John 20:1–18 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
(Mt 28:1–10; Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12)
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.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look 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, “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.
I have been a bit vulnerable the past few weeks, letting everyone know just a bit about my approach to scripture and how I start engaging with it. At times I find it difficult to move through scripture. I begin to read and I just stop. I go back and read again and stop another time. So, I sit with it for a while. This week was no different. My intentions were to focus on the miraculous event that is the resurrection. And I am sure I will get there, but for some reason I had a detour.
Today we meet together with Mary. There is much to be said about Mary. She is one of those mysterious people in scripture. We might think we know something about her but so much of that knowledge is steeped in tradition and legend that it is difficult to consider if it is accurate or not. The only things we know for sure is that she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus and that they together were friends of Jesus. Pretty much anything beyond that are academics musings to entertain those that have too much to think about anyway. She and her siblings were engaged with the ministry of Jesus. Jesus visited their family estate many times during his travels and it might be said that their home in Bethany was the administrative center of Jesus in Judea. Mary and Martha severed Jesus, they provided food for him and his disciples. We even have a glimpse into their family life when Martha complains that she does all of work while Mary sits at the feet of the Rabbi.
Jesus was Mary’s teacher. This is something that is pretty radical. It would not be surprising that Lazarus would be a student of the teacher but in that era of history women were not educated by the Rabbis, yet Mary was there sitting at Jesus’ feet. She was an eye witness to one of the greatest miracles of history when Jesus came to Bethany to mourn the loss of his friend, her brother, only to call Lazarus from the tomb. Jesus was her complete hope; his life and his wellbeing was central to her mind. For her, Jesus was life there was nothing else.
This is why I kept getting detoured. Jesus was her life, and at that moment in her mind everything she was living for died. How often do we sit with Mary in this place? How often do we find ourselves in a place where all hope is lost?
Mary goes to the tomb early Sunday morning, to do the one things left to do. She goes to honor the dead. Imagine what would be going through her mind. Imagine your life through her eyes. Most of us have been there. Most of us have latched onto a dream and watched the dream fade. For many of us we are living in that place right now. We live in this place where what once was no longer is. We go through the motions of life, we try our hardest to live what is left of that dream, and we see the darkness closing in around us as if the large stone is being rolled over the opening of the tomb our dream is buried.
For Mary and all the disciples all hope was buried that Friday night, it was laid down in the darkness all through the sabbath on Saturday, and now as the sun begins to rise they are attempting to make sense of where their life went. For three years they had thought they were working for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. They thought they were serving the very messiah they had waited for from the beginning of time. Yet just three short days earlier the world’s systems hung their king from a tree, the most dishonorable way to die. Where do we go from here? Fear begins to creep in, the teachings of this rabbi start to diminish because the power of the world seems to be greater than the hope contained in faith. Fear is the tool of the world, it is where the world wants us to live, because when we live in fear we can be controlled. We willingly allow walls to be built to protect us from unknown demons only to find that those that wish to torture reside in ourselves. So often we live in fear. We live entombed in the darkness. We live yet we don’t, we exist in a dead faith. A faith built on human ability and wisdom. A tomb that is only as big as we allow it to be, and with each moment we allow fear to reign it closes in tighter.
Mary, at that moment was lost in the darkness. Her life was buried with Jesus. She slowly walked to the place where her hope was laid to rest, the weight of it all pushing her shoulders down, making it hard to even breath. Flashes go off in her memories, memories that should make her smile and laugh pierce her heart. She imagines how the mother of her teacher must feel. She arrives to face her fears, to enter that cool darkness only to find the stone removed. Confusion catches in her chest. Thoughts fire in a million different directions. And she runs. Breathlessly she finds the disciples and tells them what she saw and she follows them back to the tomb. Peter and John arrived before her and she watches John stop at the mouth of the cave and Peter enter. They see the cloth used to wrap the body, the cloth still stained with the blood of their teacher and friend. They are puzzled by the covering that was over the head being rolled up separate from the rest of the cloth, but they cannot explain it. Fear again grips them. Whatever did this would soon be coming for them. Peter and John leave and Mary slumps against the stone at the opening looking in and the tears begin to flow.
So often this is where we stay. We live in that place between life and death, merely existing. The past few weeks I asked some questions, “what do people see when they look at me, and what do people hear when I speak?” I have read countless books, I have listened to countless messages that reside in this place between life and death. I have listened to people promoting the Christian life using the wisdom and tools of the world, and the results are exactly what we would expect. Reports of diminishing churches, reports of legal battles defending and demanding rights, people calling for war to defend faith. The church so often lives in that moment between life and death, remembering the past, fearing the present, and praying that there will not be a future.
Mary through her tears looks again in the tomb and sees two figures sitting on the bed of the dead. She not only sees them but they speak to her. They ask, “Why do you weep?”
Why do we weep? Mary mumbles and answer. It doesn’t matter why she weeps. Life for her is over, she begins to just count the breaths till her last. She turns away, not even realizing that she was talking to angels. Unable to recognize the amazing events around her, because she is consumed by her own hopelessness. As she turns another person asks her why do you weep? At this time, she is probably about to throw punches. If one more person asks her this…I weep because life is not what I wanted, I once had hope and its gone, I weep because everything I ever loved has been taken from me, and now even the memory is fading because I can’t even anoint the body with oils. Jesus himself was standing in front of her, and she could not see him. He spoke to her and she spoke to him yet she did not recognize his presence. Because she was dwelling between life and death.
And He says to her, “Mary!”
One word, changed everything. As the breath of God spoke her name, the wind of the spirit blew the clouds away so the sun could illuminate her surroundings. As the darkness was overcome by the light the garden in which they stood began to come alive once more, birds began to sing its anthems of life, and color again was revealed. The voice of her beloved teacher just spoke her name. She did not even consider how it could be, because it did not matter, he spoke her name and she was looking at his face. And he told her to go tell his brothers.
I have asked many times in the past, “do we believe in the resurrection.” I ask it again today. Do we believe? At times I am like Mary, I am caught in that confused place between life and death. I see glimpses of hope yet in the next moment something happens that causes me to start repairing the wall I build around myself. Do I believe? So often times I am like Peter and John, I see evidence that something has happened, yet I cannot explain it so I move along as if it never occurred. Do I believe? So many times, I am like the other disciples within the group, closing myself in a room locking the door trying to keep everything that might hurt me outside so I can live safe. But do I believe?
Jesus rose from the grave. He died on a cross, taking a punishment reserved for the vilest offenders of Roman rule, he was buried in a grave and remained there for days. Yet when Mary came to anoint the body after the sabbath, he was not there. He rose from the grave and He lives. All of our fears, all of our shame, all the things that drive wedges within our relationships went with him into that grave, they were buried in that tomb. Yet the stone was rolled away, and Jesus came out and spoke the name of a dear friend. Do we believe?
It is a fascinating concept to consider, because if for a moment we were to imagine the idea that Jesus rose from the grave then we would have to admit that maybe the words that he taught might actually be possible. If we were to allow the possibility of Jesus raising from the grave we might just possibly consider that the life he showed us while he walked the countryside might be a life we should live, and we should not be afraid of living it. If we were to allow for a moment that possibility, we would have to let go of our fear, our desire for control, our quest for purpose in ourselves, because if Jesus rose from the grave nothing else matters. If Jesus rose from the grave he is truly the king of kings and lord of lords. And if he is truly the king of kings and lord of lords it would be foolishness to hold onto the things a defeated system has to offer. I ask do we believe?
Jesus told one of the religious teachers one night:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Jesus said these things to one of the faithful of Israel, and it confused him. It may even confuse us. But what he is saying moves us to this very moment between Mary and Jesus outside that tomb. Do we believe or are we caught in that place between life and death? The answer we give determines so much in our lives. It tells us if we are dominated by fear or if we are filled with hope. It reveals if we are driven by relationships or dominated by circumstances of today. It illuminates the motives behind our actions. Will we live by faith, hope, and love or will we exist in fear, greed, and exploitation?
Jesus lives, and he spoke the name of his friends. Jesus lives and he turned their hopelessness into hope. Jesus lives and he has resurrected in each one of us the opportunity to live as well. Jesus lives. And if you believe that, if you even hope that it is true, a spark of life will begin to burn in you to illuminate the darkened caves we find ourselves in, it will reveal that the things that we fear are primarily illusions created in our own imaginations, and it will expose a door with a key in the lock that is being knocked on by the king of kings and lord of lords. A door that if we unlock and open will allow us to see that all around us God is working and continuing to create a kingdom which spreads all tribes, and nations. Jesus lives. Let us turn toward him and dry our eyes, because our despair was buried with him in that tomb and now that tomb is empty. Our sin, our fears, our shame, our weakness and our condemnation are gone. All that remains is life. Let us live with him, stepping out into the morning light, and taking on the life he showed us. A life and lifestyle of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Jesus with other.