What Do You See?
If you look closely, and if you listen closely,
You can find yourself here, in this story,
this story of breathless energy and passionate searching and daring hope.
That’s John’s point, after all, telling this story this way.
There’s Something about Mary
Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene as we’ve come to call her
She opens John’s story for us
When it was still dark, on that first day of the week.
If you’re just turning your head to pay attention to what has been going on
This has been a brutal, violent, bloody week
The sort of week that leaves you shell shocked, off your heels
A “drinking water from a firehose” sort of week
for those who have been following the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.
One minute he was causing a scene, the good sort of scene
entering Jerusalem with pomp and circumstance and celebration
Palms waving, bestride a colt to cheering, yearning masses
But then it all went to hell
Tables are overturned
The arrest, the trial, the denials and the rejection
And finally the death.
Not a quick death, mind you, but a humiliating, painful, public death.
And it was over.
They were broken.
Lots of times, we know from experience, people bend,
they bend and the bend and they bend
And sometimes they break. People break.
The followers of Jesus were broken.
Mary of Magdala was broken.
But she did something none of the others ventured to do, according to John.
She went out.
It was dark. It was quiet. But it is the city. There are eyes everywhere.
It wasn’t safe, but she went out anyway,
Compelled to go to the tomb that morning.
She approached the place where Jesus lay
Why? Why go back there?
She saw him die, with her own eyes.
Wasn’t that enough?
John told us she was there, THERE there
There at the foot of the cross with those other women named Mary
Mary, Jesus’ mother
Mary, the wife of Clopas
And this Mary, Mary from Magdala
Did you know there were so many people named Mary so close to Jesus?
These women who were early disciples, followers and leaders along with Jesus…
Mary Magdalene she was closer than almost anyone else to what happened on Friday.
When Jesus breathed his last. She heard it. She experienced it.
She was there.
She stayed, John says, until just before dark
When two men, named Joseph and Nicodemus, brought a ladder
And lifted him down.
She followed as they carried his lifeless body and wrapped it in linen grave clothes
And placed it in Joseph’s garden tomb.
Only after all of that did she turn in
Returning to the place where Peter and John and the others were hiding.
The disciples were broken, yes,
But maybe especially was she.
And she had to go see… him again. His body broken, just as she was now broken.
What was she looking for?
I’m not sure we know, exactly,
but I think I understand that drive to get out
To take all the energy of worry and hurt and loss
that pushes you to go DO something
Even if you don’t know what that something quite is.
The other stories we have about Jesus,
From the Gospels we call Matthew, Mark, and Luke,
The other Gospel writers all give her a PURPOSE
for going back to that tomb, Easter morning
as if her aimless angst was too much for them to bear
She’s there to ritually prepare the body with spices, they say
One of a larger group of women, doing their duty.
But John is on to something here
Closer to what we might feel ourselves on our own dark mornings
JRR Tolkien once famously said that “Not all who wander are lost”
A reminder that sometimes we set out without knowing exactly why,
but still with purpose, still fulfilling a need…
So Mary Magdalene found herself there, at the tomb,
that early first-day-of-the-week morning.
John is asking us to be attuned to our feelings, to our senses
As we walk our way through this story this morning.
Good advice: since we can be numbed by the violence and the hurt in our own world
And miss out on the nuance, the texture of new life when it bursts onto the scene.
John is asking us: What do you see? Look closely. Pay attention.
You just might find yourself in this story, somewhere…
So we find Mary Magdalene at the tomb in the dark, in the fresh air of the morning
To find it open.
Mary SAW that the tomb was OPEN.
She was there, just the other day, when the tomb was closed
This is not what she was expecting. Something isn’t right.
The rock had been pushed aside and SOMEONE had been THERE.
What in the world is going on. What did they do to him, to my Lord, to Jesus??
So she ran, back to tell the others, back to get some help.
Mary ran back to the city…
Can you imagine the panic the Disciples felt? I mean, can you even imagine it? I don’t know how you get in a panic, but I get frenetic.
There was one time when our family was taking a long trip from Louisville, KY to the middle of Kansas. We had been in the van for well over 10 hours by this point, and something happened and everyone started to feel like they were gonna blow. And I remember I pulled the van off the highway into some rural Kansas gravel parking lot, and I threw open the door and started screaming. And then all the other doors of the van flew open and everyone in our family was out and moving and screaming and even crying. We had been cooped up in that stupid van for 10 hours and we were restless and crazy and – whatever it was – something sparked and we had to get out and move.
I think if I were to tell Simon Peter and the one the Bible calls “the Beloved Disciple” this story, they would understand. The disciples had been holed up in that stupid house since Friday. There were at least the 11 of them, plus Mary and some others, and you know that they were all cycling through the stages of grief trying to deal with the fact that Jesus was dead. You know everyone was cycling through anger, shock, denial, pleading…, and probably not at the same time. It was a jumble of emotion. It was bound to be a tinderbox of emotion. The smallest thing was going to set someone off.
And then Mary shows up, probably in a panic herself. Jesus’ body was gone, and she didn’t know where it was. That was all it took. Peter and the Disciple were…out of there.
I’ve been where they were so many times. I’ve been in that place where your grief and anxiety has overtaken you, and then someone says “something” and you go to that bad place. And you’re thinking: “I cannot handle one more thing.”
These disciples did not wake up cheery and expectant that Sunday morning. They were tired and had probably been crying their eyes out. They had been crying those tears you cry when you just wish the tears would stop because you’re sure you’ve cried them all. And then Mary comes in, and she says: “His body’s missing.”
And so they ran. It was all they had. They had to get there. They had to see. I don’t know if they communicated while they ran. The text doesn’t say they did. Probably not. They were imagining the worst. You don’t want to say it out loud when you imagine the worst. You don’t want to give the bad thing – the horrible thing – life when you imagine the worst. So they just ran.
The thing is: When they finally did see, it changed everything.
The text says they saw the linens and then they believed, because up to that point “they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
I’m sure those guys were just like you and I. Something was staring them right in the face and they just didn’t put it all together. All the pieces. Right there. Nothing.
How many times had Jesus told them he was going to die and be raised up? How many times had he told them, but they didn’t get it?
Well in that moment, it didn’t matter anymore. In that moment, they did get it. And I am sure the rush they felt when it all clicked must have been powerful. Now, instead of crying because of grief, it was tears of relief. They had been crying and worrying for nothing, but they didn’t know that.
We humans make a big deal out of faith being “believing something you have no evidence for.” The Bible even talks about it like that. But this scene with Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple doesn’t make any judgments. These were faithful men who loved their rabbi. They followed him and obeyed him. Perhaps…perhaps it just took them a little longer to get the point.
We’ve all been there, right?
(This is the free preview version of the video we showed in worship)
So Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple
Have a moment where, at least for now,
Their worry and grief have dissipated.
They’ve found some relief.
What they saw was enough,
Thank God it was enough
and they go back home.
But back to Mary.
Mary, in the meantime, has returned to the garden. For her, it is still dark.
Did she get back in time to catch a glimpse of the departing disciples
Or were they long gone before she got there?
Maybe if they had been there, they could have shared their relief.
Offered some comfort, quieted her tears.
Why did Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple go back home, anyway?
Gee thanks, guys.
But there she is, back at the tomb, alone,
And she is weeping. That’s biblical speak for she’s a mess.
This has just been TOO MUCH.
And she is despondent.
The thing about tears like that is that they overwhelm you.
You try to wipe them out of your eyes but you just can’t.
For John, the guy telling us this story
Being able to see is so important. Seeing Jesus for who he is, is the whole point.
That’s what this story is all about.
But she’s crying, leaning against the side of the tomb
The world is torn asunder.
But then, suddenly, she’s not alone.
The gardener, she thinks.
He asks, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
And It all spills out—how he was arrested, tried, crucified,
and now someone has taken away his body.
“If you know where he is, please tell me, and I will bring him back here.”
He speaks her name, “Mary.”
She turns, she looks, and she recognizes him—it is Jesus!
Jesus, the one in the tomb, or who should be in the tomb
The one who was dead, dead dead
Jesus the teacher, the healer, her friend and her Lord.
And the world shifts on its axis.
She reaches out, tries to embrace him.
“Do not cling to me. Go tell the others.”
And now it is Mary who runs, flings open the door: “I have seen the Lord.”
The world SHIFTS.
The first day of a new life begins.
It is dawn now, and the sun is shining on a world suddenly brand new,
a world in which death has been defeated, overcome by life.
This short story gives us a couple different points of view into the resurrection of Jesus.
They’re powerful. They’re emotional. They’re incomplete.
They start with confusion and end with something kind of like clarity,
even if many different questions remain.
The Resurrection is a mystery after all.
Its not quite clear, not yet, not even after Mary speaks with Jesus
Not after Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple remember and start piecing it together.
John is telling us that there are different ways to experience this story.
Maybe we’re more like Mary: driven, brave, unable to turn away from the pain of our lives
Facing it even though it is almost too much to bear
Only to experience a wholly different interpretation, a new way of seeing.
Where we are called by name
And because of that, we are known
We are loved
And all is possible again…
Maybe we’re more like Simon or his beloved companion
Just plain done with all of this
Wanting to just get away, as soon as we can
Only to hear something too good to be true
And having to go and see it for our own eyes
And we see enough, enough
For us to turn our anguish into hopeful joy
And we can go back home for the next day
Maybe we’re more like those other disciples
The ones still huddled in the safety of their home, still frightened,
Who have to make sense of what Mary and Simon Peter and the Disciple
Have to say to them. At least one other story says
That they think its all bogus.
They’re the ones who will take a bit more time before they realize that it’s a new day.
What do you see?
Where are you in this story?
I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that the scriptures
Have enough space for all of us on Easter
The skeptics and the dreamers
The runners and the meanderers
The despondent and the relieved
So many different experiences. No demand for us all to experience it the same way.
But its ONE story, a story with a crucial meaning.
Jesus is alive! Christ is risen.
Death cannot hold Jesus.
The powers that use violence and fear and intimidation
Cannot hold Jesus
The tomb cannot hold Jesus
Jesus is free, because God is more powerful
Than all our sorrows
More hopeful than our darkest day
This is what Easter is all about: A new day has dawned.
The realm of God is at hand.
The world turned upside down.
A whole new day.
This world of ours contains so many things that leave us broken, and hurting.
Loved ones away at war.
Friends fighting as cancer ravages their bodies or Alzheimer’s robs the mind
Struggles for self-esteem as we wind our way though school or work
But Easter is God’s resolute NO to these things that threaten us and our spirit.
Just as in a Garden long ago, before dawn, when Mary, weeping, devastated
—as we are sometimes, frequently in fact, by the senseless cruelty of the world,
the randomness of evil and death—
–just as Mary heard Jesus say her name
and she knew in ways she did not fully understand,
at a place deep in her soul,
that he was the victor, not death;
–Just as Simon and the Disciple ran and saw and believed
that the last word about Jesus was not death but life and love;
that the meaning they and everyone of us longs for was IN him,
a risen Lord who overcame death.
So we too have a PLACE in this Easter story.
New life is offered for us, for you,
That first Easter morning.
So please know, on THIS Easter morning,
that God has created you for life and joy. Jesus Christ is risen.
Please know that whatever is happening in your life today,
whatever you are dealing with, worried about, struggling with,
there is a power alive and at work in the world and in your life.
It is on your side; it will hold you up.
It is the power of life and love. Jesus Christ is risen.
Please know that whatever you are afraid of today, tomorrow, in the future—
there is nothing ultimately to fear. Jesus Christ is risen.
And please know that though death is real,
more real is a love from which nothing, not even death, will ever separate you,
and so you can entrust your life and the life of your dear ones to him.
Jesus Christ is risen.
A new world at first light on Easter morning—
Can you see it?
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.