Download or listen to Easter Sunrise, “Cling to Me” (John 20:1-18)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have not come to the empty tomb. Even though it is very early(!), we are not Mary, and this is not the tomb of Jesus. Mary came looking for a dead Jesus: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (John 20:2). What she is really saying is that they—maybe Joseph and Nicodemus, who put Jesus’ body there—have taken His dead body and laid it somewhere else. She, like John, did not yet “understand the Scripture that it is necessary for Him to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Why are you weeping, Mary? Because Jesus is dead, and now she can’t even find His body to prepare it properly for burial. She’s distraught, her nerves are frayed, and she cannot see that Jesus has done exactly what He said He would do, as He had promised through the mouth of David in Psalm 16: “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption” (16:10). It is necessary for Him to rise from the dead. He is risen indeed!
But we are not reenacting what happened that first day of the week. We are not Mary, and this is not the empty tomb. We do not hear the words of the angels in the other Gospels, that He is not here, He is risen. In fact, He is risen, and so He is here. That’s exactly the point of Jesus’ words to Mary: “Do not cling to Me,” He says, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). Everything was accomplished, but not yet fully delivered. Neither Mary nor the disciples could cling to Him as He was in those forty days after His resurrection. If He was to be the firstborn of many brothers, He could not stay with them in the same way. “Go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (20:17). That is not bad news; that is not Jesus telling them that He would no longer be with them. It is the same as the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28: “Look! I am with you all the days to the completion of this age.” No, Mary; no, disciples. You cannot cling to Me now. But you will! You can when I have ascended. My Father, who was your enemy in your sin; My Father, who had imprisoned the whole world under sin; My Father, whose holiness and righteousness condemned all sinners to hell; He is now your Father! Your sin is gone, your death has been defeated; you can come boldly into the throne-room of the King, and whatever you ask, covered by the blood of Jesus, your Father now hears you as if you were the Son Himself. He was only My Father; I was the only and unique Son, but now He is your Father and your God. I have opened a new and living way to God through the curtain of My crucified and risen flesh. That way is open for all sinners. And now I am ascending to My Father, and from there, in the almighty power of God, I will deliver to the whole world the salvation I have accomplished, the salvation that flows from the cross. I will give to all people the salvation that flows from the gaping hole I have torn in the grave. When I speak that Word, cling to Me! When I give you My crucified and resurrected Body and Blood, cling to Me! When I forgive your sins, cling to Me! In life and death, cling to Me only! And then, I will pull the one who clings to Me and My Word through the same open mouth of the grave. I have ascended to the Father, and all things are possible. “Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Christ hath burst the gates of hell. Death in vain forbids His rise; Christ has opened paradise” (LSB 469:3). Cling to Him and live!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/16/14