March 27, 2005

Easter Sunday

"Future Perfect"

(Mark 15:1-8, John 20:1-18)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


Do you remember High School English class? Not English lit or American lit. I mean the class where they taught or tried to teach us all about adjectives and adverbs and dangling participles? One of the things I remember about English class diagramming sentences. It was then that we had to know all parts of a sentence and especially all the various tenses. Past, Present, Future and then there was one that always bumfuzzled people, the Future Perfect. According to the website,, "The Future Perfect expresses the idea that something will occur before another action in the future. It can also show that something will happen before a specific time in the future." (1)

Some Examples of Future Perfect:

By the time she gets home from work, he's going to have cooked an entire meal.

By the time Mom and Dad get my report card, I will have moved in with Grandma.

By the middle of June, Leslie will have received her diploma and have been commissioned.

As we look at the passages for today, remember and rejoice over the Good News of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, we're really looking at all the various tenses of life. We look at the past, what happened that first Easter, we think about the Future and the promises of God, then we'll look how the Risen Christ is working in our lives in the present. And combined, all these remind us of our Perfect Future or if you will, our Future Perfect life and faith.

Let's look at the passage of Scripture for today, John 20:1-18. (11:00 am watch video from Gospel of John)

[1] Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

[2] So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

[3] Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

[4] The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

[5] He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

[6] Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

[7] and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

[8] Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

[9] for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

[10] Then the disciples returned to their homes.

[11] But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

[12] and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

[13] They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

[14] When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

[15] Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

[16] Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).

[17] Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

[18] Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


A. Let's begin by looking at the past, looking at the story. Don't you know the grief of the disciples was overwhelming. They were certain Jesus was the Messiah. Everything He did and said pointed to His being the Messiah. The only problem was, they didn't fully understand the prophecies or just how far God was willing to go to secure our salvation.

The cross was totally foreign to their understanding of the role of the Messiah. So, when Jesus died on the cross, their hopes and dreams died with Him. And when Jesus was sealed in the Tomb, they thought their fate was sealed as well. Their grief consumed them.

Out of her love for Jesus, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week, Sunday, to give Jesus a proper burial because the one Friday night had been so rushed. And she found the tomb empty. What a shock that must have been.

Mary encounters the two Angels and sees the burials cloths lying there but still doesn't make the connection. Eyes full of tears, she turns to leave.

B. Then through her tears, Mary sees someone who she thinks is a gardener. But in answer to a repeated question about where she can find the corpse, the "gardener" says, "Mary!"

When we are baptized, the pastor or priest uses our name as we're baptized, Joe or Mary or whoever, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Our names are extremely important. Being named by a loved one can be a deeply emotional moment. We may even heard someone say or said ourselves: "I love the way you say my name." I personally love calling people by name when I serve Communion. There seems to be something far more Holy about saying, Luann or Jeff or Jeremy, this is the body of Christ given for you. Sometimes it takes people by surprise. Sometimes it wakes them up. Sometimes it's what draws them close to God.

It was in the hearing of her name, "Mary," by the risen Christ and seeing the empty tomb that woke Mary Magdalene and touched her deeply. Because, No one, no one at all, can say your name like Jesus. When Jesus audibly speaks your name, you listen.

Mary listened and then ran to tell the others the Good News of this day. "Jesus is Risen from the Dead."


And because "Jesus is Risen from the Dead," you and I have a wonderful future ahead of us. We no longer have to fear death. Nor do we have to live a life of sin, separated from the love and grace of God. We have been set free. The chains of sin and death that bound us and separated us from God have been broken. Our future is bright. Our future is grace filled. Our future is full of promise. IF, we will simply choose the way of Christ.

Jesus stands at the gate of our cell with the key to our future. Jesus stands at the door of whatever entombs us ready to roll the stone away and set us free. Jesus stand ready to shatter the shackles and chains that still bind us. All we have to do is listen and answer. He's calling your name.

And once you recognize Him, once you call on Him, this future is yours. A future that promises eternal life basking in the Love and Grace of God through Christ. No more tears, no more heartache, no more loneliness. Just Jesus. That's the future we're promised.


A. But the promise isn't just for the Future either. The message of the Resurrection isn't some pie in the sky that we won't be able to experience until after we're dead and gone. The Resurrection is something we can experience every single day of our lives as we walk in fellowship and companionship with Christ Jesus our Savior.

Do you how we know the tomb is empty? It's empty because Jesus is with us now. Just as the Gospels don't explain Easter. Easter explains the Gospels. The Empty Tomb doesn't explain the Resurrection, the Resurrection explain the Empty Tomb. The Risen Christ is with us, now, everyday. That's how we know the Tomb is Empty.

B. Down through the years, men and women have given the same testimony: Christ is risen. They knew, first hand, the tomb is empty because Jesus was risen. And they experienced the promise Jesus made just before the Ascension. He said, "Remember, I am with you always." That's the proof of the resurrection. That's the proof that the tomb is empty, Jesus is with us now, today. In whatever situation we find our selves. Jesus is there.

For example, Francis of Assisi. He was the playboy son of a rich merchant. When it was time for a party, Francis would gather his friends and pick up the tab. He was the life of the party. He also wanted to be the hero knight, fighting for Assisi. With the finest armor his father could buy, on a magnificent horse, Francis set off to win his glory.

Unfortunately, he got captured by the enemy. He got deathly sick as a prisoner. Recovering at home, God took over his life. One day, in prayer before the Cross of San Damiano, Jesus spoke to Francis: "Rebuild my church." And Francis set off to do just that, becoming the saint everyone loves.

Francis knew. The tomb was empty because the risen Jesus was right there with him.

C. St. Patrick gives the same witness. The risen Christ walks with us. Remember Patrick's the saint who converted Ireland to Christ.

According to the old custom, each spring to celebrate the new year, the king would light a new fire on the Hill of Tara. The day before, all the fires in the kingdom had to be extinguished.

One year the new year festival fell on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. What did Christians do then on the eve of Easter Sunday? They would light a fire, to celebrate Christ, the light raised from the dead. Patrick lit the Easter Vigil fire, a huge bonfire on the Hill of Slade. From his throne, on the opposite hill, the Hill of Tara, the king saw the flames. He was furious. Sent his soldiers to put out the fire. The soldiers tried. They poured bucket after bucket of water on the fire. And still, the flames burned high. No water would put out the Easter Vigil fire.

The angry king summoned Patrick. Patrick's friends and nobility told Patrick to wear heavy armor but he refused and instead, offered a prayer. And God protected him. You see, Patrick knew. The tomb was empty because the risen Jesus, the risen Christ is with him. The prayer of St. Patrick, in part, reads: "Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part."

D. John Wesley knew. On his dying bed, John Wesley's last words were, "And best of all, Christ is with us." In his dying breath, John Wesley knew the Tomb was empty because Christ Jesus was present with him in that moment.

E. Despite the media and political circus that has arisen around the Terri Schiavo case in Florida and in my opinion has profaned both the sanctity of life and death. And even though, again in my opinion, what is going on has little or nothing to do with God's will, the Risen Christ is still present.

I personally think Terri Schiavo has already experienced the Resurrection. I believe Jesus has spoken her name and she is now with Him. And I believe Jesus is standing outside the Tomb of grief and denial in which her parents have barricaded themselves and is calling their names.

And even further, I believe Jesus is calling our names and calling us to quit jumping on every bandwagon we see and using people and their grief or their situation in life for political fodder and gain or for media ratings. The Risen Christ is with us, even in controversy.

F. 33-year-old Ashley Smith knows, the Risen Christ is with us. Early on Saturday March 12, 2005, this single mother returned to her suburban Atlanta apartment from a nearby convenience store, she was ambushed by Brian Nichols. Nichols was the focus of the biggest manhunt in Georgia history. He was wanted for the murders of four individuals in a killing spree that began the day before.

In the hours that followed, Ashley began talking with her captor. She told him her husband had died four years earlier and that if anything happened to her, her five-year-old daughter wouldn't have a daddy OR a mommy. Nichols untied her.

She proceeded to pull out her Bible and a copy of The Purpose Driven Life. Nichols agreed to her request to read to him. She opened the book to where she'd left off, then began to read the first paragraph from Day 33 of the 40 Days of Purpose. The passage deals with the gifts and talents God gives each person to fulfill a unique purpose in life.

Ashley looked into Nichols' face and told him the he needed hope for his life. Nichols responded, "Look at me, look at my eyes. I am already dead."

She countered, "You're not dead. You're standing right in front of me. If you want to die, you can. It's your choice."

The she told him, "You are here for a reason. You're here in my apartment for some reason."

Attempting to get him to turn himself in, she said, "You need to be caught for this. You need to go to prison, and you need to share the Word of God with them, with all the prisoners there."

After hearing Ashley read from Rick Warren's book and observing her faith in God and her genuine interest in his life, Nichols was willing to contemplate turning himself in. Nichols told Ashley he believed she was an angel sent from God because he was lost, and that God had led him right to her. When he allowed Ashley to leave the apartment, she then called 911.

Ashley Smith knows, the Risen Christ is with us. He was right there in that apartment guiding her, strengthening her, speaking through her. The Risen Christ IS with us.


In Southern California we have Death Valley. A 140 mile long sun-parched gorge. Temperatures reach 134 degrees. Less than two and a half inches of rain fall a year. Any water quickly evaporates. This year Death Valley received a record six inches of rain. Suddenly, this bone-dry desert came to life. Seeds which had been dormant for years have burst into bloom.

I think the transformation of Death Valley by rain hints at the transformation which Jesus brings into our lives, through the Resurrection. Today we celebrate because Jesus Christ brings love into a love-starved world.

Strangely enough, the Gospel says, "the apostles didn't understand." Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. Like the disciples, who got there before her, she was confused, bewildered, frightened, filled with questions: Where is Jesus/ None of them understood, that Jesus "had to rise from the dead" so He could be with us. And when the Risen Christ is with us, we bloom in splendor and glory just like Death Valley has done this year. And it reminds us that despite the desert times in our lives, the future is perfect because of the promise of our own Resurrection and the presence of the Risen Christ with us, now.

As John Wesley said: "And best of all, the Risen Christ is with us." No matter what my English teacher might say, THAT, my friends, is Future Perfect.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.







Other References Consulted (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000) (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.