Easter Morning 2018
This morning, while it was still dark, we arrive with Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus, the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea has donated for Jesus’ burial and discover that the stone sealing the tomb has been rolled away and we find it empty. What has happened to Jesus’ body? Has someone, like the Romans or the Jewish leaders, stolen Jesus’ body and - if so why?
We run with Mary to announce this catastrophic development to Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, the author of this Gospel, John. They in turn race back to the tomb, literally race each other, like two children wanting to get there first, so they can see for themselves what Mary Magdalene has told them. They must see with their own eyes what Mary has reported. Surely, it can’t be true! Why would someone steal Jesus’ body?
John reaches the tomb first and peaks inside to see the linen burial wrappings lying there and perhaps wondering, why would thieves unwrap the body and leave the burial garments? But John does not enter the tomb yet, preferring to wait for reinforcements, maybe out of fear of what he might find?
Peter arrives shortly and runs straight past John into the tomb, leaping before looking, as Peter always seems to do. And Peter too sees the linen wrappings, one for Jesus head and the others for his body, lying separately, like someone had folded the laundry. Curious that grave robbers would do something so thoughtfully.
John follows Peter into the tomb, and as John himself tells the story, “he saw and believed.” Then the somewhat confusing commentary, “for as yet they (Peter and John) did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.” So John “saw and believed,” yet did not understand. This is the first of the great insights from the Easter story – we too can hear the good news of God’s triumph over death in Jesus and believe - even if we don’t fully understand it. After all God’s working is always mysterious. This is the reason the church uses the term, the paschal mystery, the mystery of Jesus becoming the paschal lamb that takes on all of the violence and evil of the world and triumphs over it with love and forgiveness and new life.
We can trust in God without fully understanding. And as we did last night and will do again at the late service this morning, baptize children into a faith they have little or no comprehension of, making promises to teach them how to follow Jesus as they grow in their understanding of God and faith, so that when they are older, they can claim those baptismal promises for themselves.
We are trusting God with a future that is yet unknown, but has been revealed to us in the resurrection of Jesus. We can trust in a God who is most fully revealed in the carpenter from Nazareth who has shown us that the way of life is the way of the cross. As followers of Jesus we are not immune from pain and loss and even death, but we trust in the one who has gone before us, who has promised that he will be with us in the midst of our struggles and says “Peace, be still.”
The resurrection of Jesus as told by John begins and ends with Mary Magdalene, the apostle of the resurrection, as the Eastern Orthodox Church calls her. She is the first on the scene and announces the empty tomb to Peter and John and she is the last on the scene after Peter and John inexplicably just go home. Mary stood outside Jesus’ tomb weeping, grieving again the loss of her friend and Lord.
And for some reason, Mary was the only one who saw the angels sitting where Jesus body had been wrapped in linens, and the only one the angels addressed saying, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary Magdalene was the one who stayed at the tomb and didn’t go home because she wanted to find Jesus.
And so Jesus first resurrection appearance is not to Peter and John, but to Mary. Jesus asks Mary the same question the angels had asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” But Mary is not expecting to see the resurrected Christ and supposes Jesus to be the gardener - until he speaks her name. It is in the expression of her name that Mary recognizes Jesus. This is the personalization of the gospel for each of us. So Mary goes back to the disciples as Jesus instructs her, just like she had already done, only this time she announces not an empty tomb, but a risen Lord.
The mystery of God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus is full of hope, that God has provided new life in the midst of death, that no matter how much pain or struggle we experience God is present with us to bring new life.
So rejoice, Christ is risen!