Updated: Apr 19
John 20: 1-18
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was a ludicrous idea. Mary, leaving in the early morning hours of that first Sunday to go to tomb and anoint the body of our Lord. It was ludicrous for her to do this by herself. How would she move the large stone laid in front of the doorway? What if someone grabbed her in the middle of the night? While the text does not say why she is there, other gospels say that the women go to tomb on Sunday to anoint his body. Perhaps she is going to do this. Or perhaps she comes to the tomb grief-stricken. Regardless, i think it is pretty clear that she isn’t thinking clearly. Her Lord, her friend, her teacher was brutally murdered, betrayed by one of her friends. His death is only three days old in her mind. She hasn’t had a chance to really process all that has happened. His death was so sudden. They go from eating a meal with him to him being arrested, tried, convicted, and murdered. Her arrival in darkness is a sign that she does not yet understand that Jesus was to rise from the dead. But as she got closer to that tomb, her already shatter-world broke even more. The stone had been moved.
She runs to get help but Peter and John hardly understand what is going on either. “John reports that after each went into the tomb, they “saw and believed.” Believed what?” That Jesus recovered from his injuries? Unlikely. Rome was pretty good at making sure those condemned to death were actually dead. Jesus wasn’t in some kind of coma and he somehow recovered three days later. And the only person who had any success of bringing someone back to life was Jesus and he is now dead. Most likely, Peter and John left the tomb believing someone had robbed the grave and taken the body of Jesus away—they leave with just as much sorrow as when they arrived because they were not in a position to go to the authorities. The authorities were coming for them next. Who could even help them?
Weeping in sorrow, Mary’s world was made ever darker by her Lord’s body being missing. In the midst of her grief and sorrow, in the midst of her tears—Mary did not see the light that had already come into her world. Then, two men appear in the tomb. They questioned her, but the darkness of despair was thick around her. They ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” where did they come from? Are they the thieves ready to attack her next? Again, someone from behind her ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She doesn’t recognize Jesus. For whatever reason, John doesn’t necessarily say. But it is in this moment of exhaustion and grief that she says exactly what she understands is happening at that moment.
She says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She believes Jesus has been taken away by some robbers, or maybe the gardener. She just wants him back so that she might give him a proper burial. But you can’t prepare a body if isn’t dead. For unbeknownst to her, the body of the slain, crucified Jesus is not dead any more—he is alive. In the darkness of the morning light, the light of Christ shines with the brightness of the sun and quickly overshadows her darkness when Jesus says to her, “Mary.”
In an instant, her grief is quickly replaced with joy and her sadness vanishes. He’s back. In the flesh. The wounds are still visible on his body but he is alive and standing in front of her. And she so much wants to hold onto Jesus. She wants to hold him in this moment and never let go, because it is in this moment that her sadness has been replaced with joy. In this moment, all the cares of yesterday and Friday are gone. All that matters is that in this moment in time, the powers of death have finally lost their hold on us, and her friend and teacher who was once dead is now alive. All she wants to do is live in this moment—but she can’t.
None of us can. We can’t stay here. We can’t stay in the garden with Jesus. You can’t stay here, in this moment, because there is a world of people out there who have not heard the good news. They have not heard that death has been vanquished. They haven’t heard the good news that God has redeemed them. They do not know that the grief and shame that feel as a result oftheir sin that they feel has been taken away. For our Lord, their Lord, is not dead. Mary was told by Jesus that she can’t hold onto him but instead, she needs to go back and tell the others who have no clue what is going on, that he is risen. Mary is tasked with being an evangelist, a preacher, the first one to tell the world, to tell the church assembled in grief and longing that we have indeed seen the Lord.
My dear friends in Christ, there is a world full of people out there who are living as though every day is Good Friday. They are stuck at the foot of the cross atoning for sins that were long forgiven by Jesus. There are people out there who think their best days are in the past. They go on and on saying, “Oh back in my day…” and “The whole place has gone to pot” instead of seeing the good that God is doing here and now. There is a church, who continues to think that everything was great before March 14, 2020. Oh yeah, things were great at church. We didn’t have any budget problems back then. No, church life was so fine before Covid just like it was fine 50, 60, 70 years ago. There is a church who still thinks its best days are behind themselves instead of seeing the potential ministry opportunities that await them.
2000 years ago, Mary encountered Jesus in the garden and her life was forever changed. She was a church of one who went back to the others lost in grief and despair and told them all that she had heard and seen in the garden. From that single individual 11 more heard the news. And the news, the good news spread.
We are a people of resurrection. Anding being a people of resurrection means that we can’t continue to weep and hold onto what use to be or onto the idea of what use to be. Holding onto what use to be doesn’t allow the for resurrection to take place. Yes, death is hard and letting things that need to die is very hard because it feels like we have failed, but Death brings resurrection. What needs to die in your life? What needs to die in our church? Think about that tonight/today but I want you to remember as you think about what you need to let die, remember God knows how resurrects the dead. It is not the task of the church to remain in the garden and weep for what use to be. It is not the task of the church to hold onto the old Jesus; hold onto the way things use to be. It is the task and duty of the church to proclaim the good news: Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again. Lent is over. Good Friday is in the past. Today is a new day. And I invite you to wipe the tears away from yours, to live into God’s new resurrected reality, and proclaim the good news: Alleluia, Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!