By Grandpa Whit (1920)
John 20:18 “I have seen the Lord.”
In these words we have the first Easter Sermon. It will be observed that it is not by one of the twelve, nor by an apostle, nor prophet, but by a woman. And that in an age when woman’s standing was of the lowest. And this woman, Mary of Magdalene, was one who had been looked upon only with pity, if not contempt. There was not a single disciple of our Lord whom the disciples would not sooner have expected to be such an honored messenger.
Upon the first Easter morning, early, when it was yet dark in more senses of the word than one, the darkness without being nothing to the gloom with in the disciple’s hearts – Mary had made her way to the tomb, forgetful alike of womanly fears and superstitions, and horror of the darkness. Her object John does not here tell us. But doubtless it was to be near the body of her dearest Friend, the one who had brought her healing and happiness to her troubled life.
Through the darkness, Mary perceived that the stone had been rolled away. Without a gleam of hope, but rather with despair, she saw this, and bore the news to the disciples. John and Peter set out for the tomb – John, the younger, doubtless outstrips Peter and comes first to the empty tomb, where reverence detains him and he pauses looking down and in. Impulsively Peter enters, and John following they find the tomb empty. It is said of John that “he saw and believed.” What? Apparently their belief went no further than the statement of Mary that the tomb was empty. Merely an empty tomb- no matter of what emptied, or how – will furnish men with no great dynamic for preaching. Christ’s resurrection was to mean infinitely more than a mere empty tomb. They return to their homes puzzled, alarmed. Mary had not followed them into the tomb, nor did she follow them from it, but remained waiting. Why, she herself could not have told. But she waited, and her waiting was rewarded. Reluctant to leave, she stooped and gazed within, and there through the haze of her tears, she saw the messengers.
The disciples had not seen them. The curious eyes of even these closest followers of Jesus failed to reveal what the weeping woman saw There are many things we see only through tears. The Christian on his knees sees further than the philosopher upon the house top; through what the world calls blinding tears he sees truth unseen by the keenest sight.
The angels have surprise for the woman’s tears but not comfort, for behind her in the background, they see the figure of the Master standing in the ever characteristic attitude of waiting. They know well the comfort he will bring. When Mary turns, hoping to find the gardener, she does not know him till he speaks her name, but at that sorrow and sighing flee away as clouds before the sun, and the gloom of the night of despair is changed into sunshine of the first Easter morning. And Mary receives the commission which comes with every vision, and goes back to the city to preach the first glad tidings of the resurrection in the words, “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!”The meaning of the Easter Sermon. Mary in the exultation of her spirit could not estimate the full significance of the words uttered. Nor are we, after the lapse of nineteen centuries, fully able to realize the meaning of that all the resurrection means.
It means for one thing that at last death had been conquered. For the first time the power of the grave had been broken and it had given up its prey, not as a miracle by a divine command from without, but by its own overthrow. His resurrection meant the overthrow of death. He has become the captain of our salvation, and at his shout we will all respond, for he himself has won for us the battle.
Again, it proved that God accepted and placed thus his seal of approval on his work of redemption. We might not know that this was after all the Son of God, without the resurrection. Other men have given their lives for the truth, others seemed divine in the eyes of their infatuated followers, but Christ’s resurrection is the confirmation of that which we already know, that he is different.
Great and wonderful as these things are, the resurrections which Mary preached for the first time has yet another meaning. Over this we pause. Her simple statement “I have seen the Lord,” meant – though she may not have measured its significance – that the Jesus of Nazareth had become the Christ of universal experience – that the matchless Man of the first generation of the Christian era had in those hours become the Christ of all time. Death had not destroyed him or taken him away, but had rather freed him from the shackles of time and place, so that he who in his body could be in but one place, could now be every where. It is not for us to contrast the meaning of Easter, but this is not the least that Christ is risen and walks the earth.
The form of Mary’s sermon. It was the statement of a fact of personal experience. “I have seen the Lord.” There was no argument, no explanation, no citation of analogous cases, or quotation of Scriptures. No, nor any elaboration or her credentials as witness: Only – and that was enough – the plain statement, “I have seen the Lord.” This is the ideal form of a sermon and what every sermon should be, the statement of a fact. The world and men are asking for no metaphysical argument on the possibility, or defense, or explanation of the great facts of our faith. But they do demand a statement of them.
All Christians should be preachers of the resurrection. It is one of the very cardinal points of our faith. Many things are bound up with it. And we are called upon constantly to be preachers of it. Not perhaps in great cathedrals or large audiences, but nonetheless preach it. For every man or woman who takes upon himself or herself the name of Christian honestly, witnesses to a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this we must preach. We must declare that we will. Every true vision contains in it that which makes its beholder an evangelist.
But it was more than a declaration of a fact. Its objective side was there, but in the sermon, Mary there was the subjective side as well. “I have seen the Lord.” It is not the statement that the Lord has risen, great though that is, nor is it the declaration that others have seen him. It is not a second-hand information that Mary brings but her own personality is bound up with the message: “I have seen the Lord.”
Tell the needy and dying world that the Lord is not dead but is here, and that you have seen him, and hope will kindle in despairing hearts and men will rise up to serve God, saved by your vision. This is what the world needs, men and women to whom the great fact is that they have seen the Lord. This is what you must tell the world. You need not theories or argue. It cares little for your surmises, but tells that you have seen him.
Lastly, see how Mary gained her grasp of the truth that made her the preacher of the resurrection. Whenever a man or a woman has preeminently a message we know that some experience or another may be held accountable in a measure for this. We know that great heights are never gained with a struggle. And we know that in some way or another, there has been a reason. What could Mary’s be? Whatever we make out of the expression “Seven Devils,” (from Luke 8:2) we know that it was an affliction which robbed her of respect among her friends. The most unlikely for this honor.
It was love and only love which was Mary’s claim to this high honor. It was love for this man that brought her to the tomb, while others remained home. It was love that bound her to the spot there last she saw the body of her lord. No hope had dawned in her breast. A greater love than she wrote about hope and faith being two great things in the world. But love was the greater yet. And love had outlasted hope and faith, and here, as so often, proved itself the greater and the more enduring.