31 March 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
If you were here on Friday, you felt the anguish of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, the pain of Judas’ betrayal, the angst of Peter’s denial, the fear of the authorities and the reckless judgment of the crowd against Jesus. You felt the forgiveness offered on the cross to the criminal, and the sadness and pain of the only innocent One ever being condemned to die. We can all endure Good Friday each year, because we know Sunday’s coming.
We look around our world and see lots of Fridays. We see people struggling with life, with relationships, with addictions, with work, struggling to make it. We see people suffering and dying. We see nations in perpetual conflict, and communities wracked with violence and despair. Fridays everywhere. We can make it through Friday’s death and Saturday’s grief and uncertainty, because we know Sunday is on the way. It’s time now to hear the Sunday story, the story that gives Sunday its meaning, the day of resurrection. This story is the reason Christians meet on Sunday for worship. We gather to hear the good news of life every Sunday, but especially this Sunday, we come to hear the particular story of a dead Christ now alive by the power of God. Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. Hear this amazing story once again for the first time.
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.
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 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
8 Then the other disciple, who 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 returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;
12 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.
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 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15 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."
16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).
17 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.'"
18 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.
I’ll never forget the first time I attended a funeral. I was about ten years old and I was mortified by seeing the dead body in an open casket, even though I had little relationship with the person who died. I supposed it would be worse to be expecting to see a dead body and find it has disappeared. As soon as she saw the stone rolled away, Mary assumed Jesus’ body was taken. Are you going to look inside Mary? No, she ran tell Peter and John. She’s not expecting good news. She tells them someone has taken Jesus’ body. Don’t we women always assume the worst?
Then the foot race begins – aren’t the men always competing? Who’s the greatest? Who has the right answer? Who’s the fastest to the tomb? The Beloved Disciple (was it John? Was it Lazarus?) Well, he got there first among the guys, but let’s be clear: Mary was first. And that the Gospels all give the women credit for being there first is just amazing. The disciples see the empty linens and according to the text, the Beloved Disciple believes, even though they don’t really understand what has happened.
The disciples went back to their homes, but Mary remained – crying, inconsolable. So Mary lingers, crying. Do angels appear because she’s crying? Does suffering bring angels? Sometimes grief helps us to see what we needed to see, but it is only in retrospect that we realize this.
Did the men not see angels because they were in a hurry? The angels ask the obvious question, “Why are you weeping?” Mary speaks to the angels as if they are ordinary humans, “They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Maybe we should ask ourselves: Do we recognize the angels in our midst, or do we like Mary assume the ordinary? Oh, what we might see if our eyes were really open to all God is doing!
And see what happens when those serving God give us opportunities to express our anger or our grief? Mary expresses her grave concern to the angels and then immediately she sees Jesus, who has been there all along, but only now is she seeing him. But she does not yet know who he is. How can that be? But it is not the only Resurrection narrative in which Jesus’ identity is not immediately clear.
The same thing happens on the walk to Emmaus. It happens with Doubting Thomas who needs to touch to see and believe. How could Mary not realize who the gardener really is? She even accuses him – “if you have taken him away, tell me where!” And that’s when he calls her by name, and she suddenly knows.
Notice how subtle the whole encounter is. Jesus does not come bursting out of the tomb announcing, “Hey, I’m alive. Look over here. See, God raised me from the dead. Believe in me. I’m the Savior of the world.” That’s would be the kind of Christian evangelist who is a turn-off to all of us. No, the Risen Christ is more tender and careful than that. And the living Spirit of God in this life of ours is more soft spoken and subtle. Most of us have had no earthquake or blinding lights, no booming voice from heaven saying “Believe in me” But we do have a Savior speaking to us. We have him asking us, “What’s wrong? Whom are you seeking?”
If only we can linger long enough to realize that he is there. He was always there, but we do not always see him. And then when we see him, as Mary did, we cannot cling to him. (slide) He is too magnificent, too amazing to be held by our hands, our hearts, our minds. We want to cling to him and think he’s on our side of a debate. We want to cling to him to reassure ourselves with certainty rather than living with the mystery that faith requires.
To those who doubt, Christ says, what we will read next week “Here see and touch.” “Peace be with you. Feel the love right here and now.” Those who cannot see through their tears or their frustration Christ calls by name so that they recognize he is there. To those who are clinging to him, needing certainty and too much control, he says, “Let go. You cannot hold me. I am not yours to possess.” He is transforming death into life – something so large that he cannot be held. In the same way, Christ eludes us, when we think we are in need of a certainty that is less than faith. Christ has more to do than we can imagine or think. He cannot be held.
He is ascending relationally, taking all of our humanity into the fullness of the Triune God (who is his Papa and ours) to complete the transformation of our tears into joy, our sin into salvation, our death into life.
Death still exists but it has been forever changed by the life which Christ gives us in his resurrection. Jesus lives. He lives as God with us, touching all of human life with the presence of God, and he lives as one of us with God, carrying our sin and death into God’s being where it is forever changed from a power that destroys life to a power that by suffering and grace begins a new life, like the seed which falls into the earth and dies before it sprouts up green. This life-giving power of Christ calls us to a new way of seeing and being. Our tears are turned to joy, our death leads to new life, and despite our sin, we are saved by grace so we may be renewed by the transforming of our minds day-by-day. Whether we have another day to live or another fifty years on this earth, it is nothing compared to the eternity we will spend with God. So let us begin now to sing Hallelujah forever and ever…Until we see God face to face and our praise will truly be forever and ever.