3rd Sunday of Easter April 26, 2020


Finding True Joy

John 20:11-17

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 40:10-31
Revelation 5:1-14


195, Worship Supplement 2000 #759, 196, 189

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Joy and happiness—these are things we all want. Unfortunately, we typically look for joy and happiness in the wrong places. Sometimes we take the old “Foghorn Leghorn” approach to happiness. Who is Foghorn Leghorn and what does he have to do with how we attempt to find happiness?

For those of you who don’t know, Foghorn Leghorn is a rooster; and not just any rooster—he’s a cartoon rooster that talks with a southern drawl and with a bit of a stutter. The “Foghorn Leghorn” approach to happiness is like one episode of the cartoon. Foghorn Leghorn was interested in marrying a widow hen, but she wanted to see how well Foghorn Leghorn would treat her little genius son. So, Foghorn Leghorn spent the day playing with widow hen’s son and one of the games they played was hide and seek. The little genius boy hid his eyes against a tree while Foghorn hid in a wooden box next to the barn thinking he had found the perfect hiding spot. When the little genius finished counting, he whipped out a slide rule and a piece of graph paper, scribbled out some calculations that would lead him to the exact spot where he could find Foghorn Leghorn. So, he grabbed a shovel and then proceeded to dig a hole in the ground at the spot his calculations had determined and, sure enough, out popped Foghorn Leghorn. Confused by the boy’s method of locating him, Foghorn walks over to the wooden box next to the barn and starts to open it. He stops, however, and says, “No! I better not look. I just, I say, I just might be in there.”

It’s kind of comical and brings a smile to our faces until we realize that this is basically how people attempt to obtain happiness and joy. We tend to think that we can find joy by our own planning and calculations and that happiness and joy will almost just pop out of the ground for us like Foghorn did for that little boy. But then we are surprised when all our efforts and planning don’t result in the happiness that we expected to find. So rather than joy, we find grief; rather than happiness, we find sadness.

Our text for today exposes this foolishness on our part and reminds us where true joy is to be found. We read from John 20:11-17:

Now Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 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.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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.’”

Who would blame Mary for her crying? We have all experienced a flood of emotions at the death of a loved one. However, just because we experience the same thoughts and emotions doesn’t mean Mary was justified in her crying, does it? In fact, from where we stand now, we know that Mary’s crying was, in fact, not justifiable. She was crying because, in her mind, Jesus was dead, and not just dead but missing. The reality, though, is that Jesus was not missing, and He was no longer dead. He had risen back to life that very morning, even as He said He would. Oh, Mary should have been at the tomb that morning, but not to prepare Jesus’ body for burial but to rejoice in His victory over death.

But, there stood Mary in her grief and sorrow. Through her tears she looks into the tomb and sees two angels—except she doesn’t recognize them as such—who ask her, Why are you crying? Then, Jesus Himself stands next to her and her grief is such that she doesn’t even recognize Him.

Being the Master Teacher and the lover of souls that He is, Jesus repeats the question the angels asked Mary: Why are you weeping? Of course, we know why Mary was weeping. It wasn’t just because Jesus was dead. It was because Jesus wasn’t where she expected Him to be. He wasn’t in the tomb. He wasn’t still wrapped up in those grave cloths. She was looking for Jesus so that she could carry out one final act of love for Him. She was looking for the wrong Jesus, though, because the true Jesus was not dead, but alive.

“Why are you weeping?” That’s a good question for us, too. What events or circumstances in your life cause you sorrow, sadness, and even tears? Is it a sickness? Jesus never promised that you would always be healthy. Is it the effects of aging? Jesus never promised that you would always be young. Is it your finances? Jesus never promised that you would be wealthy. Is it the moral and spiritual state of things in our society? Jesus never promised that this world would slowly, but surely get better. If such things are causing you grief, then it’s time to stop and ask yourself, “Am I, like Mary, looking for the wrong thing? Am I looking for joy and happiness in the wrong place?

We must beware the false gods we create in our minds and beware the false happiness that we ascribe to them. Idols aren’t always made of wood and stone. They can be as common as the wrong expectations we create. If we expect that having God in our life will always leave us happy and ahead of the other guy, we have the wrong God. Jesus does promise us joy and happiness, but it is not the kind of joy and happiness that we too often long for. It is not the joy and happiness of having all our temporary desires filled, but the joy and happiness of being in a right relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins. It’s the joy of knowing God as our kind and gracious Father who promises to take us home to live with Him forever by the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In the midst of her tears, Jesus showed Himself to be the true source of joy for Mary, and He did it in a most unique way. He spoke her name. He said, Mary. Suddenly her sorrow was over! It was a magnificent moment of reunion and recognition. Her Lord, who had suffered and died on the cross and whose lifeless body was laid in the tomb, was now alive. Tears of utter grief and bewilderment were suddenly turned into tears of joy.

As I considered the text, I thought about how Jesus might have spoken her name, I came up with a number of ways. He could have said it as a kind of chastisement: MARY! He could have spoken it as a way to get her attention: Mary? He may have spoken her name with a sympathizing tone: Mary. Any of those would have been suitable ways, but the one I like to think of the most is a calm, inviting, loving: Mary. However He spoke her name, the point is that He Himself sought her and gave her a reason to stop crying tears of sadness and start rejoicing. This same Jesus who had, upon the cross suffered and died for her sins and the sins of all the world, had now been raised for her justification. In calling her name, Jesus was inviting her to find in Him true joy and happiness.

Just so, Jesus has sought us out and called us by name. In the Sacrament of Baptism, Christ came to you, called you by name, and invited you to enjoy and rejoice in all the benefits of His resurrection. In your instruction in the Word of God, in your home devotions, Sunday School, Confirmation Class, Bible Class, and the preaching of God’s Word from the pulpit, Christ sought you. Even right now He is calling you by name, calling you out of your sorrow, whatever its cause, and inviting you to see Him as the one who lives, as the hymn-writer put it, to wipe away all your tears.

Our text ends with this most comforting words from Jesus: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. With these words, Jesus assures us of two precious truths that keep us looking past all the things that cause our pain and suffering. By saying that He is ascending to His Father and our Father, Jesus assures us that He is true God, the one who rules all things in heaven and on earth, the one whose word upholds all things, the one who is full of grace and truth. Then, He adds, to my God and your God.These words assure us that Jesus is not ashamed to be called our brother. He shared in our human flesh because of His love for us and through his death and resurrection, gives us the right to be called sons of God.

This is the Jesus who has sought us, not to merely show us the way to God, but to be The Way; not merely to point out the cause of our sorrows and tears, but to be our source of joy. This is the Jesus we find as we search the Scriptures, a living Jesus who gives us reason to rejoice even in the midst of our sorrows. Why are you crying? Whatever it is, Jesus affords you a joy that outshines even the worst circumstances of life. Don’t seek joy and happiness among the dead things of this world but seek it in the one place it is to be found, in the living Christ. And seek Him where He has promised to be found, in His Word and Sacraments. AMEN!

—Pastor D. Frank Gantt

Zion Lutheran Church
Loganville, GA

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