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.
Mary Magdelene weeps outside the tomb of Jesus- Peter and the other disciple have run back home, baffled by the empty tomb, trying to make sense of what might have happened to the body of their friend and leader. They will begin this morning the first steps of uncovering the mystery that would chang the world.
But Mary doesn't leave the tomb- maybe she needed another minute alone. She hadn't been able to sleep since Thursday when she had heard Jesus got arrested- and since his death she had been bouncing around the stages of grief like a pinball- shock, denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance- in no particular order. Last night she tossed and turned, only drifting off once in a while from shear exhaustion- and finally got up while it was still dark and went to the only place she could still feel Jesus was near. But he wasn't there- the stone was out of place and Mary was shaken to her core- she ran for the disciples, they had confirmed it, and now Mary can't stop crying. She musters the courage to look into the tomb for herself, but what she sees is not an empty tomb- she sees two angels dressed in white sitting where Jesus had formerly been, one at his head, one at his feet. Weird, right? What were they doing in there? "What's the matter?" They ask- as if they were talking to a mom interrupting a child' sleepover... now, you would think Mary would ask "who the heck are you two? and what's with the white clothes, and why are you in here?" But she doesn't say any of that- she is so distraught she just wonders aloud where Jesus is... where have they taken him.
And I want to just take a moment to say, wow- Mary! Did you not realize she was witnessing something supernatural right before her eyes? We don't really know... I cant imagine the sense of bewilderment that must have filled her head that morning- but perhaps we can guess... When we are suffering, when we are in pain, we don't often see the angels or messengers God puts in front of us. Our focus in inward. We want answers. We want comfort and assurance. We want the healing power that comes from God, and we want the pain to end. Yes- that's it. We want the pain to end.
In fact Mary is so consumed with pain that when she turns around and sees Jesus standing right in front of her she doesn't recognize him either- and thinks he's the gardener. She pleads- "tell me where he is- I'll take care of him." It isn't until Jesus calls her name, "Mary" "Mary" that she recognizes the that it is Christ with her in the garden- the calling of her name- Mary- opened a way for Mary to see what and who was in front of her- to see the love she was sure was dead standing full of life in front of her- she is not alone.
I could read that verse over and over. (And I do read this verse over and over) It's one of my go to verses when I am feeling hurt, or confused, or abandoned by God... When something happens that shakes my world and I can't make sense of it, the pain, the grief; and I focus on me- on my feelings, what's been taken from me, or how I am going to make it through on my own. My worries keep me up at night- I think about how I could have done things differently, or how I can do things differently tomorrow. I get overtired. I don't know how or what to pray. So I lurk around the 'tomb of death' I create (herever that may be depending on my situatation (anybody? you know that tomb- the place where i seal up all my hope, my faith, my promise of new life because I am that broken, that sure that love is dead... and sometimes, when I am particularly hurting or lonely or sad- I lurk around there... you know, to comfort myself, or numb myself, or wonder in the dark what it would be like not to feel like this.
Further, just like Mary, when I get to my tomb of death whatever that may be and I find it not as I left it, or not how i expect it to be, a stone moved, a seal broken, before I look at what might have happened, or what God might be doing, despite how many friends validate my dismay-eventually I'm left again at the tomb trying to piece things together on my own, weeping.
But that's not why I love the verse. It's Jesus saying her name- Mary- and the recognition it brings. It's the knowledge that when I lurk around our tomb or death, for whatever reason, when I'm so focused on my pain that I can't see straight, I'm not alone- That, God will show up when I least expect it- that despite how final things might seem, Jesus can surprise me in a brand new way. It's the overwhleming joyin knowing that even when I don't acknowledge the messengers God has placed inside my tomb of death to comfort me, even when I ignore the angels, Christ still shows up to call my name.
My friends, that's Easter- that what we think is the end, is really just the beginning of something new. That our pain and grief and loss, are never suffered alone- that in the midst of death despair God brings love back to life through the risen Christ. And listen, I know how it sounds- I know that for most of us, our intellectual scientific, data quantifying minds have trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead... it's easy to get on board that train.
The disciples and then early Christians would spend centuries thinking about this too, trying to put together the pieces of the resurrection so that it made some sense. Believe me, they were no better at explaining how a person could come back to life than we are. Most of the time when you read the words of Christ's followers in scripture they say things like "I have no idea how this happened, but..." or "I know this is hard to believe but..." They were baffled and confused, but they were trying to explain their visions of what they were calling, the risen Lord- in this transformed body- and trying to make sense of what it meant for their their understanding of life and death.
Their world was much like ours, brutal, militaristic, violent, oppressive- and this insight, that Jesus was resurrected, even though they may not have been able to explain how- changed the whole world- it changed the way people thought about not just Jesus' death, but their own death-life would go on after death! Love conquers hate! Love arose! And that resurrection had to do as much with them (US) as it did with Jesus. The message, carried by a group of rag tag disciples and friends, bringing in people from the margins, working for equality, working to stop oppression, fear, greed- was in fact so appealing to people that it caught like wildfire.
Maybe you've experienced this transformation in your own life. Maybe the way you have thought bout resurrection over the years has changed you in some way... Perhaps you believe this morning that's it's a fairy tale, something of myth and legend- or that belief in God is something for the weak... I hear you... but Mary- no matter how you feel, how many tears you've cried or hopes you've lost- Christ is standing right in front of you- calling your name... ANd yes, our first instinct, like Mary's may be to grab on to that love, nd keep it for ourselves- it feels so good to touch the risen Lord- but as Jesus reminds us- "dont hold on to me"... this message of love and joy and healing needs to be shared throughout the world... Love Arose, Love blooms- share theg good news.