Sermon for Easter Sunday 2017

The Rev. Geoff Lee preached the following sermon for Easter Sunday 2017:


SUBJECT:  The nearly-empty tomb 

BIBLE READING:  John 20.1-10  



John’s Easter story begins with what happened when disciples came to the burial-place of Jesus and found that the tomb was wide-open and no body within.  They were three very different followers of Jesus: Mary who was in a panic having arrived while it was still dark and found that, apparently, grave robbers had got there first; Peter who  boldly entered the tomb but who was completely uncomprehending;  John, quick, hesitant, but very discerning. Three very different disciples.  Which are you?  All of them, probably, like me.



The two men came running probably from a distance.  They didn’t keep together: John was younger and fitter, Peter was older and slower.  And Mary Magdalene seems to have fallen behind a long way back.

SO JOHN ARRIVED FIRST.  He stood at the entrance not liking to go in.  He could see where Jesus’ body would have lain if He had been there.  The grave-clothes were left lying on the stone shelf but the corpse of Jesus he expected to see gone.

THEN MIDDLE-AGED PETER CAME PUFFING UP.  No hesitation about him – he went straight into the tomb. He saw the grave-clothes too but there was something about them he didn’t understand.  He couldn’t put his finger on it though.

THEN JOHN VENTURED INTO THE TOMB. The story says “He saw and believed.”  His Bible hadn’t taught him that Jesus would rise from the dead, but he was pretty convinced.  He understood what he saw.  The grave-bandages were lying there just as they were when Jesus was in them, the bandages round the body and the head-band separate at the top.  Just as if His body had passed through them, as if He had evaporated right through them.  He understood.  Jesus had risen.



They were the only things left to see in the nearly-empty tomb.  It told them everything,  It was a resurrection.

MARY’S THEORY that someone has stolen the body was disproved right away. That winding sheet round His body must have been yards and yards long.  It would have been wound round and round Jesus like an Egyptian mummy, enough to wind in 100 lb weight of powdered spices.  And of course if anyone had taken His body they would have taken it bandaged up.  You could tell from what you saw that there had been, not a removal van but a resurrection.

IT WAS NO ORDINARY RESURRECTION EITHER.  Do you remember the scene when Lazarus was raised from the dead?  The disciples knew because it had happened only a few days before, and only two miles away at the village of Bethany.  What happened there was that Jesus had called Lazarus forth out of the grave, and he came staggering out “bound hand and foot with grave-clothes.”  He was helpless and they had to set him free.  But Jesus didn’t come out of the grave helplessly.  There was no need for anyone to “loose him and let him go.”  He left all the grave-clothes behind, in the grave, where they belonged.

AND HOW DID HE LEAVE THEM?  Not in a disordered heap.  And not folded away either.  Just collapsed where they were.  Just as Peter said afterwards to the crowd at Pentecost “God raised Him from the dead because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him”(Acts 2.24).

AND THAT IS WHAT JOHN SAW AND BELIEVED.  I expect he had to explain it all to Peter.



We are here on the anniversary of the first Easter Day.  Where does our faith stand on this?

LIKE THOSE DISCIPLES WE HAVE NOT SEEN JESUS EITHER. They had not seen the risen Lord.  If they had bothered about Mary and find where she was, and stayed to comfort her, they would have met Jesus like she did.  But they didn’t.

THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS IS A BIT TOO MUCH TO GRASP ALL AT ONCE. I think that John helped Peter.  We do not believe automatically.  We have to “come to faith”.  And sometimes our closest friends help us to believe.  Someone told you about it long ago.  You gather with believers.  That makes it easier for you to believe.

AND OF COURSE THERE IS ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO SHOW THAT JESUS IS RISEN.  For the disciples, how else could explain the grave-clothes.  For us, how do you explain how sad people get such comfort? How do you explain how Christians find reality in prayer?  How do you explain that people choose to suffer in prison for years and be tortured if there is no Jesus?

IT’S TIME TO OPEN OUR MINDS AND SEE THE TRUTH. Jesus is risen from the dead.  And personal evidence will come to you as it did to Peter and John at the end of the day.



Did you notice the strange ending to this part of the story, which shows the kind of people we are.  I think that verse ten is such an anti-climax, which shows even after the resurrection it is still hard to do the right thing.  “Then the disciples went back to their homes but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”  They had seen evidence that Jesus had risen and believed it.  It was not yet all revealed to them at once.  There was a lot more to learn about the resurrection and a lot more for them to learn about how to live.  I deliberately used the phrase that full clarity came “at the end of the day.”  Meanwhile they just went home.  They had not yet seen Jesus.  As I said, if they waited they would have. But meanwhile they didn’t even think of sharing what they knew with the other disciples.  They just went back to their own homes.  Incredible!  They went home to have their breakfast…. leaving a crying woman standing in a garden.