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. 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.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
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 have 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 had said these things to her. John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from our resurrected Lord, our Good Shepherd, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the gifts that our shared ministry has brought to us has been the move to the Narrative Lectionary in both of our congregations. This has, at least for us, and I think for you at Shiloh, too--it has allowed us, first, to dwell more deeply into the rich traditions and stories of the Hebrew scriptures. Which were the traditions that Jesus and his disciples came out of.
It has also allowed us to dwell more deeply in one gospel. Often, in the Revised Common Lectionary, we would jump between Gospels, especially during festival times, such as Easter and Christmas. Dwelling deeply in John this year has helped to open up for me and, hopefully, for you, this Fourth Gospel that we know as John.
Here, at Grace and Glory, there has been a small group of us who have been more deeply immersing ourselves in John outside of what we have heard on Sunday mornings. One of the things that we’ve noticed in this gospel is the importance of location. Jesus moves around a lot. From Galilee to Jerusalem and back. And to places in between.
So, as I was reading our text for tonight in chapter 20 of John and as I was preparing to preach, it was impossible for me to ignore its location. A garden.
Now, unlike the synoptic Gospels, John’s garden is not the Garden of Gethsemane. It is simply, a garden. It’s first mentioned in chapter 18, shortly before his arrest. (Jn 18:1-2)
This garden, in John, is a place where Jesus and his disciples frequently went. A place for them to be together. To hang out. To be friends. It was a place of intimacy. A place of relationship.
It was also a place of safety. When Judas comes to betray Jesus, along with the soldiers and the Jewish police, Jesus goes out of the garden to meet them. Leaving the rest of the disciples behind.
And even when the altercation happens between Peter and Malchus, and Peter cuts off his ear, this occurs just outside the garden where the rest of the disciples remain, free from the violence that has just occurred.
Safe. Protected from harm. One’s mind goes back to the words that Jesus has spoken in an earlier discourse in chapter 10: “I am the gate of the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. They will have life. Abundant life.”
But the garden and its immediate surroundings are not only the setting for Jesus’ arrest, but also for his crucifixion and his burial. (Jn 19:41-42).
This is typical for John. Just when we have a sense of place--that this garden is a place of safety and security, of intimacy and relationship, the gospel writer tosses in a contrast. This place of life and relationship is also a place of death and the seeming end of intimacy.
John does this so well, this juxtaposition of contrasts: death and life, darkness and light, incarnation and ascension, humanity and divinity. All held so tightly together.
But the crucifixion and burial are not the end of John’s use of this location. It’s the setting for our text tonight. Mary comes to the tomb. Sees it open. And runs back to tell Peter and the beloved disciple that Jesus’ body has been taken away.
Then, interestingly, Mary returns to the tomb. In the garden. She meets the angels. And then, unknowingly, meets Jesus. In the garden. So, it's no surprise that she should mistake him for the gardener.
By locating the crucifixion and burial and first resurrection appearance in a garden, the gospel writer has taken us full circle back to the opening words of this Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” But, not only full circle to the beginning of John, but way back to Genesis--the reading we heard tonight. “In the beginning, God created…” And it brings our mind back to that first garden--the Garden of Eden. The place where God and God’s human creations abided together. Intimately. Lovingly. Abundantly.
This is what the resurrection points to and, particularly, the resurrection that is located in a garden. It is a message of life. Of abundant life with God. Of abiding. And intimacy. Of love and relationship.
While death may be the reality of life, resurrection is the promise that death is not the final end of life. That out of the darkness comes light. And life. Resurrection is nothing short of re-creation.
In the garden of the resurrection that morning, this is what Mary discovered. When, Jesus called her by name, there was recognition and intimacy. But, more than that, there was a re-defining for Mary. A re-creation of who she was. “Rabbouni,” she calls Jesus, using the very same title that the first disciples gave him. “Teacher,” she called him. Recognizing now that she, too, has been called as Jesus’ disciples. Because in John there are no set categories for who can be a disciple.
On this Easter eve, may you, too, hear your call from Jesus. Your own unique call. And may you live into it just as Mary did--as God’s new creation with a message to be shared with all the world. A message of love and intimacy and relationship. A message safety and hope. A message of life--of abundant life. Amen.
Fully. Intimately. Abundantly. As God’s new creation with a to be shared with all the world. Amen.
Preached March 31, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Daniel 3:1-29; Romans 6:3-11; John 20:1-18