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.
Mary Magdalene has been a hero of mine for quite a while. There are a few reasons for this. First, she is known in church history as one of the people on the margins. Also, her reputation is tarnished by generations of church fathers; she has been lumped in with other women of the Bible who are looked upon and named as temptresses, or seductive, at the very least, less than virtuous. She's often mistaken for the prostitute from an earlier story in the gospels even though there is no real proof of that, and oh, there is some mild discomfort around the very close relationship she had with Jesus. Not a lot is known about Mary Magdalene that is factual. What we assume about her or names we have pinned on her, we've done on our own. That's part of why I like her so much- she is misunderstood.
So often people's perceptions of us are based on assumptions. The limited parts of ourselves that we choose to show to people are for the most part, generic- surface stuff. We're great at putting on airs and putting walls around the inner most parts of ourselves. It's safer that way. Very few people get to know the real “us” so that makes Mary very much like us. On the flip side, we make quick assumptions about others, too. A person gets a quick name drop with an action attached and we we jump to judgement, sometimes barely knowing the person- “he's a thief" "She's lazy" "They can’t be trusted." You know the drill. Only the actual person and the ones closest to them know the truth. Only when you've walked in my shoes can you understand my journey. Only those Mary allowed to see her heart knew who she was. Jesus knew who she was. For everything she was and everyone she wasn't, Jesus kept her close. I like that too.
But for everything Mary was and for everyone she wasn't, she lived, like the rest of us, in a world where systems of domination, oppression, and wealth- otherwise known during the time of Jesus, as the Empire. The Empire had taken the power and resources from the people and distributed that power and resources among the elite and wealthy. Regular folk, peasants, and others who were more destitute than peasants- crippled, sick, widows, orphans, and those in prisons- well, everyone else, had come to expect certain things in life. That's what happens to a people who are taken over. Rights, resources, and power are stripped away so slowly that it's barely noticeable. With each withdrawal, people have time to adjust, and in time, come to think that this way of living is normal. Don’t get me wrong, a truly oppressed people feel the strain and pain, yes; they notice the disparity, of course, but have grown to accept that even though they don't like it, this is just the way things are. It's why it is so difficult to convince an oppressed people to rise up and fight for themselves. They can't imagine another way of living where there would be something as radical as equity, or even to implant in people that they have any power at all.
So much of Jesus's ministry was spent helping people do just that-letting people see that they are loved just as they are, no matter what- that every life is valued and cherished, raising their awareness and giving them a vision of the world as God intended it to be. Jesus laid out a plan for world peace and how to attain it. And his plan made sense. It's what made him so attractive to so many. In fact, it was such a good plan, it also made him a threat to and killed by the empire.
This was Mary's world; where someone as hopeful and positive and full of promise as Jesus would be silenced. Her expectations while traveling to the tomb were anything but hopeful. She was fulfilling her duty- going to finish the burial process that had been cut short on Friday by the setting of the sun. Grief stricken, weighed down with sadness and disbelief, she doesn't shirk away from the darkness of what awaits her at the tomb. Instead she walks toward it- this is true relationship played out for us in black and white. Mary's expectation was to go and clean and then anoint Jesus's body- period. She was doing right by the one who, for everything she was and everyone she wasn't, had kept her close. I like that about Mary, too. She is faithful.
When she sees the tomb open, she assumes what her worldview has taught her- the tomb has been vandalized. Unfortunately, grave robbing was pretty common in the days of Jesus. Mary, perhaps afraid for her own safety, runs back and tells the others her assumption: "Someone broke into the tomb and they took Jesus somewhere." The disciples run and see the open grave and make their own assumptions. But when they leave the tomb, Mary again, doesn't run from the dark place. She stays right there, "weeping," the text says.
Washington Irving said, "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power." And as her tears continue to fall, strength rises within her, and she bends to look deeper into the darkness. I like this about Mary, too. When faced with the choice to walk away from the pain or walk into it, she has chosen to lean into the darkness.
Whatever Mary anticipated in leaning in, you can bet that Two angels in white clothes looking back at her was surely not in her realm of expectation. "Why are you crying?" they ask. No kidding, but of all the reasons I've given for Mary being my hero up till now, this one trumps them all. She answers them! And in her answer, in her boldness, and through her tears, she names her pain- her fear- the source of her grief.
Sometimes that’s exactly what it takes, and frankly this is what we need to learn from. Because this is what the body of Christ is all about. When we get to a place where it seems things can't get more painful, and we muster the courage to lean in instead of backing away from that dark place, we realize God sends angels, messengers, hands and feet, ministers- friends- to help us walk through our darkest hour.
It shouldn't surprise us then, that when Mary turns around, the next one bumps into, is the Risen Christ- where Christs hands and feet are, where members of the body are, so is the Risen Lord. It shouldn't surprise us that she doesn't recognize the Risen Christ, we miss seeing Jesus all the time- And it shouldn't surprise us that the Risen Christ asks her the same question as those sent to meet her in to tomb. Christ has provided a relationship for us where we can name and confess everything we think or feel. Christ desires that honesty and vulnerability in relationship and never threatens with condemnation or judgement- just offers us love and healing... so that the Risen Christ asks Mary to name the darkness shouldn’t surprise us...
What does continue to surprise and truly amaze me, is that when Jesus asks, Mary finds the courage, not just to name her pain, “They have taken him…” but she asks for help. "Tell me where..." she says. So many times we pour our hearts out to other members of the body of Christ, or even to name our painful situation to Jesus, but often we stop right there- thinking maybe the naming is enough-or pleading with God to fix it, heal her, help me… expecting or demanding Christ to fix our darkness for us. But Mary doesn’t do that… instead she asks for direction- ‘tell me where’- show me how- what do I do? I like that about her too- she acts like a partner in covenant.
And Jesus, who could have said anything at that point and it probably wouldn’t surprise us, responds to her simply with her name. "Mary." Now I know that it’s easy to see this response as Jesus simply identifying himself- so that she recognizes him. And it could be. Jesus is constantly reassuring us that Christ is near, that God does not go far from us.
But I believe this simple response, “Mary” helps Mary move from death to resurrection. Through her tears, she recognizes the Risen Christ in the world, yes, but Jesus has also named the Christ also alive within her! She asks where- Christ says, “Mary!” The risen Christ is within you! Christ in the world- Christ in us. This is the resurrection story- that not only does Christ live, Christ lives in us!
My friends, when we've mustered the courage to lean into the darkest places of our existence, when we’ve poured out our deepest pain, and when we are bold enough to see ourselves as partners in this covenant and ask “where is the risen Christ”, don’t be surprised to see Jesus holding up a mirror, calling our name, and naming the Christ within- Christ lives in you.
No matter what your world view, no matter if you’re misunderstood, no matter what the empire says, no matter how used to thinking that how you live now is "normal', Jesus came to show us that despite everything you are and everyone you’re not, God holds you close! We are able to imagine a different world, walk a different way, forge a path to peace because the love of God is living and breathing and moving in and through us!
"Tell me where?" The risen Christ is in you, Mary! How do we? "Ask Marsha! The risen Christ is in her! What do we? "Look at Alby, John, Carol, look in the mirror... And yes, it maybe through our own sacred tears, but let us, in all of our weakness, find the strength within to lean in- listen for our name- recognize the risen Christ, not only in the world, but within each of us! Happy resurrection day!