By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 12, 2020
John 20:1–18 (ESV)
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away 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 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had 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 went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one 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 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” 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 Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for 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 that he had said these things to her.
This is an Easter unlike any others that I have ever experienced. A couple of years ago I said something similar, but in that instance, it was because there was snow on Easter morning, so our annual egg hunt had to happen inside instead of outside. This year though is different, mainly because I am the only one in the Meeting House.
Easter has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Yes, part of that is because I am a pastor, but it has always been important. Where I grew up our community always had, and still has, a community Easter Sunrise pageant. Every church in the community participated in this, it did not matter if you were Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, or Catholic we all participated. It took place on with a unique rock bluff in the background, which made a natural amphitheater of sorts. Every Easter morning, I would participate in this pageant. When I was younger, I put on a bathrobe and shouted Hosanna while waving a palm branch, only to turn around to cry crucify him the next. I would yell and shout, and I would watch as my friends, classmates, and respected members of my community would whip, and act as if they would nail one of our own to a cross. As I got older, I would be one of the disciples.
I watched my dad being forced to carry the cross up the hill as he played Simon. I watched as one of the quietest and most good-natured men in our meeting play the role of one of the thieves being crucified alongside of Jesus. I watched my brother lifted my uncle up on the cross as the sun rose in the background. I listened to people crying, real tears as they participated in this dramatic representation. And after being away from the community for nearly twenty years, I still remember each scene.
These pageants resonate with us, because it our community. The people there are our friends and our relatives. Playing out in front of our eyes we are seeing a cousin wiping Jesus. We are seeing our best friend betraying Jesus. We are seeing our own uncle being lifted on a cross as you cheer. It might be a dramatic representation but its real. We are all part of the world, and scripture said that Christ died for the sins of the world. Our sin is joined with the Romans sins of not standing up for the injustice occurring around them, the sins of the disciples who betrayed and denied Jesus, and the religious leaders who demanded the execution for their own personal gain. We nailed him to that tree.
As I thought about all the things that are missing from this Easter Sunday, I am reminded of the community. In today’s passage we see the community that Jesus brought together in a unique way. The first-person mention is Mary Magdalene. Who is this woman? There are many theories about her, some say she was a prostitute that Jesus freed, some say she was Jesus’s wife, some of these ideas make sense and others have no real foundation in any history. What we do know is that she was a woman whose life was filled with brokenness, and Jesus brought healing into her life. Jesus did not just heal this one woman, but he brought healing to the entire family because Mary and her siblings were considered some of the closest friends to Jesus.
Mary was broken. Scripture indicates that she may have been possessed by demons, which could mean many things. She like so many today struggled with forces within her life that cannot be seen on the outside. According to Mental Health First Aid, in an essay published in February of last year, almost half of American will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and of those that have suffered these struggles less than half of them will seek help. This tells me something. It tells me that we might understand Mary a bit more that we realize. She was broken, she was a wreck, and it did not only affect her, but it affected everyone in her family just like mental illness affects us today.
Mary was broken, but she found hope and was released from the grip of her demons. But she still faced struggles. Her sister thought she was lazy. And her brother died. Scripture is filled with things that many of us can identify with. It is saturated with humanity and our condition. Scripture is filled with war, famine, illness, and most of all it is filled with hope.
A few weeks ago, we met Mary while she was mourning the death of her brother. In that story, we saw the deepness of Jesus’s friendship with this family. Jesus came to them, and Jesus wept with Mary. Jesus is with us in our struggles, he understands our loss, our suffering, and our weakness. But he does not leave us alone in those dark places. Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and had them remove the stone from the entrance of the cave. He, with tears still streaking down his face, lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed, and then he restored hope to Mary and her sister’s life because their brother was raised to life again.
Just a few weeks after one of the most remarkable events in human history, we meet Mary again in tears. The man that moved her own brother from the darkness of the tomb to new life, was now laying wrapped in death clothes sealed behind a stone. Mary’s hope died.
Many of us often feel like Mary. We look at the world around us, and it appears that everything is shrouded in darkness. We might feel this to a greater degree this year as we are sitting in our houses in self isolation as we try to flatten the curve of a pandemic. Everything we once knew seems to have faded and was replaced with survival.
Mary knew her hope, she knew his name, she sat at his feet and ate at the same table. Mary knew hope. And when her hope died, she embraced it. She moved forward through the darkness. She walked to the tomb to honor the one she loved.
That walk in the dark was probably the hardest path Mary had ever had to travel, but she took the steps. She made that journey. Mary was once a broken woman. That brokenness once defined her life, but Jesus brought her out of that, he gave her a new identity. Jesus brought her back to life. And yet life was still a struggle. And when Jesus died, Mary faced her fear. She knew who she was before she encountered Jesus, and she knows who she has become since. She knows that Jesus brought that change in her life, and now Jesus was buried. He is buried yet Mary, this once broken woman, walks in through the darkness and fear to the tomb.
Imagine that journey. Maybe you have made a similar journey. Maybe you have seen great loss, redemption, and more struggle. Maybe you feel as if the end is near. Mary made that journey; she faced the crushing loss of Good Friday. She sat for a day in the isolation of Holy Saturday. And as the Sabbat ended, she got up, got dress, and she faced the darkness to honor the one that gave her a reason to live.
As I have journeyed through my life of faith, I have come to apricate Mary. She was a disciple that did not hide behind closed doors, but one that boldly approached the one she loved, even in death. She walked through a life of suffering even though she did not know what might come to pass. She moved forward seeking to do the one thing she knew she could do, honor the dead. She did not know what to do, she did not know how to cope with the life that seemed to loom before her, but she did one thing, she walked forward into the darkness to do the one thing she knew she could do.
She walked out that Sunday morning thinking that she would clean and anoint the body of her friend, but when she approached the tomb, she saw that the stone had been moved. She went out that morning fully prepared to do one thing, and now as she walked forward things changed. Life is always filled with surprises. We start down a path, and there are countless detours interacting with us. We adjust on the fly, just like Mary. She went to anoint the body, now the stone has been moved, now she is running back to the house. She does not know what to do and realizes she needs help. She went to Simon Peter and the other disciple. We traditionally recognized this to be John, but some scholars propose that this might have been her brother Lazarus, that really does not matter, she ran to Jesus’s friends. She went to her friends and asked them to join her.
They run to the tomb, and they find that the body they expected to find is not there. The death cloths are there but the body is missing. We are told that Peter looked at the cloths laying there and that the other disciple looked and believed. We do not know what the other disciple believed because Peter seems to be standing there in utter confusion. They saw, and the went back to their homes. Imagine that walk. Imagine, finding yourself in a situation that you have absolutely no idea how you got there, and due to your ignorance, you have absolutely no idea how to move forward.
The disciples walked home, but Mary stayed. I think we often overlook something here. The men just walk away in confusion and possibly frustration, but the woman remains. We are constantly moving in our world today. That is one of the reasons the suggestions to remain home are such a struggle for many of us. We are used to moving, to sit still is contrary to our nature. But are we missing things because of our mobility? Do we respond to our confusion and ignorance by walking away? Mary remained at that tomb. She remained in her struggle; she yet again embraced the hardship she was given. She came to honor Jesus’s life and now she does not know where his body is, so she remains at the last place she knew he was. We face hardship and we move. Our job is not what we expected so we leave, relationships often are regarded as disposable, not to mentions churches and social organizations. Peter and the other disciple walked, and Mary remained. She did not know what to do yet she stayed and allowed the emotions of the situation to flow, and to subside so that she could take the next steps rationally.
We must engage our emotions, we need to acknowledge and let them pass through us so we can understand what and where they are coming from. She remained weeping because she did not know where the body was and as she remained in that place, she saw two angels and they asked her why she was weeping. She processed the emotions she felt. “I do not know where my lord is!” Then she turns from these angels and she sees a man standing there with her and again she is asked why she is weeping. She gives the same answer. “I do not know where the lord is!”
I often find myself there. I look into a void before me. Everything I once thought seemingly vanishes from before me, and I in confusion wonder, “Where is God? What am I doing? And why do I keep trying?” We have all been there. The computer crashes and we lost the paper we were writing for school. We are furloughed from work and rent is due. Something totally unexpected blindsides us and we are once again broken and wondering what to do once again. Peter and the other disciple faced this by walking away, they gave up. Mary remained and she was visited by God in that place of desolation.
Jesus wept with Mary by the tomb of her brother, and he was with her while she stood weeping and attempting to process life without Jesus walking among her friends. Jesus was with Mary. Jesus was with Mary while she wept. And Jesus spoke to her. He spoke into the situation she was facing and called her by name.
All the disciples were in the same place as Mary. All of them faced loss, confusion, emotions, and a lack of knowledge as to what to do next. Mary remained in a place where she could deal with the emotions where the others walked away and locked themselves in a room. Why did Mary remain? Could it be because she knew how Jesus had brought healing before, so she wanted to stay as near to him as she could? We do not know for sure what kept her in that place while the others left, but because of that choice she was the first witness of the risen lord. She experienced Jesus’s healing touch before, and she remained because that memory still resonated within her. As she faced the uncertainty before her, she remained at that place she last knew her lord to be, and she was in a position to experience hope renewed.
We all face uncertainty. We all face struggles. We all face a future that is often veiled behind a cloud of unknowing. How are we facing that hazy future? As Friends we often sit in silence together. Many might think of this as a place of emptiness, but it is a time of Holy Expectancy. We sit in our uncertainty with the expectation that hope will rise. We sit in our struggle with the expectation that God will reveal a way forward. We in this cloud of unknowing expecting to see our next step along the journey of life to be shown as the Spirit’s wind blows the misty fog. We sit in Holy Expectancy because Jesus lived, died, was buried, and lives again. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that Jesus lives and is our ever-present teacher and guide and will speak to our condition, just as he spoke to Mary so long ago. We sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that He lives and knows our name, we sit in Holy Expectancy because we know that his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven and if we wait in his presence at these uncertain times He will call our name and call us to follow him into the future he has prepared for us.
As we celebrate the living Lord today, and as we face our own uncertain lives let us now join Mary. Let us remain at the empty tomb and let us listen for the voice of our beloved teacher and let us respond like Mary and announce to those around us the things that we have heard and seen.