Easter Sunday: The Ultimate Forgiveness (John 20:1-18)

By Jackie Arnold

“Mary Magdalene at the Tomb.” See below for photo credit.

My son Rick asked me recently what I was up to. My answer was, “Well, I was asked to write a blog. I said yes, of course, because I don’t know how to say no. So, first I need to find out what a blog is.” He is used to that answer, so he laughed. It is wonderful at my age to learn new things. He gave a program on human trafficking recently and was surprised to learn I knew something about that too. It is amazing what you learn in women’s ministries, isn’t it?

My scripture for this blog post is John 20:1-18. It’s the story of Christ’s resurrection. Put yourself in Mary Magdalene’s shoes for a moment. She goes to the tomb to pray and finds the tomb empty. Thinking the body of Jesus had been stolen, she runs to tell someone and finds Peter and the other disciples. They don’t believe her.

How many times have you, especially when you were a child, had people not believe you? It’s very disheartening. It took Jesus several times to convince the disciples himself that he had risen again. It took Jesus three times to convince Thomas it really was Jesus. (That’s where the phrase “Doubting Thomas” come from).

Jesus said “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, even so I send you: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” Those are pretty powerful words.

I volunteered at the hospital for about 20 years. One day I met a new volunteer and the first thing she said to me was, “I understand you are a Christian. I just want you to know that I have done some really bad things in my life and I know God won’t forgive me.” I looked at her and was stunned. First, I didn’t know I had that reputation and, second, I was stunned that she was so adamant that God wouldn’t forgive her. Was she testing me? What was going on?

I looked at her and said, “Jesus forgave you when he died on the cross.” “Oh, not me,” she said. “I have done some really bad things.” I wanted to assure her that it doesn’t matter how bad you have been, God forgives you. All you need to do is ask him.

After that we had customers coming in and didn’t have any more time to talk. Unfortunately, I never saw her again. I have prayed for her often and wondered how she was. Sometimes we can’t convince others that God forgives. We just need to pray for them.

My pastor spoke of how important it is to remember those “quiet” ones: the ones who stay at home a lot, don’t get involved in anything, and don’t talk to many people. I thought of my sister, Judy. Some of you may know that she went to be with Jesus in December. Someone told me once if someone sneezed around Judy she would send them a “Get Well” card. How cool is that? If you know someone who is a “quiet one,” send them a “thinking of you” card or give them a phone call. Judy will look down on you and smile.

Jackie Arnold serves as coordinator of the Western Section of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.


Photo Credit: Keller, Albert von, 1844-1920. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46231 [retrieved February 28, 2018]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.


Easter Sunday–The Stone Is Rolled Away

By Mary Etta Copeland

This is the final post in our Lent/Easter series. To read past posts in the series, click on “Lent” in the tag cloud at the right.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…. As she wept…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus… but after hearing his words “Mary”, …she went to the disciples with the news ‘I have seen the Lord!’” (Selections from John 20: 1 – 18)

JESUS MAFA. Easter - Christ appears to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48389 [retrieved March 6, 2017].

JESUS MAFA. Easter – Christ appears to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48389 [retrieved March 6, 2017].

Throughout my just-completed 50 years as a choral director at the high school level, students became acquainted with my many quotations from a variety of sources. One with lasting impact comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Today we’ve arrived at a most significant point in our annual Christian pilgrimage, and while we celebrate amid great joy, the question to consider is what difference will this make in the coming year.

“Oh, my gosh! Look at all those Easter eggs,” said my four-year-old grandson, Jonny, as he looked out the window of a high-rise hotel. What those young eyes were seeing was not Easter eggs, but rows and rows of silk flowers marking graves in a cemetery. This memory from almost two decades ago brought two insights to my mind for this day of Resurrection: the excitement of what a child thought he saw, and the symbolism of the egg that we now recognize on this most holy of days.

While not specifically portrayed in the resurrection account, the egg has come to represent that huge stone blocking the tomb’s entrance and rolled away by the angels. I’m moved to recognize and admit to those stones which might be blocking the entry to living out God’s plans for our lives: stones of negative thoughts, such as “we’ve always done it this way,” or “what if it doesn’t work?” I am reminded of the distrust and fear we sometimes have of what God can and will do in our lives, churches, and AB Women’s Ministries Ministries groups; our blinded eyes and deafened ears to meanings of God’s plans and calls on our lives. I am reminded of the negative thoughts such as “I’ve done my share;” self-pride; indifference; selfishness…on and on come the echoes of stones blocking the living out of God’s call on our lives.

When we can actually recognize these stones blocking the fulfillment of God’s plans for each of our lives, in obedience to God’s call and with God’s leading, we can “roll the stones away!” With the same awesome excitement seen in the eyes and voice of a child, our lives can live forth that same echo…not just on Easter Sunday, but 365 days a year!

Mary Etta CopelandMary Etta Copeland is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of the Central Region.

It is Easter! Alleluia!

By Angel Sullivan

(c) 2009 Michael Used by Permission Creative Commons.org.

(c) 2009 Michael Used by Permission Creative Commons.org.

A few years ago, I planted a lemon/lime tree in my yard. For a long time the tree did not grow. It remained small and didn’t blossom; at one point, the little tree even appeared dead. My friends told me I should dig the tree up and throw it away. However, something in my heart said there was more life in the tree than anyone could see. It wasn’t until two years after the tree had been planted that suddenly it began to flower. Soon after that, there was an abundance of fruit.

The Lenten season can be this way. We go through dark and what may appear to be unproductive times in our lives. To outward appearances, we may look dead and some may think we should be cast out. However, the reality is that below the surface–in those dark, cold, lonely places that aren’t pretty and where no one wants to venture physically, spiritually, or emotionally–is exactly where God prepares us for a new life.

In the book of Isaiah it was during this time that God’s chosen people were captured by the Babylonians and their future was unknown. However, in Isaiah 65:17-25 God assures us that during the dark moments that there is hope. God says, “Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten” (The Message).

The Lenten season we have just been through gave us the opportunity to walk through the difficult journey of grief and pain, giving our sorrows over to God. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter morning—for embracing God’s gift of a new beginning in God’s given son, Jesus Christ.

So now, on Easter, we are able to celebrate that we are not cast out–we instead are able to grow sturdy and strong in God’s presence. Alleluia! All is not dead. Alleluia! We blossom and bear fruit in God’s love. Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is the national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Easter Sunday: “Do Not Hold On”

By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

Based on John 20:1-18


Photo by Angel Sullivan

I grew up in an environment with noticeable seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Spring and summer were the months when you could smell barbecue and flowers, hear the laughter of children and adults late into the evening hours, and play under beautiful tress with the warmth of the sun on your face. Everyone was living the fullness of life and, as a child, I loved those seasons.

However, those seasons wouldn’t last; the fall and winter seasons would always come. The clouds took over the sun, dimming its brilliance and turning the blue warm sky into a dingy grey. The air would become colder and suffocate the life out of the leaves of tress that once stood so tall and beautiful, and all the smells and laughter of summer and spring stopped. Then it would snow. And snow. Smiles were hidden under layers of parkas and scarves, and people didn’t even have time to say “Hi”: They had to walk as fast as possible to their cars or indoors to get out of the cold. It seemed as life had died.

As Christians we have spiritual seasons in our lives. We have times when we can praise God with laughter, we can talk to God daily, and we can receive a response. Every time we pray it is as if all that we asked for is given to us. Then, suddenly, it may seem, darkness takes over. God’s voice becomes silent, praise turns into questions, prayers into pleading. However, as an adult I have learned that it is in our dark seasons, the falls and winters of our lives, that God is stripping us, recreating us, so we can have a new praise, anointing, power, and appreciation of all of creation. When the winter comes, it is a way of giving rest to the land, preparing it for a new and different season.

When Jesus died on the cross, many believed that it was finished. But Jesus’ death was the beginning.

Jesus’ death and resurrection transcended Jesus’ ministry and teaching; past sea, continent, time and culture. Had Jesus not died, had he not gone through his dark season, we wouldn’t have had the resurrection. If, as Christians, we try to hold on to our spring and summer, we may miss the opportunity to transform, to fully appreciate life and experience God’s glory.

Photo by Sandra Hasenauer

Photo by Sandra Hasenauer

The Lenten season is a time to embrace the darkness of the fall and winter, the transition from warmth to cold, from light to darkness; knowing that what appears to be dead is no more than a time of preparation for something greater in your life. Easter Sunday is not the end of something, but rather, a beginning: the beginning of the joy of the resurrection, the transformation, new life.

Praise be to God.

This is the final post in our Lenten/Easter series. For previous posts, use the tag list at the right and choose “Lent.”

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is a commissioned American Baptist hospital chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital-BayCare Health System in Tampa, Florida. She serves as Mission and Events Coordinator (Adult) on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries.