Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.John 20:1-18
These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
On Good Friday, we pause to acknowledge the feeling we all have sometimes that evil is winning. That the creeping darkness will overtake us. That hatred and lies are shouting down the truth. That love is not really powerful enough. We all feel that. We’re all afraid of that. And as Christians we have a holiday when we willingly face that fear, our fear that no matter how good we are and no matter how hard we try, evil might win. That’s what Good Friday feels like.
But thanks be to God that’s not the end of the story. On this Easter Sunday morning, we celebrate resurrection: God’s assurance that no matter how bleak things feel, light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. Truth will out. Eventually, somehow, always love will win.
Which sounds awesome. And leaves us with the question, “What am I supposed to do with that information?” Like, really do for myself, with my own life. Do I just sit back because somehow everything’s going to be fine? The story we read this morning says “No.” This story tells us that once we have decided to trust that love will win, things are just getting started. Three things I want us to notice as we focus specifically on the part of the story with Mary Magdalene.
The first is that we will never experience resurrection if we keep trying to avoid facing the pain of death. If we don’t lean into Good Friday, we miss the fullness of Easter Sunday. And that’s hard for us. We’re busy. We’re too busy for rituals. And we’re sure too busy to face pain. In fact, we stay busy so we don’t have to think about things that hurt. Loneliness. A lack of purpose. Things we have done that we haven’t asked for forgiveness, and things that have been to us that we haven’t forgiven. We stay busy to avoid those things. But until we are willing to face them, they cannot be fully redeemed. Mary doesn’t avoid the tomb. She goes, weeping and weeping, with the intention of sitting with death. She’s planning to lean into the pain of losing the one onto whom she and her friends had pinned so many hopes. She doesn’t avoid the pain of death. She faces it.
The second thing is that we will not experience the fullness of resurrection until we are willing to turn away from our own expectations. God’s way of doing things is usually very different than ours. The one who is the Resurrection and the Life has way more creative ideas than we do about how to redeem the pain and suffering and evil in our lives and in the world. If we are open, God is going to surprise us.
Mary expects to find a body. When there’s no body, she assumes it’s been stolen. And even when she sees Jesus in person, she thinks he’s the gardener. The text says that it’s not until Jesus speaks her name, HER name, that she turns and recognizes him.
Friends I believe God longs to surprise us. The Creative Source of the entire cosmos is endlessly creative, but we limit what God does when we get stuck in our own ideas of how things should go. If we are unwilling to turn away from our own expectations of what God should do, we will miss out on experiencing the fullness of what God could do.
So, to experience the fullness of resurrection, the story shows us how we must first fully face our pain and fear and grief, and second we must turn away from our own expectations of what God should do about those things. And finally, we will experience the fullness of resurrection only when we share it.
When Mary recognizes Jesus, her instinct is to hold on to him. To say, “Oh thank goodness you’re back, now we can keep doing what we were doing before.” But that’s not God’s plan. Jesus tells Mary to let go of him and instead go share her story with the community, with the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Jesus sends her first back to the worshipping community, the gathered people of God. Not to the 12 male disciples, but to the full company of those who stuck with Jesus through the arrest and the trial and the crucifixion. This is not about Mary and Jesus; this is about what is possible in the world through the power of the community.
Jesus says that those people, and by extension us too, are his brothers and sisters. And that when he ascends he will be going to our Father and our God. Jesus is putting us alongside himself in relationship. And he’s not staying. Why? Because he doesn’t need to. Because he never intended to. Jesus came to show us what God is like and the plan always was that he would return to God’s realm and we would carry on his work, we would live as he lived, we would walk in his steps. This Christian life is designed for us to do it without Jesus in the flesh. It’s not a loss that we don’t have him here; it’s the plan! We are Christ in the world now: living, serving, loving, sacrificing, teaching, and speaking.
Mary goes back to her brothers and sisters and says, “I have seen the Lord.” This is her testimony. I have seen the Lord. This is why Jesus can go– because our testimony is powerful enough to reveal the reality of who God is.
What is your testimony? Where in your life have you seen the Lord? When have you heard God say your name? When have you felt the touch of the divine? In order to fully experience resurrection, we have to tell others about it. We have to say, “I have seen the Lord.”
Notice please that this is a personal testimony. We must tell others, “I have seen the Lord” not “You’re a sinner and Jesus died on the cross to save you.” That’s not a testimony, that’s not your personal story; that’s a dogma. And nobody has ever had their life changed for the better because someone spewed dogma at them. But a story? Your story? Your testimony about where and when and how you have seen the Lord? That’s powerful. That will change someone else’s life. That will reveal who God is and what God’s purposes are.
So this morning, if we want to fully experience resurrection we must first be willing to face our pain and sit with our grief. We must let go of our own expectations of how God should fix things. And we must speak our truth: “I have seen the Lord.”
Which is what we declare when we come to this table. “We have seen the Lord.” We believe that God is still speaking. The Holy Spirit speaks to us and through us, so the testimony about Jesus that we read in the Scriptures and hear from one another is just as real and powerful and saving as if we had each experienced him in the flesh. And this meal is one way that we bear witness. The oneness of the early church was demonstrated in the fact that they all ate together, regardless of race and class, because they were one in Christ. And that testimony is just as powerful today. Everyone is welcome at this table, because, beloved, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. People of all genders, all ages, and all races, come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.