20 Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. 4 They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. 5 Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in.6 Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8 Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
Jesus appears to Mary
11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
Jesus with Martha and Mary
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death.20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.”29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled.34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb
38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
Thoughts on the passage:
During Lent we explored six of the seven miracles or signs of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The last miracle is when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It seems fitting to look at this last miracle on the same day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ resurrection is a triumphant moment in our faith story. What we can forget is that it also is meant to herald a promise of resurrection for us as well. We do not just celebrate Christ’s resurrection because he has new life. We celebrate because in it we are offered new life as well.
There are a lot of parallels between the two stories that go beyond the raising of someone from the dead. John is very clearly using the death of Lazarus to foreshadow Christ’s own death and resurrection. Biblical scholars have spent pages and pages expounding on these connections. Rather than dive deep into that material I want us instead to merely hold these two stories together in our minds this morning. The new life we are offered in Christ is not merely a point beyond death it is also a new life that is available to us today.
The role of the tomb is a great contrast between the two stories. There is great fear and sorrow around the tomb of Lazarus because people are certain of what is to be found inside. Jesus weeps when he encounters the tomb. Martha pushes back on Jesus when he suggests moving the stone because she is afraid of the smell. She knows the stench of death, grief, and loss, will be waiting for her in the tomb. By contrast, the tomb of Easter is empty. The stone has already been rolled away. Now the fear is not in what lies behind the stone, but the uncertainty of what an empty tomb means.
All of the disciples, Peter, Mary, and the unnamed beloved disciple, all find an empty tomb and assume that the lack of body is not the sign of a resurrection. We do not really know what the men think, other than the scriptures are clear they do not yet understand that Jesus has been resurrected. Mary Magdalene’s thoughts are much clearer. When she encounters Jesus, she mistakes him for a gardener and asks where the body is taken. Her assumption is that someone has come and moved the body. Her fear at the empty tomb is rooted in a lack of understanding and a fear of the unknown.
That I think is the big difference between the two stories and the insight I want to drive home today. In the resurrection of Christ, our fear comes from the unknown. We do not really know what this empty tomb means, and we are afraid of what might come next. By contrast, in the resurrection of Lazarus, we are not afraid of the unknown, we are afraid of the known. We know behind the stone we will find death.
We have probably all seen a children’s message or a sermon illustration that uses the idea of the egg as symbol of the tomb. Plastic Easter eggs make a great vehicle for this because we can leave them empty or put a message in them, or maybe even candy if we want to give the kids (and adults) a little treat. I want to use a similar but different example today, the geode. For those of you who are not familiar, a geode is a kind of rock that contains a hollow cavity, lined with crystals. Most of us have probably seen a geode at one time or another even if we did not know the name of it. Usually we will find a geode cut in half so that we can see both the outer shell of the rock, but also the beautiful crystals within.
The image of the geode has been speaking to me a lot this Easter season as I think about these two stories. In many ways the geode is the Easter egg of the rock world. What is really striking to me is that until you break a geode open you do not know what will be inside. Found in nature, a geode looks like a boring rock, with little outward signs of the beauty that lies within. It is only once the rock is cut or broken open that we can see its inner radiance.
It is probably not surprising, but you can buy geodes kits online. Several companies will happily sell you a bag of rocks and sometimes even a hammer to break them open. You place the rock in a sock and smash it with a hammer. Then you take out the fragments and if you are lucky, inside you will find something beautiful. From the reviews posted on these various sights it is clear that there is not a 100% success rate for finding picturesque geodes. It is probably not surprising but there are a lot of duds, especially given the price you pay for the rocks. There is a certain amount of fear that goes into breaking open one of the rocks. What will you find when it opens? Will you get a perfect geode with a nice open space and beautiful crystals, or merely the dull greyish brown shell and nothing of value in the middle.
Easter is about challenging that uncertainty and fear. Christ’s resurrection is a breaking open of the stone and a revelation of the beauty inside. Our fear of the unknown is replaced with a message of joy and celebration. The courage we must confront the empty tomb and hear the message of Easter is a song for our souls. The refrain to that song is a message of God’s love for us that transcends our fears, doubts, and sins, and speaks to the beauty that God sees within us. We need to hear that refrain because too often we do not see that beauty in ourselves.
I think we are more like Martha. We are standing not at the tomb of Lazarus, but at our own tombs. We are begging Jesus not to roll away the stones in our lives because we are ashamed of the stench of our own sin and death that will confront us when the tomb is opened. We are afraid of letting Jesus break open the geodes of our hearts because we do not believe we will find any crystals inside. We know that we are not worthy of God’s love. We believe that inside us is nothing but dull rock.
The message of Easter is one of new life. Despite our fears God rolls away the stone. What we find inside is not death but new life. What we find is not the stench of our sin and our failing, but an empty tomb and a promise of resurrection. We need to know that inside each of us is a complex, unique, and beautiful crystal structure that God has seen, and that God loves. We need to know that nothing we can do to ourselves or to God can destroy that beauty. Our fears are powerful. It was fear of Christ that caused the crowds to turn on him and crucify him. It was fear of the unknown that kept the disciples from searching for answers at the empty tomb. It was fear of the known that kept Martha from trusting in Christ’s ability to offer new life.
Let us set aside our fears of sin and death. Let us believe in the power that Christ has to offer us new life. Let us have the courage to find the empty tomb and believe in the resurrection. Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah! Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Hallelujah! Let us go forth and share the message of Easter with world!
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to you when Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life?
What are the tombs in your life that you are scared to let Jesus enter?
Where do you experience miracles of resurrection?
God, you are the resurrection and the life. Help us to believe in you when we stand outside the tombs in our own lives. Help us to see the beauty in ourselves that often escapes our notice. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Amen