A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va.
April 2-, 2014.
“Good Morning!” Have you ever had someone say that to you while you were still deep in sleep? I remember as a boy when my mom would have to repeatedly call out my name and shake me from my slumber in order to get me to wake up for school. It can be a hard thing waking up in the morning, and while some of us get over that as we grow older, I daresay that there may be a few of us here who still have trouble getting up when we’re not ready.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, it seemed that Mary Magdalene was having the same trouble becoming awake on that first Easter morning. In those pre-twilight hours when it is darkest before the dawn, it was almost as if Mary was groggy and sleepwalking through a fog. She went to the tomb expecting to find a sealed tomb, with a dead Jesus inside. But instead of finding what she had expected, she found the stone of the tomb rolled away. Rather than going in to check things out, she ran back to the other disciples to tell them what she found. While both Simon Peter and the beloved disciple went inside the tomb, Mary stayed outside the crying. Finally, when she got up the nerve to look inside, she saw not only an empty tomb but two angelic beings dressed in white seated where Jesus’ body had been. She saw strips of linen lying about and Jesus’ burial cloth neatly folded up by itself. But in the darkness of the hour, Mary could not perceive what had happened. She then turned around and saw another man who asked her, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
So often, in our struggle to believe in this miracle called the resurrection of Christ, we envy those early disciples and their personal experience of the risen Christ. We say to ourselves, “Ah, if we only could have been there at the open and empty tomb, if we only could have examined the linens and neatly folded burial cloth, if we only could only have seen and heard the angelic beings, if we only could have witnessed Jesus himself in the garden, then we could truly believe in the resurrection!” But the fourth evangelist reminds us this morning that neither an empty tomb, nor angelic beings, nor even the appearance of Jesus himself was enough to awaken Mary to faith in the resurrected Christ. What brought Mary to recognize her Lord and led her to faith in His resurrection was simply one spoken word: “Mary!” Only when Jesus spoke Mary’s name did it dawn on her that Jesus was alive.
Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus is the One who speaks into the lives of people to elicit faith and life. At a well in Samaria, we learned that Jesus approached a Samaritan woman, who was an outcast in her community, and spoke to her. When she mentioned the coming Messiah, Jesus said to her: “I who speak to you am he.” Later in the Gospel, a man born blind was healed by Jesus and was asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man replied, “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said: “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by calling out his name in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” Throughout this Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls his own sheep by name, and his sheep follow him because they know and recognize his voice.
Several years back, I heard Tony Campolo speak at a pastor’s conference. He told the story of a funeral he attended at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, an African-American congregation in West Philadelphia. Clarence, a college friend of his had been killed in a subway-train accident. At the beginning of the service, the pastor brilliantly expounded upon what the Bible says about the promise of the resurrection and the joys of being with Christ. He made it sound so good, that halfway through that talk, Campolo wished that he was dead!
Then the pastor came down and spoke words of comfort to the family—personal, intimate words. Then he went over to the open casket and he did something incredible. He preached to the corpse. He said, “Clarence! Clarence! There were a lot of things we should have said to you when you were alive which we never got around saying to you. We’re going to say them to you now.” For twenty minutes, he went down this litany of beautiful, wonderful things that Clarence had done for people, and when he finished he said, “Well, that’s it, Clarence. That’s it! There’s nothing more to say. And when there’s nothing more to say, there’s only one thing to say. Good Night, Clarence!”
At this point, Campolo warned us pastors in the audience: “Now, don’t try this if you’re a white preacher because it won’t work.”
This black pastor then said, “Good night, Clarence!” and he grabbed the lid of the casket and slammed it shut. Boom! Shockwaves went over the congregation.
Then a beautiful smile slowly lit up the pastor’s face and he shouted, “Good night, Clarence! Cause I knooooowwww God is going to give you a Good Morning, Clarence!”
With that, the choir rose to its feet and started singing, “On that great getting’ up morning we shall rise, we shall rise!” Then everyone in the congregation stood and started singing, and dancing and hugging in the aisles.
Right then, Campolo knew he was in the right church! The church of Jesus is one that can take death and make it into a celebration through the grace of God!
In the same way, on that first Easter morning, Mary was awaken to a faith in the resurrected Christ when Jesus called out her name, “Mary!” The Eternal Word spoke a personal word that finally aroused Mary from the darkness of her night and brought her into the light of a new morning. It was a new world in which sin, pain, suffering and death could no longer contain the Son of God in a tomb of their making. Yes, on Friday afternoon, those powers of darkness seemingly gained an upper hand, but on that third day, when a new morning was dawning, God opened up the tomb and called out, “Good Morning, Jesus!” As Jesus came out of that tomb victorious over sin and death, a new day had begun for all of God’s creation!
Now, more than two thousand years later, God is still remaking the world. A new creation is coming and we’ve just begun to see and hear what God is doing. And while we can’t revisit that empty tomb on that first Easter morning, while we probably won’t encounter angels or the risen Christ in bodily form this morning, my prayer is that we will hear and recognize the voice of our risen Lord calling out our names: “Michael! Susan! John! Jennifer!”
I pray that we will recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd as He awakens and raises us to a whole new day in a whole new world—a world where the power of sin is broken, a world where pain and fear no longer bind us, a world where even death itself is overcome by life! On this Easter, may we respond to Christ’s call by waking up and opening our eyes to say, “Good Morning, Jesus! Good Morning, Jesus! Alleluia! Alleluia!” Amen.
Tags: Michael Cheuk, Sermons, John 20:1-18, Mary, proof of resurrection, voice of Jesus, awake, Tony Campolo.
 Also in print, Art. E. Christmas, Who Needs Me? The Christian Answer for Grief, (Infinity Publishing, 2003), p. 46.