I want you to think of moments that are awesome, and full of joy. When the presence of God was so apparent you could touch it and taste it and feel it… Perhaps the birth of a child or a grandchild… perhaps sharing a special moment with a soulmate… perhaps a walk in a favourite place…. There are other moments… perhaps also filled with awe and love, but also full of pain and grief… the death of a loved one… terminal illness… crushing disappointment… There are in between moments, when nothing seems to be happening. Life is in a holding pattern… waiting for test results after a mammogram… hearing that a friend is lost in the mountains… no forward motion… just waiting… waiting… waiting…
And then there are our ordinary days… days that are filled with normal patterns and routines… days of satisfactions and pleasures as well as frustrations and irritations. And, in the middle of that kind of mixture, which is the story of all our lives, we have the story or stories of Jesus. Today we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, it’s from John’s gospel, in the 20th chapter.
20 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.
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.
Close your eyes and imagine you are Mary… put yourself in her shoes… imagine if you will the events of the past week… the parade into Jerusalem… the overturning of tables in the temple… the healing…the anointing… washing the disciples feet… the joyous Passover celebration… the denial by Peter… the betrayal by Judas… the mockery of a trial… the death… the burial… and then the Sabbath day.
Mary has experienced the entire range of human emotions in that short week as she accompanied Jesus… What is she feeling this morning as she goes to the tomb in the dark? You may open your eyes. In John’s account of the resurrection, we’re not told why she’s gone to the tomb. Perhaps like she wants to be close to his body, just like we visit the grave of a loved one, even when we know that the essence of them is no longer present. We don’t know.
The minister who preached at my ordination service may be surprised that I remember anything about what he said, but perhaps I remember because I disagreed with him! He said that when he encountered people who didn’t really know the Christian story, he told them that we had a Friday, Saturday, Sunday faith… That in those three days, there was death and waiting and resurrection… That we encountered life and death and life again… And while I thought that this was a nicely compact way of explaining the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I wasn’t quite satisfied with that… for it seems that in concentrating on those three days, he left out the three years of Jesus’ public ministry.
We wouldn’t have much in our New Testament scriptures if there was nothing about his life and teachings before his crucifixion. His life led to his crucifixion… His challenging of the authorities led to his crucifixion… His life, which was of a devout Jewish man, ultimately led to his death on a cross. His life, one in which he proclaimed that the greatest commandments were to love God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
And so, on this Easter morning, we have this story of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus… crucified as a criminal… put in a tomb… the stone shutting him in…. And the next morning something very amazing has happened… the stone has been rolled away… the tomb is empty… and Jesus lives… Even if not immediately recognizable… Imagine the shock and surprise of that morning…
Grief stricken from the events of the past few days, Mary went to the tomb and Jesus isn’t there! She runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple to tell them… at this point she did not know God had raised him from the dead… at this point, all she knows is that someone has taken his body away and she does not know where… The disciples run… in fact, the author of the Gospel of John portrays them as racing each other…And what do they do? They go inside the tomb… and when they realize that it is indeed, empty, they leave and go back to their homes… Are they disappointed? Troubled? Scared? The text does not say… Only Mary stays, faithful Mary Magdalene, a woman unfairly maligned by later church authorities, only she stays…
And blinded by tears and grief… she takes another look in the empty tomb… and finds two angels there… who say, “Why are you weeping?” That phrase is echoed by Jesus as Mary mistakes him for the gardener…. Her tear-filled eyes do not recognize Jesus. Until he calls her by name… Isn’t that the most wonderful feeling in the world… having someone you love calling your name…. And she recognizes him and then goes to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”
And she is the first witness to the resurrection! Imagine, in a male dominated world, Mary is the first witness!
What love! What courage! What witness!
Those are the terms of resurrection: Love, courage, and witness.
And that’s the terms in which we are invited to live resurrection now. We can do it because of Jesus’ life. We can do it because of Mary’s witness. And we can do it because we are part of a long line of disciples stretching back more than 2000 years that found a way to share their stories of Jesus with their friends and community. Love, courage and witness. We are living resurrection by making bold decisions to become North Dartmouth’s center of Faith, Love and Community! Jesus lives through us.
Thanks be to God for the terms of resurrection, amen.
Easter Sunday – April 17, 2022 – Stairs Memorial United Church
John 20: 1-18
Rev. Catherine MacDonald