Posted on 21 Apr 2019, Pastor: Adam Yates
  • John 20:1-18

    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.

The little child came running into the kitchen, where their parent was busy working away on the sort of trivial chores that take up so much of our time and energy. “I have an opossum living in my room,” the child exclaimed brightly. “That’s nice honey,” the parent responded, scrubbing away at a particularly tough piece of food stuck in the pan. And so it went, for three days, that the little child would come out and tell their parents stories about the opossum living in their bedroom.

It was cute, an imaginary pet, the parents told each other. It was cute, until the parents came into their child’s room and encountered the very much not imaginary, very much real, and very alive, opossum that had set up residence in there. And seeing the opossum with their own eyes, they believed all that their child had told them.

This story, which I came across earlier this week, circulating on social media, was accompanied by a picture of the opossum in question, hunkered down in a bin full of markers and crayons, staring back with its beady little eyes at the camera. Now, all of this raised a number of questions for me. How did the opossum get in this child’s bedroom? What was it eating? Did it go out at night and return again in the morning, like a bad roommate? But perhaps above all else, how did it feel to be this child, who lived with an opossum for three days before anyone believed their wild story?

On this Easter Sunday, as we read the resurrection story from John’s Gospel, I find myself asking a similar question. I wonder how Mary felt as she first brought back the shocking news of the empty tomb and then returned with even wilder news of her encounter with the Risen Christ.

She was a woman of some standing, after all. We know from the gospel records that she had at least some wealth to her name, and that she provided for the needs of Jesus and the other disciples out of her own resources. Mary had followed Jesus for some time, after he had miraculously healed her. Indeed, she is mentioned by name more than many of the other disciples in the gospels, and there is some reason to suspect that her stature among the others would have been similar to that of Peter.

Yet, still the other disciples doubted her testimony. Even with all that she had done for their little community, even after all the ways she had proven herself, the others did not fully trust the words that she proclaimed to them this morning, that Jesus’ tomb was empty. As reliable as Mary was, the others believed her still to be an unreliable source. So, Peter and the other disciple ran off to see for themselves, they ran to verify her wild claims. They ran so that seeing, they might at last believe the words that Mary had already proclaimed to them.

Perhaps this helps us to understand Mary’s strong devotion to Jesus. Certainly, she would have been grateful that he had healed her, but I think there is more to her devotion to him as a disciple. I suspect that in Jesus, Mary found that she was no longer treated as less than the other disciples who were men.  I suspect that in Jesus, Mary found a wholeness that transcended her healing, she found the wholeness of being fully embraced as a child of God. Jesus saw Mary, truly saw her and trusted her. Seeing Mary, Jesus believed in her.

Detail of Mary from Giotto di Bondone, “Scenes from the Life of Christ: 21. Resurrection (Noli me tangere)”, 1304-1306, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (Photo: Web Gallery of Art)

As Peter and the other disciple re-emerged from the empty tomb, the look of shock upon their faces told Mary that they now believed what she had told them. They left her there at the tomb, by herself, as they returned home to process what they had just seen. And then, just as Peter and the other disciple had departed, Mary is confronted by the Risen Christ.

I cannot imagine how she must have felt. I cannot imagine the waves of grief, and relief, and joy that must have been washing over her in that moment of revelation. And I cannot imagine how strongly she must have wanted to stay there and simply be with Jesus, to stay in the moment of ecstasy and bathe in the presence of Christ.

But it is not to be, because Jesus’ tells Mary that she cannot hold on to him now. Even as they are being reunited, even now as she is laying eyes on him for the first time since his death, Jesus tells her that she must go. She must go and tell the others that Jesus is risen from the dead. She must go and share with them that his work is still unfolding. She must go and proclaim the Good News to all who hunger for it so deeply.

I wonder where she found the strength to turn away and plunge back into the world? I wonder if it was because she saw Jesus with her own eyes, and in that moment believed, understood, that anything was possible. That everything was possible. I wonder if it was because Jesus saw her—saw her through her brokenness and pain, saw all the way into the depths of her wholeness—and believed in her, knowing that she would be up to the task. Knowing that she would be able to proclaim the momentous news to her occasionally recalcitrant and stubborn companions.

My friends, we want to rest in the presence of God, to find that ecstatic peace and comfort that comes as we are held in the arms of our creator. We want so much to climb to the mountain top and remain at that great height, with Christ. But God always sends us out, always tells us to go out into the world.

But sometimes, oftentimes, always, that is a scary command. It gives us pause that we, like Mary, may not be trusted and believed by our community, even by the ones we hold closest. It frightens us that we might be mocked, or even persecuted, for the message that we proclaim. And if we’re being perfectly honest, it terrifies us that we might fail and fall short of what Christ gives us to do as we are sent out into the world.

Like Mary, my friends, we can find strength to go as Jesus commands, because God does see us, Christ does see us. Even when we feel so small, so insignificant, so broken and invisible to the world, God does see us. God sees through our brokenness and our pain. Christ sees into the very heart of our being and knows us. And seeing us, Christ believes in us.

My friends, on this day, when all our expectations are turned on their heads, God is sending us out. God has seen you and has healed you and has made you whole. Now go and bring healing to all those who are broken. God is preparing the promised land, the new creation, now go because God has seen you and made you to be a blessing to the whole world, all of creation.

Christ sees us, knows the deep hunger and longing that is within us, and is calling us in to be his disciples. Now go and proclaim the good news to all who hunger to hear it.

My friends, the tomb is empty come and see! Christ is risen, alleluia, and we have seen him face-to-face, that we might believe! Now go!

Preached by Adam Yates