Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
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 towards 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 round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 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.
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
By David, Reader at St Mary's.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On Good Friday we ended our service with Jesus’ burial in a new tomb within a garden.
Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb, maybe on her own, maybe with other female disciples of Jesus. It’s dark, a darkness of the early morning. But also a metaphorical darkness of a world without Jesus. A world where the powers of sin and death rule. A darkness too of confusion and lack of understanding.
The contrast between light and darkness is a theme in John’s Gospel, right back to the light that shines in the darkness, mentioned in chapter 1, which we heard at Christmas. People move from darkness into light, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and journeys into the light, preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Judas travels the other direction. From working in Jesus’ light to the darkness of a night-time handover by a kiss. Jesus presents a choice between light and darkness.
Before we go any further into the reading it’s worth remembering that these biblical figures were once living breathing women and men. They were human. They were fallible, rather than the saintly figures we can sometimes make them.
Mary finds the tomb opened. This provokes confusion, bewilderment and pain. Who has done this? Grave robbers seeking money? A common problem of the time. Maybe the temple authorities or Roman occupiers? Both trying to stamp out all memory of a troublesome threat. Equally believable.
Mary runs to Peter and the beloved disciple, exclaiming “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and the beloved disciple respond by running to the garden. There is still confusion and a lack of understanding. The disciples aren’t expecting the resurrection. There is frantic behaviour, a hurriedness, a panic.
Peter is his usual impetuous manner enters the tomb and sees the grave bindings and the folded head cloth. The beloved disciple follows him in and believes. They do not yet understand the fullness of what has taken place. The beloved disciple embodies the model of discipleship laid out in John’s Gospel. It’s a model where the goal is love and intimacy with Jesus. This intuitive response, to believe without understanding, requires trust. It points to experiential faith, rather than one based on knowledge and understanding. The beloved disciple is in relationship with Jesus, not a scholar or theologian. This is a faith flowing from encountering Jesus.
Neither of them quite grasp the significance of the grave clothes. Remember Lazarus, who Jesus brought back to life in John chapter 11? We heard the story two weeks ago. Lazarus comes out of the tomb still wrapped in the bandages like a mummy. Lazarus will, in the fullness of time, die of old age, infirmity or illness. Jesus has conquered death and, when raised, leaves its trappings behind for ever.
Exiting the tomb the other disciples return to their homes, still in a state of confusion. Something has happened. They don’t know what. They may be going to resume their grieving in private. Mary stays in the garden and weeps, as Jesus wept publicly over the death of his friend Lazarus. Two angels appear and question her. She responds, in same words used to inform the disciples of Jesus’ disappearance. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” The disciples, are still grieving, broken and confused. We too like them will encounter times in own lives when we suffer and face adversity. It may be public, it may be private. We may grieve the loss of a loved one, or be challenged in some other way.
The disciples are still in the in darkness of doubt and fear. But light is breaking, first around Mary. Turning from the angels she sees Jesus, but doesn’t understand who he is. Jesus gets the first question in “Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” These first words of the risen Jesus, echo Jesus’ first words in the entirety of John’s Gospel in chapter 1 “What are you looking for?” What began as a search for something has changed. It is now a journey in relationship with a person, the risen Jesus.
Even though Jesus speaks Mary still doesn’t recognise him and asks if he has emptied the tomb. Jesus responds by calling her by name, as he called Lazarus from his tomb. The light overcomes the darkness. Jesus is revealed to Mary and the bewilderment and loss fall away. As words from our final hymn this morning put it “Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb, lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom.”
We too can hear Jesus call us by name. As disciples we are found by Jesus, named, and live in relationship with him. Our stories can stand in succession to those of Mary, Peter, the beloved disciple and all the followers of Christ through time and eternity.
Following Mary’s response to her name Jesus warns her not to try and stay in this moment. “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” This is the most daunting challenge of the Christian faith. We are not in control. We can’t hold on to Jesus. He isn’t, as C.S. Lewis puts it, a tame lion. We cannot control Jesus’ presence or absence. God in Christ cannot be constrained by human powers. He is out in the world. To remind us of this we close our service today with the words “He is not here, he is risen, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Mary Magdalene has not always been treated well. After our reading today she disappears from scripture. Her recognised role in the early church as the apostle to the apostles is swept aside and she is mislabelled a prostitute. But without her, and the women in the other gospels, all witnesses to the resurrection there would be no Christianity. I pray that her last words will be on our lips this Eastertide. “I have seen the Lord.”
Prepared by Joe