My friends, I decided for this Easter message, “to cut to the chase,” so to speak and just jump into the story of Easter as it is such a good story! I usually give you some exegesis but decided too to dispense with that and “spend” my words on the story as it is laid out for us today, because again, it is such a good story. It includes all the elements of a really good story: suspense, action, intrigue, and of course, love.
Let’s look at what we are told—Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb, early in the morning—she is looking for her friend who suffered a grievous death, not even two days ago, before her very eyes. It was all so confusing that day—no one had been able to anoint his body, as was their custom, a task she intended to do now. A secret friend at the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea had given Jesus a tomb and Mary made sure she knew where it was. Because of the Sabbath and the prohibition of any, but necessary work; she couldn’t go to the tomb until after the holyday had passed.
She was the first to arrive at the tomb—she couldn’t stay away. Upon arriving, much to her wonder and shock, she finds that the stone barring the entrance has been rolled away. Her immediate reaction is that Jesus’ body has been taken and this is what she reports to Peter and John.
These two disciples then run to the tomb to confirm that which they can’t yet believe. At this point all three are grieving Jesus’ death and they are looking for a body. Upon inspecting the tomb and seeing the wrappings on the ground and the material covering his face rolled up in a different place, they suspect that something more than a grave robbing has occurred as was Mary’s first impression—if someone wanted to steal his body, they wouldn’t bother to unwrap it first is what exegetes tell us and no doubt the apostles were thinking as well. When they saw the evidence, they believed, the Scriptures say.
And we might ask, “What is it that they believed? It is important for us to remember that these first followers had no experience of a resurrection or of what that truly meant, even though Jesus had told them that he would rise after three days.
Now at this point, we have to fault those who chose the gospel reading for this Easter Sunday morn as they stop short of the ten verses of the story that flesh it out and make it truly the alleluia story that it is! For those of you who follow the lectionary closely, you will notice that today’s selection ends with verse 9 of the 20th chapter of John, “Then the disciples went back to their homes.” Really! Come on guys, you’re going to end the story there?! (In fact, the selection was made by guys!)
So, I took some “literary license” and included the next 10 verses which includes Mary of Magdala’s poignant and wonderful encounter with her risen rabbi. As a point of information regarding the word “rabbi” you will recall that earlier I mentioned that Mary had gone to the tomb looking for her “friend.” I said this because when she finally recognizes Jesus she calls him “Rabboni” which is a diminutive of the word Rabbi or teacher. It would be like calling him “teach” instead of “teacher.” Clearly their relationship was one of friendship!
Moving along then, from Mary’s position beside the tomb, where Scripture tells us, “She is weeping,” she discovers two angels when she looks inside the tomb to confirm that Jesus has truly gone—been taken—something! Everyone in this story seems to be on a different page because these creatures in “dazzling robes” ask her why she is weeping. Now given what happened to Jesus not even two days ago, weeping seems a good reaction to me. But these “dazzling” creatures had moved to the next page indeed, and Mary will be there soon as she then notices someone behind her who too is concerned about her weeping, but he goes further—“for whom are you looking?” Now Mary assumes that he is the gardener and asks him if he knows where Jesus’ body has been taken. So our imaginations are piqued—why does she not recognize her rabbi, her friend, the one for which she weeps?
John Aurelio, in his book, Returnings tells us that what happened to Jesus was not a resuscitation where one would appear the same once oxygen was flowing again—Jesus was resurrected, something none of us understands any more than Jesus’ first followers did, but we can clearly surmise that something wonderful and life-changing had occurred because Mary can no longer recognize, at least physically, her friend.
Scripture does tell us though that at one point she does recognize him and it is when Jesus says her name, “Mary.” No matter what resurrection has done to Jesus physically, she would always know the way he said her name. It is a bit like when we watch an old movie and recognize a character not by their looks, but by their voice. We can also think of our own loved ones and the special ways they name us, the special tone of voice, the special look reserved only for us and we know that what is at the heart of it is love.
Love is something that binds people over time and place and will always be, true. Stories abound of people who have lost a loved one who later were most sure that they felt their presence in a certain situation, a physical manifestation in another human or animal form not of their loved one, or even in a manifestation of nature—a rainbow, a sunset.
We all recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus who found they were walking with “a stranger” who was really Jesus, only they didn’t recognize him. When they arrived at their home, they invited the stranger in for the evening meal, still not recognizing him, but also not wanting to let him go, because, “their hearts burned within them” at his words. They finally knew him in an action they had experienced with him so many times before—the breaking of the bread.
So friends, Easter calls us each year to recall the wonderful story of how much our God loves us and wants to share our wonderful lives with us, helping us to be all that we can be, loving us no matter what we do with our lives. And love is really the key—it’s what makes this story so good! When we know we are loved; we can do anything, accomplish any feat. That’s all God really wanted us to know in sending Jesus—that each one of us is loved.
And because that is such an awesome task, our brother and friend, Jesus, asked us to continue what he could only begin. That is what being his follower calls us to—to see him in our world in all the ways that he showed himself while with us. Because he advocated for the least among us; we must see him in the poor, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the lonely young and the lonely old, the women around our world not afforded their full rights as human beings simply because of having been born female. We must see our brother Jesus in anyone or group of individuals not treated justly in our world due to race, creed or sexual expression and what we must see is the link that connects us all as Easter people—the connection between us and all others is the love given so freely by Jesus in his life and death, so that we could, “all be one” finally, finally!
His resurrection, what we celebrate today and during the next 50 days in a special way is the realization that we are called to the same, to resurrected life where one day all will be fully accepted and loved as God’s own. May the journey include us all as we strive to be our best! Amen? Amen! Alleluia!