April 1, 2018
As Mary Magdalene made her way down the dark road to Jesus’ tomb, memories of better days in Galilee tried to pierce through the darkness. In a time of need, Jesus had healed her. Hope had taken root in her heart. She became his devoted follower-one of the few who stayed to watch his crucifixion. So, can you imagine her horror when she discovered that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and inside, it was empty as a drum. She wept. Two angels came and asked her what she was crying about, and she said, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She wasn’t thinking in terms of anything
miraculous; she was thinking simply that even in death they wouldn’t let Jesus be and somebody had stolen his body. What was this, the original April Fool’s Day? What a cruel joke; and it wasn’t not even over yet, because another person came up to her and asked the same questions. Why was she crying? What was she doing there? She decided it must be somebody in charge, like the gardener maybe, and she said if he was the one who had moved the body somewhere else, would he please tell her where it was so she could go there. My goodness this prank has gone on too long; and then, at the height of her despair the resurrected Christ calls her by name. She is absolutely blown out of the water. All she can say is ‘Rabboni.’ Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that no one is ever ready to comprehend Easter until she has spent time in a dark place where hope cannot be seen. Maybe that is you today or someone you know; something has been taken away; something has died; there have been lots of tears. Things seem to go from bad to worse. Resurrection is the last thing we are expecting. This can’t be true can it?
But that’s when it happens- it is precisely when a part of us has died that the crucified and risen Lord speaks to us-directly: through a friend, a community, an event; scripture tells us that ‘if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.’ And that is why Easter terrifies us. It’s about more hope than we can handle. It’s about life emerging out of death.
That’s one of the truths of Easter but there is another important one in St. John’s resurrection account as well; it has to do the nature and character of the God we worship today. We gain this insight from the moment Mary realizes that Jesus is there in front of her, not dead but alive. In her indescribable joy she lunges to embrace the risen Christ but is rebuffed. He tells her not to hold onto him.
Now this part of the Biblical narrative is difficult for huggers. I mean doesn’t a long hard hug seem the appropriate thing to do at such a moment? But no, we hear a ‘don’t touch me.’ What does it mean? For Mary it means that Jesus is not just her teacher any more; it means a new relationship with him that was not going to be like her old relationship. Soon he wouldn’t be going around Galilee and Judea any more, walking about with his followers, sharing regular meals, discussing, talking, and praying. They would see him now and then –but soon it would be time for him “to go to the Father” as he had promised over and over. What Jesus is telling Mary is don’t try to keep me, possess me.
And that’s true for us as well. Easter means that nothing can hold Jesus anymore not even death itself; it means opening up our puny imaginations, letting God out of the box we’ve put him in. It means we cannot have God on our own terms. We are called to let go of the Jesus of our memory, a fixed image of who he is. (I grew up thinking Jesus was a Norwegian!) Mary Magdalene was never the same after her encounter with the risen Christ. Neither is anyone who has learned that what matters is not that we be confident in our hold on God– but confident in his hold of us. Seeing that, we can be ready for anything. After the resurrection, things do not return to normal. That’s good news. It is basic to everything else the New Testament proclaims. After encountering a risen Christ we see that there is no normal. Now even the dark times don’t seem so dark anymore. All we know for sure is that a risen Savior is on the loose. And he knows our names (NAME PEOPLE HERE). He wants us to know him and be changed by him. It’s an open invitation. Amen.