He is Risen!
He is Risen indeed!
Can you just imagine Mary!? Can you imagine all of her feelings? I wonder what she was doing yesterday? Friday had been a terrible day. The day after, the Sabbath, she was probably doing all the things we do when we grieve. Maybe crying, maybe moving slowly, maybe easily distracted, maybe preparing the oil and other items she would need to anoint his body. When the Sabbath was over, she would go to the tomb.
She arrived early on the next day, the first day of the week. What a sad task she had in front of her. But an honor really, to be able to anoint Jesus' body and attend to him one last time. When she saw the stone rolled away she was probably startled out of her grief and right into fear! Burial sites were robbed all the time. She ran back to tell the others.
Peter and the Beloved Disciple ran, ran back to the tomb to see. The Beloved Disciple peeked in, and saw the linen burial cloths lying on the ground. No body. Already this is strange because even when Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was still wrapped in his linen cloths. Then Peter went further and went into the tomb and sure enough, there were the linens as well as the cloth covering Jesus' head. The beloved disciple then also went in and so two of them could confirm that Jesus' body was not there.
As much as they had been taught by Jesus, yet knowing how cryptic Jesus could be, at that moment they did not understand that what they were looking at was exactly as Jesus said. So they ran back.
The urgency is palpable. There's a lot of running in this story. And yet, in the midst of the running and urgency, Mary doesn't run back. I wonder if it just took her a bit to get her mind around the sad truth of Jesus' body being gone. I think she knew that she needed more time at the tomb to wrestle with her sadness and probably knew something about the value of just waiting. She wept. When you don't know what to do, maybe a pause is good. The tempo of the story slows.
The rest of this story is just for Mary. Perhaps in bewilderment, she bends to look inside the tomb, and there, are two angels. They're not scary, they're not hovering, they are probably not glowing and looking like Steven Spielberg might make them look. They don't even have a message. They are sitting. They ask her “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answers that they have taken away her lord and she does not know where they put him, and she turns. There's another man, and she thinks he's the gardener. He too asks, “Woman, why are you weeping?” but he adds, “Whom are you looking for?” This is the same question Jesus asked in the first chapter of John when he invites the disciples to be with him. He says “Who are you looking for?” and “Come and see.” This is the same question to Mary.
I find it gratifyingly bold of Mary to speak up to a man, a stranger, and come right out with it, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Unexpectedly she hears him say her name, “Mary!” Just as he knew things about the woman at the well, just as always, it's the saying of her name that makes her turn toward him, and recognize him as her teacher. “Rabbouni!”
There. Right there! That's Easter!
Can you feel it? All that Mary has been feeling during this time. First there was the celebration of Jesus' coming to Jerusalem for Passover, then the fear and confusion of the betrayal and denial and the horror of Jesus' crucifixion. The waiting of the Sabbath day.
Right in that moment, when she turns toward him. The mutual recognition and love that bursts forth right then. That's Easter!
If this has ever happened to you, you know it. It may never happen again, and it doesn't need to. The memory and the depth of the moment is something that you will always try to honor. Living a life that honors that memory is also Easter. Easter may have come like a sudden spark to you, or maybe Easter has always been a natural part of your life.
Easter isn't only that first spark. Easter is also a season. Easter is when we celebrate that Jesus defeated death. Jesus didn't push death aside, and he didn't avoid death. Jesus died. And Jesus defeated death. Easter is a season where we celebrate why defeating death mattered. It mattered because of what happened next. Jesus ascended to the father.
Mary is told that she can't hold on to him. It's time to finish. Mary may be the only one who saw Jesus after the resurrection and before his ascension. She had to let go of the Jesus she had so that she could have Jesus forever.
And in what might be the most important line in this scripture, Jesus says, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
No longer does Jesus say “I'm going to be with my Father,” or “I come to do my Father's will.” Because of Easter, Jesus has given us what has been promised all along. Now God is my Father and your Father, my God and your God. By this resurrection and ascension, Jesus established the relationship that all of this has always been about.
Every interaction with Jesus brings about a turning. I mean the kind of interaction that comes when you're tying your shoe and you burst into tears for no reason. When you're watering the plants and you maybe let loose a little giggle. When you are sitting with your head in your hands praying with all your heart for a solution, an answer, a way out or a way in. Experiencing music. So many more.
I am sure, sure, that throughout this pandemic encounters with Jesus are happening everywhere. In San Francisco where 70 people in the city's largest homeless shelter have tested positive for COVID-19, after the city council has been working for over a month to get those folks into rooms but the city didn't act. Jesus is right there. In hospitals all over the country where nurses and doctors and anesthetists, janitors, housekeeping personnel, EMT's, fire and police personnel are working absolute miracles. Jesus is there. When they are able to save someone and their hearts are full. And when a patient dies and their hearts are broken. When families put teddy bears in windows, or lights up on their house, or howl at 8pm like they do in the north bay, Jesus hears and bears it all. When restaurant owners who will probably not recover their business make hundreds of meals and deliver them to hospitals and police stations and fire houses. And certainly with the mom or dad who are trying to teach algebra or new math or chemistry! A relationship with Jesus is a place in our hearts where we can take that pause that comes when we don't know what to do, and find some peace and some rest.
When this pandemic is over someday Jesus will be there too. And when that happens we will gather again, and mourn and grieve and celebrate and sing.
Because that's what Easter people do.
Reverend Debra McGuire
Easter Sunday - April 12. 2020