The Gospel: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: One of the ways that I try to get past my tendency to slip into an automatic response when I hear the Easter story is to ask myself who do I identify with this year? If I can find someone to who I can say "ah yes, I understand that moment, and that reaction" then I can often increase my emotional intensity as I listen to the story."
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
"This year I particularly identify with Mary at this point in the Gospel story for this morning. This is the faithful Mary who has earlier in the day come to the tomb. Other writers tell us that she has come to anoint the body of Jesus. She is faithfully carrying out the necessary ritual processes at the time of death. It is really interesting to me that it is Mary and not Martha. After all, Martha is known as the practical one. I would expect that Martha would have the anointing on her agenda. But it is Mary who comes and desires to carry out this intimate task for her beloved master Jesus. Mary is more than likely processing through her own grief and desolation. She is probably seeking to find a way to normalize the situation. Doing something that will help her to reconnect with the ritual so that she can re-establish the routine of her life. All of that desire and hope is interrupted when she discovers that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. I am sure that she is thrown into emotional turmoil. So much for trying to get back to normal. She reacts and runs to find help. Peter and the "beloved" disciple respond to the devastating news and they run to the tomb. I could say a whole lot about that event, but that is not what caught my attention today. So, let's just say that they get to the tomb, they go inside, and check what the situation is! Then they go home! Does anyone else find that odd? There is no indication that they said anything to Mary or that they came to any conclusions about what the empty tomb meant. They just went home.
Mary is left standing outside the tomb, with no consolation, no reassurance. It is almost as though she has been abandoned, left to work out the situation, completely alone. There is little question why she is weeping.
But then, in the midst of her desolation, in her standing alone, overwhelmed by her grief she looks into the tomb for herself and experiences the miraculous.
Not only does she see angels, but in the next moment, Jesus himself is standing with her. In going through her grief, her suffering, and the utter desolation of being alone, she experiences something that no one else does. The next thing that happens is she is commissioned, she is sent, to tell the disciples what they missed because they went home.
"But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her."
Mary, in going through her grief and suffering, finds herself in a place to receive a blessing. Now, please don't hear me saying that we should seek out situations of grief and suffering so that we can be blessed. But I do identify with Mary more this year because there are some circumstances that I would rather avoid if I could. I would rather not find myself alone, desolate, and feeling abandoned. But some experiences are very common to human beings. Death and grief are among the most common.
I believe we all can identify with Mary in some area of our life. Sometimes we can find ourselves standing weeping outside the empty tomb of our hopes and dreams, our failed relationships, or difficult health issues. It is only when we bend down to look into the tomb that we make the realization that there is more to this situation than we thought.
Going through grief, isolation, desolation and being alone is sometimes necessary for us to discover the wonder of the resurrection.
It may also be what is necessary for us to be equipped with genuine empathy for those with whom we get the opportunity to share the good news. Mary can speak out of her experience at the tomb when she speaks to the disciples about the promises Jesus makes. She can speak with confidence when she says "I have seen the Lord."
I would like to close this morning with the words of the Collect For the Mission of the Church from the Book of Common Prayer
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike