My Mom’s Memorial Service Sermon (reconstructed from my notes)
I have preached at about 75 funeral, memorial, and graveside services. But I have never preached one like this. I have had so many thoughts about what to preach at your own mom’s memorial service.
I landed on John 20:1-18, it is one of my favorite passages – although I will not expound it in detail, I trust the Holy Spirit will help you to taste and see the saving goodness of Jesus.
John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.
2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.
4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first;
5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.
6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there,
7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.
9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.
10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.
11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;
12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.
13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because 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, and did not know that it was Jesus.
15 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.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (Joh 20:1-18 NAU)
We recoil from sadness and sorrow. We do whatever we can to avoid it, but sometimes it simply cannot be avoided. If we recoil from sadness and sorrow, we hide ourselves from despair. Whereas sorrow is frequently associated with a sense of loss, despair is a complete sense of loss, a complete absence of hope.
I think there is every reason to believe that this was the frame of mind and heart of the disciples after Jesus had been crucified. He was their great hope. Their lives had been changed – they heard about the forgiveness of sins and an everlasting kingdom. Jesus was the king, He was the hope of Israel – His teachings, His miracles had filled this rag-tag band of followers with hope. And then He was betrayed (by one of them), He was arrested, tried, condemned, tortured and then crucified. Hope, for the disciples, had disappeared.
Of course, He told them it would happen – but who really heard Him? Once He was betrayed, arrested, condemned and then executed, their hope was crushed. Still devoted, yes, but devoted to who? Devoted to what now appeared to be nothing but a memory. Devotion and despair make strange companions.
The Empty Tomb (20:1-10)
I. The Details of that First Morning (quickly)
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark, that is, she comes before dawn. Her heart was aching, she could not wait. The other gospels tell us there were other women with her, but John focuses on Mary.
When she arrives, she sees that the stone was already taken from the tomb. This would have been a big task. The large disc-shaped stone would have been in a slightly declining groove. The stone is rolled away and Mary assumes the body has been stolen (2).
Mary runs to Peter and John. Can you imagine her distress? She can’t even grieve properly for her Lord; His body is missing.
Peter and John respond (in vv. 3-6) The old-timer and young guy race to the tomb. I can’t help but to imagine this! Peter, being a little thicker has so much momentum he goes barreling past John who was already there, but looking in. The grave clothes are laid – notice John’s detailed description (7) This is not a case of grave robbing – no grave robber would leave expensive linens behind.
Peter and John are believing yet perplexed (8-10). But I want to focus on Mary.
Mary Magdalene (11-18)
Who was Mary? Jesus had changed her life, delivered her from demons. She had turned into a devout follower and supporter of Jesus the Messiah. The joy and hope she had found in Christ now seemed to be dashed to the ground. Grief and loss consume her.
Peter and John go home – but Mary isn’t going anywhere!! She wants to know where Jesus’ body is! So she stands, weeping at the tomb and she looks inside and sees two men. She has a conversation with the angels and Jesus (13-15)
DA Carson points out that the angel’s question “becomes an invitation to reflect on what kind of Messiah she was expecting, and thus to widen her horizons and to recognize that, grand as her devotion to Him was, her estimate of Him was still far too small.”
Notice Jesus’ questions, in essence He asks her, “Whom are you seeking?” Well she is in a cemetery. Who do you look for in a cemetery? You look for the dead. Mary is looking for the corpse of her Lord.
Her devotion is stunning, “Tell me where you put Him and I will take Him away.” This woman says through her tears, just tell me where His body is and I will carry Him away. Her devotion is so powerful, so moving. Do you not think that this touched our Lord’s heart?
What overcomes her blindness? What overcomes her despair? Jesus calls her by name (16). The Good Shepherd calls His little lamb by name! “Anguish and despair are instantly swallowed up by astonishment and delight.”
Ina flash, through one word, her world has just been remade, her shattered life just transformed. “Mary.” Oh how one little word from the Savior can change everything.
That is what happened on Nov. 3, The Savior said, “Linda,” and her world was remade and her difficult life transformed. The health struggles, the battles with depression, the terror of dementia, it was all transformed when He said her name and took her home.
Mary responds with wonder and affection, “Rabboni!” – My Teacher (MY OWN DEAR TEACHER). He’s alive! He is alive. The Living Savior makes everything whole.
Jesus’ instructs Mary in v. 17 and there is much here that is important, cf. Thomas’s experience.
But this is what we need to hear, “Now go to My brothers and tell them.” Mary is the first evangelist of the resurrection, “I have seen the Lord” (18).
My mom was our Mary Magdalene – she was the first one to believe in the Lord, the first one to know the Lord, the first one to point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, to give us Bibles, to talk about His grace. And now she is the first one to enter His presence.
Why does the resurrection come to us in narratives like this? Why not just a police report? The resurrection is historical fact (1 Cor. 15), but it is historical fact that intersects with real people!
The resurrection of Jesus smashes our despair and gives us life! “We have been born again unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).
Oh death where is your sting?
Our Resurrected King has rendered you defeated!
The resurrection of Jesus brings us unspeakable joy! Believing in the Living Jesus brings joy unspeakable” (1 Pet. 1:8).
“Christ has been raised. Day no longer is fading to black, but night is awakening to the brightness. Darkness is not suffocating the sun, but light is chasing away the shadows. Sin is not winning, but death is swallowed up in victory.” Dave Mathis
This is such good news that it needs to be shared.
My Mom turned to Jesus, the Risen Savior – she knew Him. She knew joy and she knew sorrow. Like Mary, she knew sadness and even despair. But after she met Jesus, her life was changed. Even as she continued to struggle in this life, meeting Jesus forever changed her.
She is now present with Him, and she too awaits the resurrection of the body, but until then, she sees His face.
Like she’s never known before
She is found, She is home
She is His forevermore
Jesus can cause your despair to disappear, your darkness to give way to light, He can free you from your sins and give your life joy and purpose. Only Jesus can do this.
To believe in Him is to be set free – Jn 8:31-32
To believe in Him is to have a future – Jn. 14:1-3
To believe in Him is to have peace – Jn. 16:33
Believe in Jesus, trust in Him, He is the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Him, though he dies, yet he shall live.