“The God Story: A Twist Ending”                                                      April 20, 2014

John 20:1-18                                                                                        Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   In the God Story if you take the time to exam the four Gospels you will find that a large portion of each Gospel details Jesus’ last week on earth.

A.    Matthew is 28 chapters in length but seven chapters (a fourth of the Gospel) are devoted to what we refer to as Holy Week and what occurred after the crucifixion.

1.     Mark is 16 chapters in length and five of them concern those final matters.

2.     Luke is 24 chapters in length and four and a half chapters cover what happened in the end.

3.     John is 21 chapters in length and nine chapters cover the events to which I have referred.

B.     Jesus’ life lasted roughly 30 years, his ministry took place over three years and it is the last week of his life that gets the most ink.

1.     That tells you something about the witness of the Gospels and about the God Story.

C.     As the Rev. Jacob Armstrong writes in his companion book to The God Story “Everything about Jesus’ life on earth was leading up to this week in Jerusalem.” (p. 97)

1.     As we read along we know that something big is going to happen and on Palm Sunday it appears that things are going smoothly.

2.     Then on Friday the rug is totally pulled out from under us as the cheering crowd is now shouting “Crucify!”

3.     Our Lord is betrayed, the authorities put him through a mockery of trial, he is humiliated, beaten, abuse and finally put to death like a common criminal.

D.    I retrace all that today because in the human story very few of us are immune from major disappointments in life (Armstrong, p. 98).

1.     A number of us have experienced great tragedy when we did not see it coming. (Armstrong, p. 98)

2.     Have you ever had a day when everything was turned upside down and it turned into your worst nightmare? (Armstrong, p. 98)

3.     There is tragedy in the God Story which permits us to see our stories in the God Story.

4.     “God acknowledges and embraces our disappointment, our loss as we see God’s great loss in the death of Jesus.” (Armstrong, p. 98)

II.                 And all this is present in the story of Mary Magdalene in John’s account.

A.    For her the story was over.

1.     Mary had found hope and life in Jesus, but that had been wiped out.

2.     After all, Jesus himself had said, “It is finished.”

3.     It appears that Mary thought her life was finished too.

B.     Confused, despondent, maybe even depressed Mary approached the tomb because that seemed to be the best way to deal with the sorrow.

1.     But it is painful to go to a grave that signifies that it is over and we mark graves with immoveable stones to represent the finality of it all. (Armstrong, p. 99)

2.     But on Easter Mary noticed that the stone had been moved.

3.     “Oh no,” she thinks. “How can it get any worse? Now someone has stolen the body. Can things be any crueler?”

4.     That’s when Mary becomes aware that someone is with her.

5.     You had that experience – you pull up to a stop light and you become aware that person in the car next to you is looking your way or you thought your spouse was still at work when you realize there is someone else in the house and that your spouse must have come home early.

6.     Since Mary is in a garden she assumes the other person is a gardener.

7.     However, her greatest concern isn’t for flowers and trees but where to find Jesus’ dead body.

C.     And that is when this great, wonderful, magnificent story twists.

1.     “The gardener” says “Mary” and she knew who he was.

2.     Just like you know it’s your mom when she says your name on the telephone and when your child calls you from down the hallway.

3.     And that’s when Mary knew – it wasn’t over, it wasn’t done, he wasn’t gone, he wasn’t dead, Jesus was alive and he was right there with her.

D.    And this was good news not only for Mary but for all humanity because remember one of the earliest chapters in the God Story where sin had entered the perfect garden known as the Garden of Eden?

1.     Just like Jesus had cleansed the Temple and he himself was the true temple for in him dwelt the presence of God, so this Master Gardener by his own blood had cleansed and redeemed the garden from the deathly power of sin and from that garden of resurrection sprung life that extended throughout the entire creation.

2.     Only God could write a story like that and more significantly only God could make it a reality.

III.              As I close let me suggest that more than any other section of the God Story that you allow the Twist Ending to be the most vital part of your story.

A.    Instead of hearing Jesus speaking Mary’s name hear him speak your name so that you fully come alive.

1.     No matter what happens in life, even if it feels like it is killing you, hold on to hope.

2.     The personal message of Easter is that you are a part of the God Story, and your God has the power to do something you never expected to be done in order to save you. (Armstrong, p. 100)

3.     God did that in Jesus for you. (Armstrong, p. 100)

4.     The God Story shows us that God is not done writing.

5.      Allow God to twist your story so that in Jesus Christ you are truly part of God’s Story, a story that I think because of the resurrection we can say has no ending.