Easter ~ In the Beginning…

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.” 

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 Aramaic, “Rabbouni!” (which means beloved 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.

 

In the beginning was the Word.

“Woman why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

In the beginning was the Word.

“Mary.”

In the beginning when darkness covered the face of the earth and the world was a formless void…. The word of God brought light into the darkness and life out of emptiness.

In the beginning there was a garden, and on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went there in grief.

John presents us with a narrative that, in its end, circles back to its beginning – that circles back to creation, to incarnation, to the coming of God in Jesus to bring light to our darkest days and life to the emptiest places and love into the void of despair.

We know this story. We watch as Mary discovers Jesus’ tomb – the tomb that should be filled to overflowing with death and burial spices and linen shrouds and grief, the tomb that should be sealed in cold, dark, stone – is open…is empty. We see Peter and the other disciple run to see that what the woman has told them is indeed the case. John tells us that the beloved disciple “saw and believed.” But, he saw nothing – no angels, no body, so what did he believe? Perhaps simply that Mary was correct — that someone had stolen the body of their crucified teacher, that the tomb was empty.

Peter discovers the linen burial wrappings and notices the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head has been rolled up and lies in a place apart, by itself. These are not yet clues to the greatest masterpiece of all mysteries. They are simply the facts. The tomb is empty.

Having felt this void, this kind of darkness and hurt in our own lives, we understand their confusion and anger, their disappointment and doubt. Why is this tomb empty? Who would do this? Why would they do this?  Why is this new burden added to our defeat?

Where there is no body, there is no closure; where there is no body there can be none of the comfort that can gained from the certainty of death, when there is an empty grave there is no location for our grief to dwell.

Unenlightened, the two of them go home.

The Three Marys at the Tomb by Mikołaj Haberschrack, 15th centuryThe Three Marys at the Tomb by Mikołaj Haberschrack, 15th centuryOur focus returns to Mary. Neither Peter nor the other disciple have offered her words of comfort or encouragement. They have not persuaded Mary to return home with them. So she stays.

Weeping, she looks into the cave. She hears an echo from within the tomb and from behind her – from the place of death and endings and shame, and from the garden of new life … “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Really? Well, let me count the ways; let us repeat the litany of grief, guilt, and heartbreak that fills our human frames, that marks our earthly days. Death, betrayal, abandonment, failure, fear… how’s that for a start?

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

“What are you looking for?” were the first words Jesus spoke in this gospel, way back in the beginning, when a few of John the baptist’s disciples followed him.  “What do you want?” Jesus asked them, and then invited, “Come and see.”

Jesus asks Mary the same question, “Whom are you looking for?”

Well, what – or whom – are you looking for? You’ve come here for a reason – – presumably for more than breakfast. Whom do you seek? What is it you hope to find here – need to find – and hope it might be found here?

There is work here that needs to be done… you probably didn’t come looking for work.

There is sickness and death and birth and growth and friendship; there is fellowship among the saints; good food is shared here, peace is shared, stories are shared and heard; there are a few noisy children underfoot when we’re lucky; there’s curiosity, and laughter, and prayer, a bit of sarcasm now and then; there is encouragement and nurture, a concern about injustice and the future of the planet; there is music for our souls; there are your various vocations being lived out in important, intentional, and earnest ways; there are memories to hold, traditions to build on, and a future to imagine our way into. These are some of our assets.

Did you come seeking them? If so, you’re welcome to them. Come and stay.

What – or whom – are you looking for?

I can’t promise that you’ll find God here, or that you will be warmed or enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that here you will find the One in whom your soul finds its rest and goal. I can promise you welcome at Christ’s table of grace and bounteous mercy. I can promise you an opportunity to search your conscience, offer confession, and receive release for the burdens you bear. I can promise that whether or not you find God, you are known – fully, truly, and forgiven and loved by this gardener God, this Savior, this Christ among the crocuses. And I can promise you that it is good news of great joy for you.

With a word, Mary realizes her mistake. This is not a gardener, nor a thief.  “Rabbouni,” she says –  a term of endearment for a much loved teacher. She might as well have called him Good Shepherd, for she turns at the sound of her name. She turns toward Jesus in a moment of recognition that encapsulates all of the joy, all the expectancy, all the incredulity of resurrection.

In the beginning was the Word.

“Woman why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”

In the beginning was the Word.

“Mary.”

In the beginning when darkness covered the face of the earth and the world was a formless void…. The word of God brought light into the darkness and life out of emptiness, and even now, the darkness has not overcome it.

In the beginning there was a garden, out of which God sent Eve and Adam to know death and grief, to work and toil, to live – not in the absence of God, but estranged and apart.

In the beginning there was a garden, and on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went there in grief. We know that garden, that pre-dawn chill of darkness.

But from this Easter garden Mary Magdalene is sent out rejoicing.

This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Life wins. God reigns… rains down mercy, sprinkles down hope, pours out possibilities…where none seem to exist. The Word has spoken through the ages, spoken through the dark night, has broken through the stone wall – the Word has spoken…. a name –  your name, my name, and has turned our death into life.

Jesus, who was crucified, who was buried, has been raised.  Alleluia!

Pastor Linda