But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 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. 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." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 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 had laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 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.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord;" and she told them that he has said these things to her.
You can’t imagine what we had been through. Jesus was dead. Crucified. The worst of deaths physically, like hanging on the end of a rope for hours. The worst of deaths--personally, socially. For the worst of criminals, the outcast of society, tarred and feathered, Letter A on your dress for adultery, crucify him, you fraud, you cancer on society.
And we had put all our eggs in that one basket. Jesus. Especially me. It was I who said. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. I was the leader, or at least one of the leaders. The kingdom of God was at hand. But now. Well, the future was cut off. DEAD.
And then Mary Magdalene came on the third day. We were still sleeping in our beds. There’s some sense of comfort in sleeping in, and she came to me and John and said some grave robbers have taken the body. But let me tell you about Mary M. There was something about her. She could see into Jesus' eyes and know him. More than any of us, she knew his compassion, his forgiveness. She knew how "alive" he was. And the boldness of her devotion---well, it out shown ours last Friday. We ran. she stayed.
But now this crazy story- grave robbers- she was a woman, right, and so by definition, not be trusted to have accurate recall of events. We all know there is a reason that women were not allowed to be witnesses in the court. Mary M really loved Jesus. He had totally turned her life around, and so, I’m sure her emotions clouded her --- rationality.
Nevertheless, we loved her too and well, we humored her.
Ah, Peter. Yes, well, Peter and I have an interesting relationship. He often called me Mary M., just to distinguish me from all of the other Mary’s. I was the Mary who Jesus had healed from seven demons. After that happened, well, I and several other women followed Jesus and the rest of the disciples and helped take care of them.
In another time, we would have been considered their equals. Yet, in that time, we kept our place. But, with Jesus. Well, with Jesus it was different. There never seemed to be a distinction. In fact, at times, it seemed as though Jesus and I were closer to each other than he was with the others--with the male disciples. We were very close.
On that horrible day, when he was dying on the cross, I was there along with his mother and only a few others. I was there and witnessed life draining out of his body. His very life...
But, back to the story...that morning it was dark when I went to the tomb. There had not been time before sundown on Friday--the start of the Sabbath--to anoint his body. (This was something we women did. We never anointed men when they were alive--only when they were dead.) So, that morning, I went there in the dark to finish what we should have done before Jesus was placed in the tomb.
I arrived there just before the dawn. You know that time of day, when the light is just beginning to break through the darkness. It’s such a hopeful moment. Yet, when I arrived at the tomb, I was stunned. It was open! The stone had been rolled away!
My first thought was grave robbers. (They were becoming a big problem. They would steal valuables buried with the bodies.) I was heartsick. I immediately turned around and ran back to get the disciples--well, to get Peter and John. I trusted them.
Well, we ran. John got there first, and lo and behold, Mary M was right. The tomb was empty, John got there first, but he stayed at the opening, but I rushed right in. No surprise to you who know me. But it was a strange site for grave robbers.
Let me compare it to cicada shells. You know those cicadas. The 17-year locusts that come out of the ground. As a kid I would go through the woods and collect those shells they would leave behind. I liked them because they were evidence that a miracle had occurred. They looked dead, but they were just shells. Everyone one of them had a neat slit down its back, where the living creature inside of it had escaped, pulling new legs, new eyes, new wings out of that dry brown body and taking flight. At night I could hear their high song in the trees. If you asked them, I’ll bet none of them could tell you where they left their old clothes.
How like Peter, a man, to use a cicada as an example! Me, well, I might have used a butterfly--that beautiful creature that emerges from this brown, dingy cocoon. Cicada shells. Oh, Peter (shaking her head).
But that is what we found in that tomb. Two piles of old clothes. Mary didn’t even see it. She was crying--too emotional. She just saw the wide-open tomb and ran for us. “The body is stolen”- Grave robbers.
Only why would grave robbers have bothered to undress him first? When I went in, I saw the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was rolled up in a place by itself. Why go to that trouble if you’re stealing the body?
Me, emotional? Well, maybe.
Finally, he admits it. He WAS emotional. We were ALL emotional. Over the past few days we had witnessed our beloved Jesus tortured and mocked and, finally, crucified on the cross. We were devastated. And, on top of that, we were terrified. Why do you think I went to the tomb in the dark? We were afraid that we would be next.
None of it was making any sense.
Because, at that point, all we saw was the empty tomb. All we saw was a cicada shell. Really, we saw nothing, but emptiness and absence. It was a pretty fragile beginning. A mighty fragile beginning for a religion that has lasted 2000 years. Resurrection had to be more than an empty cicada shell, empty grave clothes and empty tomb.
As hard as it is for me to accept it, it seems that the rest of the story belongs to Mary. Thanks be to God for Mary M!
At the time, Peter and John didn’t know that I had quietly followed them back to the tomb. I followed them to see what they would find. They first saw ME when they came out of the tomb and I was there crying. After they returned home, I looked inside. What I saw then might have knocked someone else to their knees. There were two angels. Dazzling white. Dazzling bright. Yet, it’s as if I didn’t even notice their presence. My focus--my ENTIRE focus--was on the fact that Jesus’ body was gone. Gone!
They, then, spoke to me, and asked me why I was weeping. I told them why. Could they have even known how devastated I was? How grave robbers had taken the most precious thing, the only thing we still had--the body of our Lord and Savior? Why would they do something like that?
I turned to leave. As I did, well, there was this man standing there. He looked like a gardener. It seemed right to assume this. After all, Jesus’ tomb WAS in a garden.
He, too, asked me why I was crying? (Why is everyone so focused on the fact that I was crying? Really!) So, I was a little irritated when I told him. When, I accused him, really, of stealing Jesus body. I don’t think I actually believed he had taken it. I was just so emotional. And, then, he said my name. Mary. When he called me by my name, by my own name, by my very own personal name, well, then, I knew. I knew it was him. He was alive. Jesus was alive!
I said, “Rabbouni.” (This means teacher, it’s a title used by students speaking to their rabbi.) In that very moment, when he called me by my own name, I knew his voice and I knew I was being called--called into a new kind of relationship. That I was being called as his apostle. Called to share the news--to tell the others that he was alive! And that’s what I did. I was the first to tell them that Jesus had risen!
He had outgrown his cocoon (smiles at Mary), which was too small a focus for the resurrection. The risen One had people to see and things to do. The resurrection starts with the cry of grief, an empty place, but it’s all about a familiar voice. It’s tiny… like the fingers of a newborn. Seemingly insignificant.. Like the grain that lands in the clam’s open mouth. Often overlooked...like a gardener.
What happened in the tomb was entirely between Jesus and God. For the rest of us-- for you, resurrection, new life, really began the moment the gardener said “Mary.”
When that happened...when the crucified and risen Jesus called me by my name, well, I could feel God’s love poured into me--God’s unending, infinite love. It’s the same for all of us--when we hear the voice of boundless love speak to our loneliness, when we hear the voice of overflowing comfort speak to our hidden hurts, when we hear the voice of soaring challenge speak to our meaninglessness and busyness, when we hear the voice of abundant life speak into our cocoons of grief, fear, anxiety, illness, depression, and addiction---when we hear God’s voice speak to us, well, that’s when the resurrection begins for each one of us.
Whatever it is that causes you to want to curl up in bed in a fetal position and hope it all goes away. Whatever it is, whether it’s the threat of terrorism, fear-mongering leaders, overwhelming busyness, fractured relationships. Whatever it is.
Today. This day. This Easter day we are offered more than cicada or cocoon shells, more than an empty tomb. Our crucified and risen Lord comes to us in our baptism, calls us each by name and claims us as his own. (Walk to baptismal font.) “You are my child. You, my beloved, are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with my cross forever.
And in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, our crucified and risen Lord calls us each by name and offers life and promise. (Walk to altar.) This is my life, my loves. My deepest desire is to give it to you. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is all I have, given and shed for you.
(Preached on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, with Pastor Mark Docken.)