John 20:1-18 --
1 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. 2 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.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 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. 13 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.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 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.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 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.’” 18 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.
When I say the words Easter, and Resurrection what other words come to mind?
I expect, probably happy words?
For no two of us will our associations with Easter be identical. They have been shaped by a lifetime of experiences, involving different people, and different family rituals, and possibly very different religious communities. But for most of us, the associations will have something to do with brightly colored clothes, and pretty flowers, and affirmative declarations that “He is Risen!” They will include festive gatherings, and joyful songs, and chocolate – there must be chocolate! – and the general expectation that this is a happy day.
In other words, our associations bear very little resemblance to a story that starts in the dark, with confused searching, and a frantic race no one wants to win, and with weeping, and with questions, and with the desire just to have a body beside which to mourn.
Easter is so familiar to us, and Resurrection so expected, that it can be hard to remember how shocking it was… how hard it was to recognize. But on the first Easter morning, the resurrection that had already happened, was the hardest thing in the world to see.
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb that dark Sunday, in the stillness of the pre-dawn morning, because after hope has died the only thing left is love.
She came to anoint the broken, empty, lifeless body of the teacher she had loved, because love doesn’t die – not even on a cross.
She came to pour out on that body the oils and spices that would show he had been loved, that not everyone had abandoned him.
She came because his body was all she had left, and she needed to cry out her grief kneeling beside his body.
But then, his body wasn’t there. And this absence felt like the final devastation that was beyond bearing.
She brought her confusion and desperation to the disciples, and they came to see the empty tomb, but then they went away again, leaving her alone in her grief.
She went into the tomb – the last place that he had been – and two angels appeared. But her grief was so profound that she did not fall down in fear as people generally do in scripture when angels appear. She simply reported to them her final loss: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Jesus himself appears and speaks to her, but she is so consumed by the finality of death and loss, that she cannot see him for who he is. She can only beg him to lead her to the cold, dead, shell that is all she thinks she has left.
Until he speaks her name;
Until he calls to her as one who is personally known;
Until he reminds her of her identity – Mary – a name that means the one who sorrows, and the sea of bitterness, but also the beloved one, the shining star.
Jesus calls her name, and finally Mary recognizes resurrection.
And in that resurrection she is transformed, the one who sorrows becomes the star who shines the light of the good news for the world.
“I have seen the Lord.”
I am grateful that Mary is our guide into this resurrection story, because I think our actual, here-and-now encounters with resurrection look a lot more like tears and questions in the dark than they look like pastel Easter dresses and choral acclamations in a flower-filled sanctuary.
Well – maybe the flowers are about right. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The thing is, resurrection really is hard to recognize. For one thing, to get to resurrection, we first have to recognize the reality of death, and everything in our world is set-up to deny death. Entire industries exist to convince us that we can stay young forever
that our bodies don’t have to age;
that the right cleanse, or supplements, or health regime, or surgery, or body-shaping under garments… can stave off the inevitable truth, that our bodies aren’t made to last forever…
that sooner or later, they wear out;
that we, and our loved ones, will die.
We have to know the truth of death, before we can encounter resurrection. And we have to know this truth in an intimate way. We can’t just know death at the distance of social media videos that galvanize self-righteous indignation and debates about how to punish the perpetrators;
Death can’t be a blame-game, or a problem to solve;
We have to experience it in a way that knows life can’t just go on as before;
We have to know death in a coming to the tomb to anoint the body and grieve kind of way.
Because only in the darkness and the pain of mourning, can we know that resurrection is not the same thing as resuscitation.
When we hope for resuscitation, we just want things back the way they were before. We want a reversal of the problem, a restoration of the life we were perfectly happy with before it was disrupted… whether it was disrupted by…
or mental illness,
or money problems,
or the other political party,
or adolescent attitudes,
or prescription pain pills,
or declining membership,
or any of the other million ways our stability gets threatened and we start casting around for the right CPR protocols to bring back the life we want.
But Jesus is not in the business of resuscitation. Jesus does not promise to restore our old lives minus the disruptions. Jesus offers us NEW life. A NEW creation.
It’s no coincidence that the resurrection happens in a garden, and that Mary at first thinks Jesus is a gardener. After all, the garden is the symbolic center of creation. The creation story tells us that it was in a garden that God first breathed the Spirit of life into humanity. AND, in that same garden story, humanity chose independence over God’s care, and took the fateful step into death.
That’s why Jesus came to die and rise again in the first place… to start a new story.
To begin a new creation.
To offer us a NEW life.
But new life starts with death. Each flower on this altar beautifully witnesses to that truth. In order for each flower to grow, a seed had to the buried in the ground. It’s life as a seed needed to end, so that this beautiful, abundant life could break forth.
And the Christian life proclaims this truth in our baptism. In our baptismal liturgy we are reminded that our faith includes renouncing the ways of sin that draw us from God, and we give thanks that through the water and the Holy Spirit, God gives God’s daughters and sons new birth, and raises them to eternal life.
This is what resurrection is about, new life.
But it is hard to recognize. We can only see it when we stop thinking that what we need is for our old life to just get fixed. We can only see it once we have recognized that our old life leads to death.
Only then, with the streaks of our tears still wet on our faces, and the burial spices falling from our fingers can we hear Jesus say our name, and know that the old life we were mourning is nothing compared to the new creation he offers us.
When we hear that resurrected voice, we are transformed from mourners into messenger, who go out from the garden with the glorious announcement “I have seen the Lord!”
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!