Sermon for Easter Sunday (March 31, 2024)

Gospel: John 20:1-18

How do you feel when you go somewhere and anticipate finding things a certain way, only to discover they’re not at all what you expected?

Maybe you visit a church expecting one type of service and instead walk into a different form of worship altogether. Perhaps you drive back to your hometown to look at the house in which you were raised or visit the old elementary school and find they’ve been dramatically changed or even torn down. While in town perhaps you try to surprise a friend you haven’t seen in years only to find they’ve moved.

With these and undoubtedly countless other examples from your lives, you might experience any of a number of emotions: sadness; disappointment; surprise; amazement.

Over this past week I hope you’ve tried to follow the full arc of Holy Week and perhaps put yourselves within the stories and readings of each day. I hope you’ve tried to experience what those in the Gospel readings felt, and saw, and heard. This morning, I want to invite you to do that once more. This time, I want you to put yourselves in the place of those in this reading from John who came to the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning – those who came for one thing and found something else entirely. As you reflect on the resurrection, how would you feel … how do you feel … when you see yourself standing before the empty tomb?

Mary undoubtedly set out that morning expecting only to find her friend … her teacher … her Messiah … in the same place where he’d been left after being gently lifted down from the cross and carried to the tomb a few days earlier. She likely never imagined there would be an interruption to her deep grief. I’d wager there were no indications that the unchecked sorrow weighing her down would dissipate.

Yet what was seen was not at all what she expected to find. She anticipated a stone blocking the entrance; she instead found the stone rolled away and the body … gone. She undoubtedly didn’t expect to see the raised Jesus standing before her … talking with her … calling her by name. Peter and the Beloved Disciple didn’t understand what they were seeing … or, to take it in a slightly different direction, they were confused by what they were not seeing.

I do wonder, too, as they were feeling perplexed and not understanding, whether they were feeling … if they were sensinglove?

The love of Jesus was present at the final meal with his disciples, a love for them and a love he commanded them to share. That powerful love was present at the time of his death, not only at the foot of the cross but on the cross during those final hours. Now, on this Easter morning, the love that had been present throughout the week leading up to his death was revealed in the most magnificent way of all. It was an incredible love that Jesus demonstrated in dying on the cross for the redemption of the world … and now, it was that same love, indescribable and powerful, that conquered death and the grave and was the driving force behind the glorious resurrection.

This love … the love of God that binds him to the Son … the love of God that is at the heart of all creation and the reason we are here … does something incredible. It reversed things. In the words of C. S. Lewis, resurrection involved “a series of changes moving in the opposite direction to those we see.”[1] It was a love that led God to raise “one man (the man who was Himself) from the dead because He will one day raise all men from the dead.”[2] Those who were there at the cross … those who laid him in the tomb … saw things moving in one direction: the direction of death, and separation. The plan of God was not visible, and it was that plan … already moving things in the opposite direction from what the disciples and friends of Jesus saw … that was put in place: the plan of resurrection and unification.

The resurrection that has been promised to us all.

But before that day of the great resurrection, I ask this: where do you see the moments of resurrection in your lives … now? Do you experience moments when you approach something in life … something that feels deep inside as cold as a tomb … something from which you may sense separation or isolation by a heavy stone of this world … and discover instead that stone is gone and the expected cold is instead incredible warmth?

Look for those moments, great and small, each day … those times when you may expect one thing and find something different … something even more incredible. When you find them, hold fast to them. Embrace them. Cherish them. For those incredible moments … those instances of resurrection … are the powerful, visible and overwhelming signs of love. The love that God shared with Jesus. The love that Jesus shared with the disciples. The love the disciples were commanded to show. The love that was present at the cross. The love that defeated death.

That love … God’s love … resurrection love … is given for you.


[1] C. S. Lewis. “Miracles,” from God in the Dock.

[2] Ibid.