EASTER - YEAR B - 2018 JOHN 20. 1-18
Easter is meant to be a surprise and the surprise of Easter confronts us in John’s account of that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene, it would appear, went to the tomb alone while it was still dark. She was on a mission. Her mission was simply to anoint the dead body of Jesus and to pack it with spices, in essence to complete the traditional burial practice of the Jews of her day that was made impossible by Jesus’ hasty burial on Good Friday.
Unlike the women in Mark’s account, Mary seemed to be totally unconcerned with the issue of the stone that had been rolled in place to secure the tomb. When she arrived, however, the stone was no longer an issue. Somehow, it had been removed from the tomb. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away, and without looking in, Mary assumed the grave had been robbed of the body of her Lord she had come to anoint.
With that idea dominating her thoughts, she ran away from the tomb as fast as she could and sought Peter who was in hiding with the beloved disciple. She reported to them what she assumed had taken place, “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Casting caution to the wind, Peter and the other disciple made their way to the tomb picking up speed as they went until the younger disciple out ran Peter and got there first. However, he waited to go in until Peter arrived. He only peered inside and saw the linen wrappings laying there. In contrast, upon his arrival, Peter did not hesitate to enter the tomb. The linens were lying there neatly folded and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face rolled up by itself.
Who would go to the trouble of neatly folding the linens that had wrapped his body if they intended to steal it?
The other disciple also stepped inside. John reports that he saw and believed. However, it was not that he believed Jesus had risen from the dead, for that was the furthers thing from his mind. He simply believed what Mary had said was true. The tomb was empty.
The body of Jesus was not there. The witness of Peter and the other disciple confirmed Mary’s report. Having done so, they returned to their homes. Neither the disciples nor Mary went to the tomb expecting resurrection.
The disciples would not have even gone there had it not been for Mary’s suspicion that the tomb had been robbed. They were in hiding. They left the tomb knowing that Jesus had indeed died on Friday, saddened, and a bit mystified that his body was missing and nothing more.
Mary, on the other hand, could not bring herself to leave. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. Where did they come from? They were not there moments before, when Peter and John were inside, or were they?
Maybe sometimes you can only see angels through tears. When people are afraid angels tend to tell them not to be. And when people are in tears, angels ask them why, as they did Mary.
Obviously unafraid of their appearance, Mary said to them “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” And when she tuned around she saw Jesus standing at the entrance to the tomb. She was standing in the darkness of the empty tomb and did not recognize him through her tears of grief.
He, on the other hand, was standing in the light of his resurrected body, in the light of a new day. Jesus said to her, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? “She supposed him to be the gardener, and said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus called her by name and it was then that she recognized him and reached out to touch him. He stopped her and gave her a new mission. “Go to my brothers and say to them I am ascending to my Father, and your father, to my God and your God.”
And Mary, as I have always imagined her was still clutching the spices she had come to the tomb to anoint the dead body of her Lord, went as the Lord had commanded her and announced to the disciples that she had seen the risen Christ. What a surprise!
In John’s account of the Passion, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. She witnessed the death of Jesus along with his mother and the beloved disciple. On Easter morning, she is the first to visit the tomb and to bring the news that the tomb is empty. More importantly, she is the first to see, to meet, to speak to the risen Lord. Easter is full of surprises.
Mary is surprised that the stone had been rolled away. She is surprised that the tomb is empty, surprised at the angel’s appearance. The biggest surprise of all comes in the appearance of the risen Lord who makes himself known to her by calling her name. He recognizes her in the darkness of her grief, and sends the light of his resurrection upon her that turns her despair into joy.
In addition, the disciples are surprised, first, by the fact of the empty tomb, then, by the linens being neatly folded where the body had been. Finally, they were surprised by Mary’s report that she had seen the risen Lord and he had spoken to her.
Easter is meant to be a surprise. It is not a happy ending after the horror of the cross, though some treat it as such. No, Easter reads like a shocking new beginning. The story does not end with Easter - Easter begins a new story, the story which is now possible because Jesus has risen from the dead.
It is a story of grief being turned into joy. Despair into hope. Doubt into belief. Death into resurrection. In the resurrected Jesus all of our grief, doubts, despair and dying come to new life.
Because of Easter a new way of living has been opened to us, a new way of being human - a way that people thought impossible then and think impossible still today, but a way that has caught up millions and transformed their lives beyond recognition.
Easter is all about new beginnings that continue to surprise. Because He is risen, the Light of the Resurrection has penetrated the darkness of sin and death and opened the way to eternal life to all who believe in Him. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! AMEN+