Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118:2, 14-24 I Corinthians 15:19-26 John 20:1-18
A mother gives her son two quarters when she signs him in at the Children’s Ministry room at the church. One is for the collection plate, and one is for a donut after the service. He is playing with the two quarters during the lesson, and one drops out of his hand and rolls out of his reach under the large stage. “Oh, rats,” thinks the little boy. “There goes God’s quarter.”
We don’t have the quarter, but we can say….Alleluia. Christ is risen. We have been on quite a journey this week, walking with Jesus. On Palm Sunday, we entered Jerusalem with Jesus with shouts of Hosannas. Then we heard the reading of the Passion and we got caught up in the story. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we met around the altar and shared communion in a special way. On Thursday, Maundy Thursday we gathered around the table to share a Christian Seder meal full of history and tradition as the disciples also gathered in the upper room. In the service, we had the opportunity to wash someone’s feet and hands and to have ours washed. Looking down to see Jesus touching us in such a precious way. The Prayer Vigil began after the service with folks praying throughout the night in the holy space set up like the Garden of Gethsemane. It was sacred time to watch and pray…knowing what is to come.
On Good Friday, we gathered in this somber space and heard the bitter details of Jesus’ crucifixion. We sang, were you there…and we were there. In silence, the instrument of death was brought into the church. The final thud of the cross going into the stand echoed through the church and our hearts. We were there. On Saturday morning, we became the hands and feet of Christ working to clean and beautify the church. Not really for you folks here today, but because of our love of Jesus. We had to do something after living into this story yet again. We had to do something. We had many hands and hearts at work.
Last night, we gathered around the whippy new fire, lighted the Paschal candle that will burn until Pentecost. We entered the church in darkness, all of us carrying the light of Christ in our hands. We left carrying the light of Christ in our hearts. We heard stories and praised God in song. We feasted…I mean feasted on wonderful food. What a happy time. Then this happy morning, we gather to continue the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Alleluia. Christ is risen!
So, we know that good came out of all of that experience. That God will work for good. That is what Mary Magdalene set out to do that morning – to say her good-byes, pay her respects, find some good. So early on that Sunday morning, Mary leaves her pallet and walks out onto the tree-shadowed path. Hers is a somber task. The morning promises only one encounter, an encounter with a corpse. Remember, she doesn’t know that this is the first Easter. She is not hoping the tomb will be vacant. She isn’t thinking of what her response will be when she sees Jesus. She has absolutely no idea that the grave is empty.
There was a time that she dared to dream such dreams. Not now. It’s too late for the incredible. The feet that walked on the water have been pierced. The hands that healed lepers had been stilled. Noble aspirations had been spiked into Friday’s cross. Mary Magdalene has come to place warm oils on a cold body and to bid farewell to the one man who gave reason to her hopes.
But it isn’t hope the leads Mary up the mountain to the tomb. It is duty – desperate, heartfelt, duty. She expects nothing in return. What could Jesus give? What could a dead man offer them? She is not climbing that hill to receive, she is going to the tomb to give. There is no motivation more noble.
There are times when we, too, are called to love, expecting nothing in return. Times when we are called to give money to people who will never say thanks, to forgive those who won’t forgive us, to come early and stay late when no one else notices. Service prompted by duty - is the call of discipleship.
Mary Magdalene knew a task had to be done – Jesus’ body had to be prepared for burial. Peter didn’t offer to go. Andrew didn’t volunteer. The forgotten adulteress or the healed lepers are nowhere to be seen. So Mary decides to go.
I wonder if halfway to the tomb she sat down and reconsidered. What if she looked into her heart and said, “What’s the use?” What if she had given up. What if she had thrown her hands into the air in frustration and bemoaned, “I’m tired of caring. My heart is broken, it hurts too much.” Let Andrew do something for a change. Let Nathaniel show some backbone.”
Whether or not she were tempted to quit, I’m glad she didn’t. That would have been tragic. We know something she didn’t. We know God was watching. Mary Magdalene thought she was alone. She thought her journey was unnoticed. All the others were still asleep. She was wrong. God knew. God was watching as she walked up that hill. God was measuring her steps, smiling at her devotion and touched by her love.
It was still dark, but even from a distance she knew something was wrong. She could smell damp earth, cold rock from inside. Someone had moved the stone! Afraid he would become a saint, afraid his tomb would become a shrine, someone had taken him away – God knows where - to a steep cliff, to the town dump. His body was all she had left and now it was gone. So she ran to tell the disciples. John outran Peter to the tomb. They saw the wrappings let in the tomb and believed. They went off to tell.
Mary remained and stood weeping outside the tomb. She was startled when someone asked “Woman, why are you weeping?” She was shocked by who she thought was the gardener. Then, he speaks her name and she knows – it’s Jesus. Could it be? Jesus is alive! She desperately wanted to get to the disciples to help he make sense of all of this. He senses her fear and perhaps her joy. He comforts her and reassures her. More is to come. This is not the end.
She sees Jesus and is drawn to embrace him. Jesus’ response to her implies a level of relationship that is used to touch, to hugs, to profound connection. Mary believed in love, love that’s true, love that’s strong, love that lives on and on. Hear how she longed for the way they were, back to the old life where everything was familiar and not frightening like it was now. Friday is past, and here it was Sunday – an entirely new day in an entirely new life.
He was not on his way back to her and the others. He was on his way to God, and he was taking the whole world with him. This may be why all the gospel accounts of the resurrection tell us not to be afraid – because new life is frightening, it is so uncertain. It’s unnatural. To expect a sealed tomb and find one filled with angels, to hunt the past and discover the future, to see a corpse and find the risen Lord – none of this is natural.
Death is natural. Loss is natural. Grief is natural. But the stone has been rolled away this happy morning, to reveal the highly unnatural truth. By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we can remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, touch hearts, mend relationships, change the world.
The only thing we can’t do is hold onto him. He has plans, he is going, he is meeting them later. He knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are, than let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him hold on to us, perhaps. Better we should let him take us into the awesome presence of God, who is not behind us, but ahead of us, every step of the way.
Imagine the love that flooded Mary’s heart when she heard Jesus. She didn’t meet the risen Christ until she discovered the empty tomb. She responded with joy and obedience by going to tell the disciples. Mary did not want to lose Jesus again. She didn’t understand the resurrection. But Jesus did not want to be detained at the tomb. Both he and the Mary had important work to do.
The lesson that Mary teaches us – three words, don’t give up. Is the trail dark? Don’t sit. Is the road long? Don’t stop. Is the night black? Don’t quit. God is watching, God is waiting. For all we know, God may be trying to move a stone right now. The check may be in the mail. The apology may be on our lips. The job contract may be on the desk. Don’t quit…. Don’t forget to love… for if you do, you may miss the answer to your prayers. God still moves stones so we can experience the joy and hope of the resurrection, each day, every day. The Lord is risen. Alleluia, The Lord has risen indeed!