No one expected it – not one single person. What we celebrate here today was totally outside of the realm of belief of every single disciple even though Jesus had told them over and over again that it would happen, that he would be killed and that on the third day he would be raised from the dead. It is now the 3rd day and not one of his disciples sat in waiting.
Not one of them believed it would happen. Not one of them took Jesus at his word.
On the day after the Sabbath – on that first Easter Sunday morning – while it was still dark Mary Magdalene and some other woman went to the tomb of Jesus with special spices to finish the process of preparing his body for burial – not to see if Jesus’ promise came true but to confirm his death by preparing it for burial. Mary went out first – by herself – ahead of the others. She went ahead of them – not because she was expecting a surprise, but because she wanted to be alone for a while in the graveyard. She went out alone because her dearest friend had been tortured and killed and because she wanted to grieve awhile before undergoing the ordeal of doing what needed to be done. She needed closure. She wanted to treat Jesus’ broken body with the dignity that the dead should receive. When she got to the tomb, something was different than it had been when she had been late Friday afternoon. The huge boulder in front of the tomb had been rolled away. The entrance to the place where Jesus’ body had been laid was now open for all to see. Mary is stunned by this, she is shocked. But she doesn’t for a moment believe that it was true after all – that Jesus said that he would rise from the dead and at last believes it; No, she is shocked and grieving because now there can be no closure for her because she believes that someone has stolen Jesus’ body.
So Mary returns and she tells Simon Peter and John what she believes has happened. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” she tells them. And so they return to the tomb with her and they look in the empty tomb and then they go away – back to their own homes because they have no idea what’s going on.. Things don’t add up. Why would someone steal Jesus’ body but And why are the strips of linen laying there and the burial cloth for his head, folded neatly Peter and John return home – still in mourning but Mary is again alone by the tomb – and she is weeping. The body of the one she loved is gone. She cannot even do the little that she had come to do. She stands there weeping and finally gathers her courage and she looks into the tomb. And when she does she sees two angels dressed in white seated on the ledge of the tomb where the body of Jesus was supposed to be.
But Mary still doesn’t get it – she doesn’t believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead. When they ask her why she is crying – she says to them: because “someone has taken the body of my Lord and I don’t know where they have put it!” Mary turns around, and she sees Jesus standing there and she supposes he is the gardener. Mary doesn’t expect to see Jesus walking about – fully alive – and so she doesn’t see him. She doesn’t see Jesus and even when he talks to her she doesn’t recognise his voice. “Woman – why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Still thinking he is the gardener she asks him if he has moved the body. “Tell me,” she says, “where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
But then something different happens. She doesn’t recognise his appearance. She doesn’t recognise his voice. But Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” – and then – suddenly – her eyes are opened – her heart opens – and she realizes that Jesus is alive – and standing in front of her. And she grabs hold of him and embraces him – and clings to him but Jesus tells her to let him go – Go and tell the others what you have seen – tell them that I have risen just as I said I would. And she does as Jesus has asked but still they do not believe her
It is easy to sit here with 2000 years of hindsight and listen in disbelief. How did they not realise that Jesus rose from the dead as he promised. How did Peter and the other disciple miss the option that Jesus has risen. How did Mary not recognise Jesus appearance or voice. It’s easy to criticise But are we just like Mary, Peter and the other disciples in difficult times
– the times of trial
– the times of loss
– the time of mourning,
Like Mary it can be hard to see Jesus and ask “where is God” even though God is right there with us. It can be very hard to believe in what Jesus has said about being raised on the third day when the reality of death, suffering, covid are staring directly at us. But today – Easter Sunday the tomb is empty, And while we can list innumerable reasons to weep like Mary there are even more great reasons to rejoice. Jesus was crucified, he died, and he was laid in the tomb, but that tomb could not hold him. Christ has risen. The grave could not hold Jesus and he has promised that neither can it hold us.
Notice the tense – he WAS dead – He IS risen. Death is in the past – new life is NOW. Death is not the end of the story of Jesus. Nor is it the end of our stories. The signs of God’s love are all about us in the midst of our world’s troubles and turmoil. Just as Jesus revealed himself by calling Mary’s name, the voice of the one who called Mary by name is here to speak to you and call your name. He first did that in your Baptism and continues to do that as he invites you to receive his risen body in Holy Communion. It is not over. If Christ was not raised – the church would never have come into existence.
Would the disciples have gone on in the face of the opposition including death to proclaim that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day if it never happened? They would never have passed on to us their testimony because they would have had nothing to testify As Paul says – If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
And now Jesus needs us, like Mary to go and tell others so future generations can hear the Good News. People often say the church is one generation away from extinction. While I don’t believe God would allow that what it is saying is that the church needs us to pass on to others what has been passed on to us – the Good News of Jesus resurrection from the dead. We thank God for Mary – and for Peter and for all the other disciples who have passed on the message of Jesus’ resurrection even if they did not believe at first. Jesus rising from the grave means that there is hope for all of us when we weep; hope for us even when we find it hard to believe like Mary and Peter that Jesus will call our names; hope for us that when we or someone we love faces the gruesomeness of death and feels despair that we have the assurance of rising from the grave when Jesus calls us home.. We thank God today for the living Christ Jesus – God’s anointed one – the one who was raised up on the third day and who – for me – and for you – has broken the power of sin and death to give us hope..