John 20: 1-18
Trending on Facebook these days, if you follow or are on Facebook is a sweet little video of a baby who sees clearly for the very first time or at least it has been on mine. I’d guess she is about 10 or 11 months old. As her mother tries to put on a pair of infant glasses the baby flails her arms and twists her head in protest.
But the mother persists and the glasses go on and when they do you see a changed baby. You see a baby that sees her mother and father clearly for the very first time. She is calm and she is grinning from ear to ear. It is such a tender moment, that moment of recognition of those who love you and care so deeply for you. It’s like you’re seeing someone for the very first time only with the same old set of eyes.
I think perhaps Mary Magdalene may have felt this way when she encountered Jesus for the first time after his resurrection. She didn’t recognize him at first but when he called her by name she knew instantly that it was Jesus, the one who took her in as a friend and loved her in spite of all of her shortcomings.
Let us now hear again the Easter narrative as recorded in the Gospel of John, the 20th chapter. Let us witness what happened on that very first morning…
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. 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.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
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.’” 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.
Who knows what Mary was expecting on that early morning when she arrived at the tomb of Jesus? But I bet you it probably was not what she saw. An empty tomb was NOT what she expected. Can you imagine the fear, the unknowing, the sadness, the panic all funneled into that one little second when she sees that Jesus’ body was not there? She wastes no time and runs back to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the beloved one to tell them the news that someone had taken Jesus away. He simply was not there.
Well Simon Peter and the other disciple waste no time. They hightail it to the tomb too, passing each other like a tag team in the Olympics. The beloved one reaches the tomb first. With trepidation he looks in and see’s the linen’s. Then Peter arrives only seconds later and dashes directly into the tomb and also sees the linen’s and the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. It was rolled up so nice and neatly. But no Jesus! What emotions could have flowed in their veins at that very moment? What thoughts must have darted through their minds? Well we don’t know, scripture doesn’t tell us. I suppose it’s just not important at the moment.
What is important is Mary. Faithful Mary. Loving Mary. Grieved Mary begins to weep. She peers once again into the empty tomb and this time sees only angels quietly sitting in the place where Jesus’ body should have been.
Her tears flowed, but then she hears a voice, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She didn’t turn around to see who had just spoken to her. She was fixated on the cavernous void in the tomb. In between the tears she says, “They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where.”
Then he calls her name, “Mary”. She turns. And at that moment, that very tender moment, she knew. She probably didn’t understand but she knew that Jesus was no longer dead but alive. She knew at that point that she was not left alone in the garden but had Jesus, her friend, her savior beside her. He who was tortured and maimed was now made whole. He who once was dead was now alive. In the calling of her name she need no longer lament, her salty tears can be transformed into tears of sweet joy.
This is such a tender scene isn’t it? You wonder how long it lasted before she went back to tell the disciples.
But, of course, the inevitable happens. The next morning comes like it always does and the question in Mary’s mind could have been, ‘Now What?’ Was this all a dream? Now what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to live my life now that I have seen the risen Jesus, now that I have heard his voice? In a nutshell for Mary he’s back, but his return does not constitute a return to the way things were, far from it. Everything was different now.
This is our Christian narrative. It begins with incarnation, when God becomes flesh in Jesus and culminates with his death and resurrection. With Christ’s resurrection everything is different. We see differently because we know that dawn follows darkness, that spring follows winter, and that crocus bloom after dormancy. That’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection cannot possibly leave you in the same place if you take it seriously. Like grace, as author, Anne Lamott says, it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.[i] It simply cannot.
Jesus’ resurrection does not leave us standing at an empty tomb wringing our hands, weeping our eyes out. What would be the point of that? Resurrection asks us, ‘What is life?’ “What is my life, what is your life?” ‘How will you choose to live the life that you are given no matter what has happened to you?’ How will you play the proverbial hand that has been dealt to you? Resurrection offers us hope and a new way to envision the future so that whatever life hands you, you can prevail, because you know life follows death.
You know, a lot of people live lives of missed opportunities and broken dreams. They simply cannot envision hope or freedom or a future that can possibly bring them any sort of joy or justice to this world. They linger in the darkness without ever coming out of the tomb and accepting the gift of resurrection light so they can see anew and that is lamentable.
Sometimes it’s hard, I know that. This is a very upsetting world and nation in which we live right now. I can hardly stand to turn on the news, turn on my computer or pick up the paper. Each day brings new events and there is so much to absorb that I am pained, weary, and angry. The bombings, the terrorism, the shootings close to home, the possible loss of affordable healthcare, the rise in anti-Semitism and the nemesis of cancer and addiction…it is hard to find hope when really everything seems bleak and discouraging.
A fellow UCC church in Virginia, Little River UCC had its Holy Week sign announcing services spray-painted with a swastika. A Holy Week sign!?! And the Jewish Community Center there had additional vandalism done to it. When did we, as a populace become so filled with hatred once again? What has unleashed the powers of hate rather than love? Yet in the face of all of this they didn’t cancel services, they chose to hold a vigil together to bring about healing and to come together as a community of strength. They chose the way of love. They chose to take this malevolent action and turn it into something healthy and healing. This, my friends, is resurrection.
And this is exactly why we need to remember the promises of Easter today. This is why we need to understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a way of living in this whacked out world. His resurrection gives us hope that there is a tomorrow, that justice can be the norm, that love can override hatred, and that life can follow death. So that when we wake up and are tempted to say, ‘now what’ we can turn that phrase and say, ‘what now?’ What can I do to change this world? What can I do to change my life? What can I do to live into the boldest statement that I can ever make, ‘Christ is Risen?’
So be at peace this Easter day and live into hope not fear, love not hatred, joy not sorrow. And may the spirit of God be present for you each and every day of your life.