He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in the dark. The thing about the dark is that you don’t know. The dark itself won’t hurt you, right. It can’t do anything to you. But what’s in it, what you can’t see, that’s the problem. So for example, you walk into a dark room, there could be a three-horned, slimy, soul sucking monster crouching in the corner and you wouldn’t know it. There could be a bottomless pit right in front of your feet and you couldn’t tell. It’s what you don’t know.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, a man named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark, and says “We know!.” Well, he’s supposed to know because he is a leader of the people, an authority in religious matters. He says “Teacher, we know you must be from God because of all the miracles you do.”But wait, is that why we believe in Jesus? I mean, surely Jesus has done many signs to show us what God is like. Jesus has done many miracles in all of our lives. Take a breath. That’s a miracle. Move your hand, right?
But is that why we believe? What about all the miracles that Jesus does not do? What about the twenty-two year old young woman who stopped by the side of the road in the middle of the night to help with an accident and got hit by a car herself and killed? What about the thirty-four year old father dying of pancreatic cancer in the Hospice unit, and his eight-year-old daughter comes up to you and says “I’m praying really really hard for Jesus to heal my daddy,” and he doesn’t. I’m not sure miracles are the way to base our faith.
In the Gospel of John, there is this tension between believing because of Jesus’s miracles and believing because of a relationship that goes deep. People truly believe because they see the beauty and light of God in Jesus. But that’s not even what starts it.
People come to believe in Jesus not because they see or know Jesus, but rather because Jesus knows them.
Nathanael becomes a disciple because Jesus sees him under a fig tree. A Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at a well becomes the first missionary and brings her village to Jesus because he knows her. We trust Jesus because he knows us, to the roots of our souls.
Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in the dark, and she thinks she knows. She thinks she knows about Jesus, that he is dead, that death, after all is the most powerful force in the universe, that those who wield the power of death, that is, the leaders of her people and the Roman occupation above them, wield the most powerful force in the universe, and that all there is left for us who hope for life and freedom and wholeness is to stand at the graves, so many graves, of those whom we love, of dreams we have lost, of people who have stood up for compassion and justice and dignity and freedom, and weep.
Mary thinks she knows. She gets there, and the tomb has been opened. Now things begin to move. Mary does not know what is going on. Maybe it’s grave robbers who opened the tomb. She runs to Peter and the Beloved disciple and say “They have taken away the Lord’s body, and we DON’T KNOW where they have laid him.
Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb. There seems to be a kind of contest, who gets there first, who looks in, who goes in. Maybe reflective of a controversy in the early church over who has more authority, Peter or the beloved disciple. Whatever.
They find the grave clothes, folded up, which means it was probably not grave robbers. Grave robbers would have snatched the body, and, more to the point snatched the hundred pounds of spices that Nicodemus brought for the burial and wrapped up with the body. Yes, Nicodemus does come around in the end, which is good news for those of us leaders who think we know what we’re talking about, thanks be to God.
Probably not grave robbers. Peter and the beloved disciple go home, don’t say anything to anyone. Mary stands weeping outside the tomb. Now she really does not know.
You have to have a little unknowing to weep. You have to have an inkling that your love for the person you have lost, your hope in the dream that is destroyed is somehow beyond death, in order to weep. It takes a little bit of hope to grieve. She looks into the tomb. Now, it’s bad enough to look into the tomb when you think you know what you will find there, when you think that death is the final power. Because you know what you’ll see. You’ll see bones and dust. You’ll see futility and despair and hopelessness. Difficult though that is, it’s not that bad because we are accustomed to bones and dust and futility and despair and hopelessness. These things are part of our world. We know them.
But when we don’t know. When we wonder whether maybe there’s something bigger than death, now that takes courage to look at. Sometimes the light can be more terrifying than the dark, because it is so utterly different.
Mary looks down in that tomb, not knowing, and what does she see? Sometimes when we look down into that tomb, into the places of darkness and despair in our lives and in our world, willing, even just a little bit, to not know, we might see an angel, a messenger with a word of care. Angels says “Lady, why are you weeping?”
Mary says “They’ve taken my Lord’s body away and I DON’T KNOW where they have laid him.” She turns around, and there is Jesus. But, again, our minds construct themselves around whatever is most familiar, whatever makes the most sense. We are in a garden here, so this must be the gardener. Mary says “Just show me where you have put Jesus’ body and I will take him away for you.”
Now, Jesus says her name. Remember what we said before about Jesus knowing us. We come to believe when we realize Jesus knows us. Jesus knows Mary.
Mary, he says, just like he says Lazarus’s name to call him out of tomb, out of the darkness. Just like he will say our names, Jane, Joseph, Tom, Joan, to call us out of the grave. Jesus calls Mary out of the darkness. “Mary”
“Rabouni,” she says. Now she sees. Now she understands what is going on . This familiar, comfortable title, “Teacher.” But I have to stop for just a moment to show you just how strange this familiar title is. About five percent of the population in Jesus day knew how to read. Even fewer of the women knew how to read. Women were not supposed to learn, not supposed to be disciples, or students, which is what a disciple is. Much less were women supposed to engage in theological and political and economic and social debate, which is what Jesus and his disciples did all, the, time. Mary’s status as a student, a learner, a disciple turns the social conventions of Jesus day upside down. What it means to be a man what it means to be a woman what it means to be a Jewish peasant what it means to be a Roman citizen, all got turned inside out by Jesus’ teaching.
Same nowadays. What it means to be a man what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an American, what it means to be African-American, European-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, Native-American, what it means to be a human being gets turned upside down by Jesus teaching, upside down, always in the direction of dignity and compassion and justice and freedom and hope.
Just so you know. That’s the ride.
Mary says “Rabouni.” Familiar, earth-shaking teacher. But now, precious and essential as our understanding of dignity and compassion and justice and freedom and hope are, powerful as our familiar experiences of Jesus are, there is always more to learn, more to grow.
Jesus says to Mary “Don’t hang on to me,” as if to say “Don’t hang on to me as I was, as you understand me. “For I am going to my father and to your father, to my God and to your God.” There is something more to know.
Jesus’ father is now our father. Jesus’ God is now our God. The intimacy between Jesus and God has now become the intimacy between God and us. God is close as breath.
So where are you on your journey? Do you come to the tomb in the dark? Maybe you might have heard about this resurrection thing, but no, really, you know deep down that people don’t come back from the dead, and that, all we can do is stand at those graves, all those graves.
Or, might you have had a glimpse of a tomb cracked open, the chains just beginning to break? Maybe you don’t know for sure what there might be out there. Maybe there is some kind of hope. Are you willing to look into the tomb not knowing, to look into the darkest and most despairing places in life, with the sense that this might not be the end? There might be an angel in there.
Do you ever wonder whether Jesus might be close, you just don’t recognize him? Maybe Jesus is working through the person sitting in the pew right next to you and you don’t know it. Or maybe you do see Jesus, the old familiar Jesus and Jesus is saying “Don’t hang on to me, there is more that I want you to know, more that I want to do to bless the world through you.”
Or maybe you feel God close.
Wherever we are on our journey, this God who lay so deep in the heart of Christ, has now embraced us, so that we lay just as deep in the heart of God. God is close, close as breath.
The dawn is breaking. The light has come.
Let the people of God say, Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed, alleluia.