Easter Sunday 2018
John’s Gospel reading today tells the story of Mary Magdalene. Mary came from Magdala, a village on the shores of lake galilee.
She was one of a group of women who travelled with Jesus & the disciples and supported them. We don’t know much about her – and the fact there are 5 Mary’s mentioned in the NT makes it slightly confusing – but we do know she was healed by Jesus and from then on, she committed her life to him.
In all the stages of Jesus’ ministry, Mary was there. At the accusation, the crucifixion, the death, the removal of the body and its burial – she is there. Last at the cross – first at the tomb. Her relationship with him is deep and she is traumatised, confused and desolate from what she has seen.
In our passage today, we see Mary at the tomb early in the morning. She had gone there to finish anointing and preparing the body, as it had only been hastily done before the start of the Sabbath.
The scene is one of confusion and uncertainty – she finds the stone rolled away – no guards are there – the body is gone but the grave clothes are there. As appalling as the burial must have been for her – this is even worse.
She goes to tell the men and they come and see. They are so confused they simply go home, no doubt fearing further trouble with the authorities.
But Mary can’t let it go – she simply has to be there…This is a completely understandable reaction when any of us lose a loved one. A sense of disbelief – of expecting them to come back through the door any minute and put the kettle on. For normalcy to return.
The disciples’ response is also a common one – of disbelief and denial, of just carrying on regardless, of simply not being able to take it in.
And her waiting and devotion means she sees the angels and then her Lord. Jesus says to her: why are you weeping? Although of course, he knew. The tenderness of this encounter is one from which we too can draw hope. Whenever we are grief stricken, confused and in despair – this is the approach of Jesus to each one of us – gently – to ask us what is wrong, to open up space to listen to us – to be available to us in our darkest hour…
And his next question – who are you looking for? – directs us and points us to himself. Is it Jesus we are looking for? When we’ve tried everything else to soothe our pain, or ignore it through busyness – he draws us back to himself to find comfort and the peace that we need. As he makes himself gently available to Mary in her deepest sorrow, so he makes himself present to us – even though we may also fail to recognise him at first.
And as Mary recognises who this is, she clings to him, hoping to keep him here – have everything return to “normal”. Put all the messy business of the last few days behind them. She is desperate to restore order – to return to life as she had known it. But she cannot. They are caught up in the middle of a metamorphosis – a process moving from death to new life – that cannot be stopped but must continue. Jesus came – lived – loved – died – rose from the dead – he must ascend to finish the process that will change the world and all human life.
This is hard for Mary as she just wants the pain to stop –a very human response, where it’s hard to see that something bigger and life changing is happening – the death of one system and the start of another. As someone who has just gone through a very messy divorce, I can identify with Mary’s response, but perhaps it teaches us to look beyond our immediate struggles to the possibilities beyond?
Mary has to let him go. It is part of the journey of human life that we have to learn to let go. This crucifixion and resurrection story show us this – that God stepped down into human life, entering our story of life and death, joy and pain, in order to show us that the end is never really the end – suffering is never the last word – to show us what happens beyond the grave. To bring us hope beyond our loss and despair.
Today we celebrate Jesus risen from the dead, having taken with him down to the grave all our struggles, brokenness and pain, our mistakes and sins – and bringing up with him in his resurrection, hope for the future. Death is defeated – it is no longer the final word – and his new kingdom is coming where there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more crying.
Jesus has gone ahead of us, to show us the way – to show us how it works, to show us where we are going next. And so today, we celebrate – the love of the Father, who sent his Son to draw us into a relationship of love, as he did with Mary. And this love send us out, to share that love with the world – that all who are lost or alone, may know that this is not the end of their story either. Amen.