April 17, 2022
John 20: 1-18
Mary Magdalene arrives at Jesus’ tomb in the early morning light. She wants to pay homage to her teacher.
Perhaps, out of a sense of devotion to Jesus, she has come to offer a prayer borne from the sense of profound grief she carries with her.
Mary Magdalene had been with Jesus through his ministry. She had been there when he healed … when he preached … when he made people whole. He had healed her and gave her a sense of peace.
Mary had witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross. She had witnessed his body being taken down … anointed and prepared for burial … placed in the tomb … a small cave, actually … and a rock rolled in front of the opening.
Except, when Mary arrives … the rock has been moved and the tomb lies empty.
“Grave robbers!” she thinks and runs to get the disciples.
She finds Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved and they all rush back to the tomb.
The disciples reach the opening … peeking in, they see the wrappings lying there. We hear that the Beloved Disciple saw and believed … only we’re not told what he believes.
No matter, confronted with a missing body and an empty tomb, the disciples return home. They don’t comprehend what they have witnessed.
Worse, they leave Mary alone in her grief.
She is almost inconsolable. Mary sheds tears borne out of despair and hopelessness.
Mary … who was among those at the foot of the cross who witnessed Jesus’ death … arrives at the tomb knowing that death is real.
She stares at the empty tomb wondering who carried the body away.
Mary is unwavering in her belief that death is the end. Because of this belief, her heart was empty of hope.
But Mary was wrong.
In the garden outside the tomb, Mary meets who she believes is a gardener.
The person asks Mary Magdalene … “Whom are you looking for?”
The question is a variation of the question that Jesus asks the disciples earlier in John’s gospel … a question that is often found within a seeker’s heart … “What are you looking for?”
Now, this man asks Mary Magdalene, “Whom are you looking for?”
Jesus makes these questions intimately connected.
She doesn’t offer a name … she just asks to know where she can find the body that was supposed to be found in the tomb. In the depths of her despair … in her grief, Mary cannot fathom the message of hope being presented to her.
The reality of the situation pre-occupies her mind … her tear-filled eyes can’t see clearly.
It is only when the person calls her by name … does she recognize Jesus … and begin to understand what has come to pass.
Jesus called her by name, and Mary recognized the voice of her Good Shepherd. He is alive!
He is risen!
The despair in her heart was gone in an instant and was replaced with hope.
You can feel Mary’s joy in the recognition … embracing him … holding him tight … to the point where Jesus says … “do not hold on to me.” In other words, don’t keep me to yourself.
He has somewhere else to be … but he calls on her to tell the disciples what she has seen and heard … what she has experienced.
Mary … unlike the two disciples … tells others of her personal encounter with Jesus.
“I have seen the Lord,” she proclaims to the disciples … even the two who just returned home rather than deal with the empty tomb.
In today’s story, God’s actions lead to recognition and then to proclamation. It is a process we are invited to practice and model.
It is when God is made known through the Word and through this loving action hope is brought into others’ lives.
In a podcast on this morning’s passage, Lutheran scholar Craig Koester said, “Resurrection is not the obvious answer with how you deal with an empty tomb.”
In the reality Mary Magdalene knows, death is a sorrow-filled ending.
We should not overlook that … in today’s story … the divine action … the personal encounter between Mary and Jesus … is realized in a garden … a place of life and of new life that is lying adjacent to a place of death.
It’s an interesting time for the greater church.
We come hesitantly back to the sanctuary … leery of the virus and of gathering with others. Two years of the pandemic has made us cautious.
Like Mary Magdalene, grief remains within our hearts. We wonder if we’ll get back to the way we were … to the life we led in pre-pandemic times … not just congregational life … but our personal lives, as well.
Memories are a comfortable anchor, but as we stand in the garden, and perhaps peek back into the emptiness of the tomb, we might not recognize the new life that is present and possible around us.
Resurrection brings forth a new creation. It looks to the future … and creates a hope-filled present.
When we … like Mary … carry our despair … our sense of loss or profound grief … we can find comfort in our faith in the resurrection … the faith in new life … in God’s abiding love.
In his suffering … death … and resurrection … Jesus gave us the gift of grace. And through this gift of love … there is hope.
It is that hope that has rippled out since that day … the joy of the risen Christ … transforming the world through the centuries … growing the community of witnesses to Jesus’ promise … reaching each of us here today. And it is that hope that will ripple out with us this morning as we continue to serve … to comfort … to welcome … and to love.
Christ is risen!