most important event in all of human history

–         The resurrection changes everything

–         It changes our lives now, it changes our relationship with God forever and it even changes death

 

Earlier in the service we heard a reading from John chapter 20, verses 1-9

–         This morning’s message is based on the verses which follow

–         From John 20:10-18 we read…

 

10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 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.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

Jesus’ resurrection transforms Mary’s life:

When I was about 4 or 5 years old I got lost in Chartwell Square

–         Chartwell Square was the latest shopping mall complex near where we used to live in Hamilton

–         Somehow I got separated from my Mum and no one could tell me where she was

–         I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but for the first time in my life I had a good idea

–         It occurred to me that if I went back to our car then eventually I would find mum because at some point she would return to the car also

–         This was back in the days when people didn’t lock their vehicles so I could get inside without a key

–         There I was waiting inside our burnt orange Mark 1 Ford Escort

–         Time seemed to go incredibly slowly and I became upset wondering if I would ever see my family again

 

Looking back, sitting in that empty car feeling lost, was a bit like being in a tomb – it was like facing the end of something

–         My mum did eventually turn up again though and we were reunited

 

Our Bible reading this morning focuses on Mary Magdalene and her reunion with Jesus

–         So who is Mary Magdalene?

–         Well, she was a different Mary to Jesus’ mother

 

‘Magdalene’ is probably not Mary’s surname

–         Rather it is a reference to the village she comes from called ‘Magdala’

 

Luke 8 tells us Mary Magdalene was the woman whom Jesus delivered from seven demons

–         We don’t feel comfortable talking about demons these days do we

–         It sounds superstitious or unscientific – backward even

–         They say the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist

–         But evil is still present in the world, even if it goes by a different name

 

Having a demon in you is like being ruled by a fascist dictator

–         You are not in control, you are not free – it is torment

–         Life is reduced to a hellish existence and one feels less than human

–         One longs for oblivion – to simply not exist, to go to sleep without dreaming and never wake up

–         In fact the idea of eternal life becomes a nightmare

–         You start to think – if this is what life is then who wants to live forever?

God can keep His heaven

 

Other people don’t necessarily understand what you are suffering because it’s going on inside you – it’s invisible, they can’t see it

–         If you have a physical illness then people usually have sympathy for you

–         They send you cards and flowers – they might make you meals or put you on the prayer chain or maybe even start a ‘give a little’ page for you

–         But if you have a demon, people generally avoid you

–         You become isolated and feel lonely in a crowd

 

Mary didn’t just have one demon – she had seven – so there was no reprieve for her, no rest, no Sabbath

–         Then one day Jesus sees her suffering and has compassion on her

–         He gets it – he understands her torment and he sees her (the real her)

–         More than just understanding her though he actually has the power to send the demons packing – and that’s what he does

 

Jesus’ redeems her soul – he sets Mary free

–         Now, instead of 7 evil dictators bossing her around and making her life a misery, she has one Lord – his name is Jesus and he is good

–         Jesus isn’t taking anything from her – he isn’t demanding any sort of repayment – she is free and chooses to use her freedom to serve him

 

Luke 8 tells us that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who helped to support Jesus and his disciples out of her own means

–         Mary followed Jesus, partly out of gratitude for what he had done for her, but also because Jesus gave her life meaning and purpose again

–         Not only that, but with Jesus came a community to belong to – other people who had been through similar experiences of suffering and redemption

 

John 19 tells us that Mary had been at the cross when Jesus died

–         This shows she had courage and was devoted to Jesus in a spirit of unselfish loyal love

–         Now, in John 20, we find Mary again, on Sunday morning at the tomb, ready to finish the job of caring for Jesus’ body in death

 

Peter and the other disciple return home but Mary stands weeping outside the tomb – This is bit like returning to the car when you are lost – it was Mary’s best chance of finding Jesus

–         Mary sits with her grief – she doesn’t rush away

–         She gives her soul time to catch up with what’s happening

–         You see, in losing Jesus Mary hasn’t just lost a good friend (as difficult as that is) – she has also lost the meaning and purpose of her life

–         For the last 2 or 3 years Mary’s whole life had revolved around Jesus

–         With Jesus she had a valued role, an important job to do

–         Now with Jesus gone there was this huge hole in her life

–         What was she supposed to do, where did she fit, what was her role now?

 

We can understand Mary’s loss in some ways

–         Maybe you’ve had the experience of losing a job or going into retirement and at the same time feeling like you’ve lost your identity a little bit too

–         Or when the kids leave home and you are no longer needed to take care of them – you find yourself asking, ‘what’s my role now?’

–         Or shifting towns and losing your networks of support and belonging – where do I fit?

 

Perhaps Mary was also afraid of the demons coming back now that Jesus had gone

 

When Mary looks into the tomb she sees two angels in white sitting where Jesus had been lying

–         The angels say to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

–         Their question suggests that sorrow is out of place

–         Mary explains: They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him

–         Mary’s concern appears to be that Jesus’ enemies have stolen his body to show further disrespect to him in death

–         However, the presence of angels is a clue that it is not robbers who have removed the body, rather what has happened stems from God’s power [1]

 

Mary turns around to see Jesus standing behind her (in the garden – outside the tomb) but Mary doesn’t recognise him – she thinks he is the gardener

–         Mary is still focused on the tomb

–         The photocopier of her mind is jammed with grief – she can’t get past Jesus’ death

 

Jesus repeats the angel’s question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” and then adds his own question, “Who are you looking for?”

–         But Mary doesn’t quite get it yet – her soul needs more time to catch up

–         So Jesus says her name, ‘Mary’

–         Understanding spiritual reality is a gift from God – we need God’s help

–         In saying her name Jesus is opening Mary’s mind to understand the reality of his resurrection

–         All at once Mary gets it and responds in Hebrew, their special language

–         (Speaking Hebrew like this shows the tenderness and closeness between them both)

 

Resurrection means transformation

–         It isn’t just that Jesus has been transformed though

–         Mary too has been transformed

 

You see, what we don’t pick up from reading the English translation is that Jesus spoke Mary’s name in Hebrew – everywhere else it is written in Greek

–         ‘Mary’, in Hebrew, is Miriam

–         Miriam was of course Moses’ older sister

–         Mary Magdalene, who everyone avoided and feared because of her 7 demons, becomes the new Miriam to the new Moses

–         Mary isn’t just redeemed – she is also transformed

 

Just as Miriam took care of her brother Moses’ needs, so too Mary had taken care of Jesus’ needs

–         Just as Miriam oversaw the baby Moses as he journeyed down the Nile, so too Mary had overseen Jesus’ journey from the cross to the tomb [2]

 

In Jewish society 2000 years ago women were not trusted as legal witnesses

–         And yet Jesus sows the seeds of social transformation by giving Mary the honour of being the first to bear witness to his resurrection

 

The Old Testament Miriam became a prophet bearing a message to Israel

–         Now the New Testament Miriam (Mary Magdalene) carries the most important prophetic message ever: Jesus is risen

 

It’s quite true what Jesus said: the first shall be last and the last shall be first

–         Mary had been last and now she was first

–         First to discover the empty tomb

–         First to see the risen Jesus

–         And first to tell the good news of Jesus’ resurrection

 

Resurrection means transformation

–         Jesus’ resurrection transformed Mary’s life

–         And Jesus’ resurrection transforms our relationship with God too

 

Jesus’ resurrection transforms our relationship with God:  

Upon recognising Jesus, Mary must have instinctively embraced him, for Jesus says: “Do not hold onto me because I have not ascended to the Father…”

 

These words of Jesus are easy to misunderstand

–         It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want to be touched by Mary

–         He’s not afraid of being contaminated before going back up to heaven

–         Rather it’s like Jesus is saying: ‘It’s okay Mary, you can let go of me now. There’s no need to keep hanging on – I’m not about to disappear up to heaven just yet. I plan to stick around a bit longer before I ascend to my Father – so you will get to see me again before I depart.’ [3]

–         Jesus’ words are a reassurance to Mary, a comfort (not a rebuke)

 

At the same time Jesus is also indicating that the relationship will need to change, for while Jesus isn’t ascending to the Father immediately he was still planning to return to heaven

–         Mary and the other disciples should not assume that Jesus’ resurrection means everything will go back to the way it was before

–         Jesus’ presence with his followers was about change

 

“Mary cannot ‘hold on’ to the way Jesus has lived and worked among them but must instead rethink the nature of intimacy with Jesus. It will be a new intimacy, a spiritual intimacy, realised in the coming of the Holy Spirit”  [4]

–         In other words, once Jesus does make his final ascension his presence on earth will be mediated through the Holy Spirit rather than a physical body

 

In verse 17 Jesus says to Mary:

–         Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’

 

Jesus’ brothers in this context refers to his disciples

–         The implication seems to be that Jesus’ resurrection transforms the very nature of our relationship with him and with God

–         Jesus says, God is ‘my Father and your Father’ – we have the same Father so now we are family

–         Jesus is the natural born Son of God and we (the followers of Jesus) are God’s adopted sons and daughters

 

Resurrection means transformation

–         Jesus’ resurrection transformed Mary’s life

–         Jesus’ resurrection transforms our relationship with God

–         And Jesus’ resurrection even transforms death

 

Jesus’ resurrection transforms death:

Let me tell you a story…

 

Once there was a rich young man

–         His father was a millionaire and the young man was in line to inherit his father’s fortune

–         Most people think that children who grow up rich don’t know the value of money because they’ve never had to work a day in their life

–         That’s not true – those who grow up with a trust fund know the value of money better than most and it generally causes them to despise it, if not themselves

 

This young man lost his mother when he was 8 years old

–         She died of a rare illness and despite many costly treatments there was nothing his father or the doctors could do for her

–         It was a painful loss at the time but it was also the making of him

–         When you have lost something money can’t replace it has a way of teaching you what really matters in life

 

Later, when he was in his 20’s, he met a girl and fell in love with her

–         They were married and for a short while he thought their lives were bliss

–         But it turned out she was more in love with his bank account than she was with him and she left for another man

–         The betrayal broke his heart but then ‘a heart that is broken is a heart that is open’ [5]

 

The young man continued working in one of his father’s companies but it didn’t matter how many hours he put in or how many good decisions he made or how good his golfing handicap was he still felt both lost and trapped at the same time

–         In other people’s eyes he would always be the boss’ son who had everything handed to him on a plate

–         His wealth & privilege was a cruel dictator – it isolated him

–         He felt alone in a crowd

–         People don’t have too much sympathy for you when you are rich

 

One day he received a letter from a child he had been sponsoring through World Vision

–         The child lived in an orphanage and was inviting him to come and visit

–         Sick of his job the young man got his vaccinations and boarded the plane for Uganda

 

He knew Africa would be different to what he was used to but nothing could have prepared him for the contrast

–         It was the smell more than anything that hit him

 

In a strange way though the young man felt more at home in the orphanage with his sponsor child than he did in his father’s board room or on the golf course

–         Over there no one really knew him so he was free to be himself without all the prejudice that went with being a millionaire’s son

–         He didn’t know poverty and hunger like they did

–         Nor did he know what it was like to be a child soldier

–         But he did understand what it was like to lose that which money can’t replace – he knew betrayal and loneliness well enough too

–         In a beautifully ironic way the things he had suffered in life became a nursery for compassion

 

The visit was meant to be for just a few days but the young man stayed on and helped out around the place

–         Turns out there were things his money was useful for

–         For the first time in a long time his life made sense

–         He felt like he had meaning and purpose and he felt like he belonged

–         By letting him in the young man’s sponsor child had also set him free

–         This was his redemption

 

The young man continued working in the orphanage as a volunteer for nearly two years and was happy until one day one of the children, whom he felt particularly close to, became ill and died

–         Unlike his mother though it wasn’t a rare disease – it was something that could have been easily prevented with a better health service

 

The young man was deeply distraught – he didn’t know if he could continue working at the orphanage

–         In fact he couldn’t understand why the others seemed to bounce back so easily – didn’t they know that death was the end?

–         They must have known – these kids had seen more death than most people and yet, somehow, they managed to keep their hope

–         But the photocopier of his mind was jammed with grief – he couldn’t get past the child’s death

 

After several weeks one of the nuns, who worked with him, noticed his thousand yard stare wasn’t going away and she sat with him for a while

–         She didn’t say anything at first – just sat there and listened in silence

–         Then she told him about the story of Jesus’ resurrection

–         The young man had heard the Easter story before but when she spoke, it was like he was actually hearing it properly for the first time

–         The lights went on and he finally understood – finally believed

–         Jesus’ resurrection transformed him

–         The resurrection changes everything

–         Because of the resurrection death is not the end – it is a new beginning

–         Jesus’ resurrection is the only currency that can restore those things money can’t replace

 

Conclusion:

Let us pray…

–         Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, your resurrection changes everything

–         Your resurrection has the power to transform our lives in the here & now, to make life worth living

–         Your resurrection also has the power to transform our relationship with God – making us His sons and daughters

–         And it has the power to transform death, from an end to a new beginning

–         Fill us with your Spirit we pray Jesus, so that we may live in the light and energy of your resurrection life. Amen.

[1] Gary Burge, NIVAC John, Page 555

[2] Ibid, page 574

[3] This is my paraphrase of Leon Morris’ thought in the NICNT on John, page 742

[4] Gary Burge, NIVAC on John, page 567

[5] A line from a U2 song, by Bono

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