A Sunrise Service Meditation

Text: John 20: 1-10
Context: Sunrise Service, First United Methodist Church of Lexington
Date: April 8, 2007

During my junior year in High School, I was a groomsman in a wedding. It was a big time for all of us when our Sunday School teacher, Malcolm, was married to the love of his life, Mavis. What was different about this wedding is that all of the groomsmen were juniors in high school and Malcolm was an old man at the time, about 30. Malcolm had arrived in town about two years prior and had taken right up with a group of youth of which I was associated. It took a while for our parents to become comfortable with the situation. Here is a guy who devoted much of his life to a group of guys almost half his age. But he made it his life’s mission for this season to come alongside us and help be a positive role model and influence in our lives. Out of the four of us who were groomsmen, Malcolm had a unique connection. With Colin, Malcolm shared a love of tennis. Lee and Malcolm enjoyed hanging out and were constantly verbally sparing with one another. With me, Malcolm and I had a spiritual connection that he took great pains to nurture, challenge, and encourage. But there was one of the groomsmen, his name is Britt, who shared a special relationship with Malcolm. The rest of us related to Malcolm like high schoolers to a role model, but Britt and Malcolm were peers. They had a give and take relationship that fed both of them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I can clearly see now that Britt was the only one who shared that type of relationship with Malcolm. No wonder he chose Britt to be the best man much to our chagrin! The rest of us were perhaps not ready or capable at this point. It didn’t mean that Malcolm cared for us any less, it just meant that he shared something with Britt that was unique and life-giving to both of them.

The gospel of John indicates that Jesus had this type of extra-special relationship with one of his “disciples”. In fact, the gospel writer points to a disciple “whom Jesus loved” seven times in the course of ten chapters. Many scholars have speculated about “who” this disciple might have been. Was it Lazarus? Was it John of Patmos? Was it someone else or a compilation of individuals? For our time this morning, I don’t care who this was and will not attempt to expound upon it. Instead, I want us to see a relationship that Jesus has with people whom he loves in hopes of finding something that might speak to us this morning.

The first time we see the mention of Jesus’ love for one of his disciples is in John 11.

NLT John 11:1 A man named Lazarus was sick. He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha. 2 This is the Mary who poured the expensive perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair.(1 )Her brother, Lazarus, was sick. 3 So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.”

Jesus and Lazarus were more than passing acquaintances. They were lifelong travelers. No where in Scripture does it convey the depth of emotion from Jesus like verse 35 that tells us “Jesus wept”. When we are confronted with the fact that we serve a Risen Savior who has the capacity to feel our level of pain and to share it with us.

Then the next time we see this phrase is in John 13.

NLT John 13:21 Now Jesus was in great anguish of spirit, and he exclaimed, “The truth is, one of you will betray me!” 22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 One of Jesus’ disciples, the one Jesus loved, was sitting next to Jesus at the table.(1 )24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask who would do this terrible thing. 25 Leaning toward Jesus, he asked, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus said, “It is the one to whom I give the bread dipped in the sauce.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry. Do it now.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.

Don’t you get a sense of the familiarity and camaraderie in this scene? Here Jesus and the disciple are sharing a couch together. They are reclining and enjoying a time of conversation and a meal. Hours before being betrayed, Jesus needed someone with whom he could relax and be readied for what was about to happen. Here was a confidante in whom Jesus could share his life.

Moving quickly to John 18 which details Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas.

NLT John 18:15 Simon Peter followed along behind, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the courtyard with Jesus. 16 Peter stood outside the gate. Then the other disciple spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in.

Here we see the disciples loyalty and sense of responsibility to Jesus. In the depths of his need, at the moment when almost all others had deserted him, this disciple remained committed to Christ. He used his favor within Caiaphas’ household to gain entrance in order to support Jesus to the end. It was this disciple who went outside and got Peter as far as the outer courts

At the foot of the cross the disciple remains true to the very end.

NLT John 19:25 So that is what they did. Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Woman, he is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “She is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus entrusted his most precious earthly gift and responsibility to this disciple, his Mother. Knowing that he would not be able to care for her as he would have liked, Jesus instead turns to the one person who has been committed, been steadfast, who Jesus has shared his life with and asks for one final favor. You don’t just give the care of your Mother away to just anyone. Especially since Jesus knew what a turbulent period of time that would take place after the third days. These were going to be hard times of persecution. Jesus needed someone whom he could trust and had shown steadfast love.

Without fail, the “other” disciple is one of the first disciples to learn of Jesus’ resurrection.

NLT John 20:1 Early Sunday morning,(1 )while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!” 3 Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. 4 The other disciple outran Peter and got there first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side. 8 Then the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed — 9 for until then they hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said he would rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

And are we surprised then that the this disciple is one of the first to witness the empty tomb? Of course not, God rewards faithful service and obedience time after time. It is only fitting that he beat Peter to the tomb. It is only fitting that his emotional relationship with Christ gave him a moments pause at the opening of the tomb. He couldn’t go in. Emotions must have overwhelmed him. He had known it in his head, but now his heart was crying out, “He is the Christ. He is the Savior of us all.” This disciple could truly say, my Friend, my Savior, my God.

A friend of mine had this quote on his blog site from Leonard Sweet’s book “The Gospel According to Starbucks”, which asks the question, “Is God a reality to be experienced or a belief to be remembered?” Could it be that the writer of the Gospel of John used the moniker, the disciple whom Jesus loved, to give you and me an opportunity to enter the story and experience what it must have been like to see Lazarus raised from the dead and hear Jesus ask Martha, “do you believe that I am the resurrection?” Perhaps the gospel writer creates space for us to have Jesus whisper in our ear, “it is the one whom I give the dipped bread” and then watch in horror as Judas leaves the scene. Or to be in Caiaphas’ court as Jesus is unfairly accused and beaten and sentenced to die. Maybe the gospel writer wanted to give us the opportunity to be at the foot of the cross in order to see Jesus’ love for us poured out through his shameful death. And to have Jesus say to us, take care of my people. And I believe the gospel writer would have it no other way than for us to hear the news from Mary Magdalene, sprint to the tomb and wait outside with our hearts beating through our chest as it dawns on us that our dear friend is exactly who he says he was.

Let us then, in our own way, experience and not simply retell the story . Let us run to the tomb this morning. That is what Sunrise Service is all about. Running to the tomb. Humbling ourselves before it’s emptiness, and earnestly begin looking for the risen Savior. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen just as he told you. And remember, Jesus promised that if we seek, we will find.