April 1, 2018
If you are with us today for the first time, or the first in a while, I wanted to offer a little bit of catch-up to give today’s story some context. We have been working our way through the Gospel of John over the past three months. As we’ve done that, we have seen some recurring themes, and we will see some of those today. A big one is the way John uses light as a metaphor for Jesus’s presence and for understanding, and darkness for lack of understanding or lack of Jesus’ presence. Remember on Christmas, how we lit candles in a darkened sanctuary, and read, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”? That was the beginning of knowing Jesus as light shining into the darkness of the world. So today, notice that when Mary gets to the tomb, it is still dark, but presumably gets progressively lighter as the sun comes up and more and more of what happened becomes clear.
Another important theme is that throughout John, people don’t just talk about Jesus – they encounter him. They experience him, and are changed by that experience. There is a reason Mary Magdalene tells the disciples not that Jesus is risen, but rather, “I have seen the Lord!” She tells her story, testifies about her encounter with Jesus, instead of recounting some facts. John’s hope is that in reading his Gospel, you will not have “learned about” Jesus, but rather, that you, too, will have experienced an encounter with him.
Some things to watch for in this timeless story. Now please rise for the Gospel of our Lord!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, I invited a special guest to share her story. Please welcome, Mary Magdalene…
To here this performed, listen here: Easter Sunday Sermon 2018
You know, people are always talking about how emotional I am. “That Mary, she’s always weeping,” they say. Well… that weekend certainly gave me something to weep about. Seeing my friend, my teacher, my love, my lord… suffer and die like that… it was a grief unlike I had ever experienced. And yet somehow, this time, I didn’t cry. It was as if the grief was too deep to deal with. It was in a place I couldn’t reach.
Have you ever felt grief like that? Or maybe, grief that you just didn’t let yourself deal with, so you kept a stiff upper lip and went about your life, plastering a fake smile on your face and acting as if everything was just fine, when actually inside your heart is in a million pieces? You just power through, and hope no one notices that you are walking around in a dark cloud of grief?
That’s how I felt that morning as I walked to the tomb. It was still dark, and I liked that. The darkness was a silent companion to my grief. The darkness seemed to understand that I didn’t want to talk about it, that I couldn’t, and it simply gathered around me as I walked to the only place where I might feel whole again.
Then I saw it – the stone, rolled away. That dark, dense cloud of grief around me didn’t allow me to think too clearly, and I jumped to the only reasonable explanation: body snatchers. Someone had stolen the body.
Well, I already had my guard up. I still didn’t cry. If I could bear his death, I could bear this. So I ran to where I knew the disciples were, and told them what I found. I calmly said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb. I don’t know where he is.” They looked at me like I was playing some sort of cruel practical joke on them. When they saw that I was serious, they took off running.
As they started toward the tomb, that’s when I could feel my façade was beginning to crack. Reality was sinking in. The Lord was gone, missing. It was loss upon loss, grief upon grief. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it together.
I followed them back to the tomb and watched as they went in, bit by bit, and saw what was inside – or rather, what wasn’t inside – before looking at each other and wordlessly leaving that place, in a mix of belief and baffled disbelief.
They went home. They left.
And that – that – is when I lost it.
Whoever knows why one thing or another will be the final straw, that one thing you can no longer bear. For me, it was those guys just leaving like that. No word to me, no attempt at explanation, no willingness even to stick around and just be together in this strange time. They just left. And I was so alone. I felt unknown, unseen, unloved. The loss of my friend, teacher, and Lord was enough. But this feeling was unbearable.
I wept so hard, from the very depths of my soul, as I stood outside the tomb.
I wept for the suffering I had witnessed.
I wept for the questions left unanswered.
I wept for the injustice of it all, for the unfair trial, for the Jewish leaders’ insistence that an innocent man should die. It was so unfair!
I wept for the generations of Jewish people who had waited for a savior, for all those who had put their hope in Jesus, and now found themselves once again floating in an abyss of waiting and uncertainty.
I wept for myself, for the tough life I had led, for the ways Jesus had saved me, only then to leave me behind in this cruel, dark world.
I wept that even now, when I went to confront my grief, he wasn’t even there.
I wept because I was alone.
It felt good, even healing. Those tears felt cleansing, as if all of my disappointments and fears and failures were contained in those drops of water that fell to the earth. With those tears, I suddenly felt the strength to enter the tomb. It felt like, like a need, to enter into that place of sadness and loss, to get close to it, get to the very core of it, to experience more concretely and deeply the emptiness Jesus had left behind.
Through my tear-soaked eyes, I saw two figures. They seemed almost angelic in nature, and as I remember it now, it doesn’t seem quite rational that they would be sitting there, but at the time their presence seemed expected enough. They said to me, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Why?… The question stung my heart, because I knew what had to come next: I would have to recount my pain, name it aloud. Until now I had only harbored it deep in my heart, where no one could touch it, but to name it would make that pain, the generations of pain I held – it would make it real.
The cleansing tears I had shed gave me the strength to speak it aloud: “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
There. It was out there. My loss. My emptiness. My pain. It was all out there for these strange men to see and do with it whatever they wanted. And it felt oddly good just to have said it aloud. The empty tomb had, in fact, given me some strength.
Having gotten what I thought I needed, I turned to leave and there before my swollen eyes was the gardener. At least I thought it was the gardener – it was hard to see because it was still a bit dark, and my eyes still bleary with tears. He, too, asked me, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
I heard compassion in his voice. This tiller of new life, this man who makes life grow, this gardener, seemed truly to care for me. Having gained some strength from voicing my pain a moment ago, I now felt I was in a place to ask for help, and I believed this man could give it. “Sir,” I said, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
The next moment was… I, I think it was just a couple seconds, but it felt like those few seconds held all of eternity. The sun crested over the hill, surrounding the man’s head, giving the sense of a light-filled countenance around him. It made me squint, it was so bright!
And at that moment, just as the sun crested, the sweet voice of my Good Shepherd spoke my name: “Mary.”
It was the sound of angels singing, the sound of love and joy and all things good. With one word, the pieces of my heart came together, the breath of life entered my lungs, warmth infused my whole body, and suddenly I was aware of the lushness and new growth of the garden around me.
I was known. I was seen. And oh, I was loved, by my Lord and my God.
Everything was different. Everything was possible. Without even taking
time to think or consider, I uttered, “Rabbouni!” Teacher! He was my teacher, and I was, I am, and I always will be his disciple. This was my identity. In that moment, as the morning light grew more and more intense, I dedicated all that I am and all that I have to living into the love that was before me, in me, and around me.
Jesus gave me some instructions, and I listened intently, then I went to live his command. I found Peter and John and all the others and fairly exploded: “I have seen the Lord! I have seen him! I know that he is real, and he is alive, and he is love, oh he is love, and he is light. I believe it is true because I have seen it with my own eyes and being. I have seen the Lord!”
I know that there is work still to be done. There is a mission to carry out. He commanded us last week to wash one another’s feet, to love one another with the same selfless love that he showed us. And we will. And I shall be strengthened every step of the way by the knowledge that resurrection is possible – not only from the physical tomb as Jesus was that day, but also in our daily lives. We experience resurrection when hatred is met with love, when kindness responds to vitriol, when everyday people step up to defend the poor and vulnerable among. We experience resurrection every time even a little bit of light can overcome the darkness. Yes, resurrection is possible, and it happens when we make the effort truly to see one another, hear one another, and know one another, and when we ourselves are seen, heard, known and loved. It happens when we speak to one another in love, calling each other by name. Healing is possible. New life, new beginnings are possible. New perspective is possible. Resurrection is possible.
We witness these things all the time, all around us! And when we do, when we witness such a resurrection, we see the Lord himself – I saw him in that morning light, and I have seen him many times since. I hope you’ll join me in testifying to these encounters, saying, “I have seen the Lord!” Say it with me: I have seen the Lord! Again: I have seen the Lord! Thanks be to God! Amen!