He is Risen!
This morning we will read the story in John 20 of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb and the ensuing events. Then we will use this story as the context for a reflection on what it means for us to live after the resurrection.
20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb
Now I need you to try for a moment to suspend what we already all know about this story, and put yourselves into the sandals and the robe, into the mind and spirit of Mary Magdalene, early in the morning, while it is still dark, going to the tomb of the person who has, in every way, turned your life around, and because of whom your life is now turned upside down.
Mary Magdalene is the one from whom it is said that Jesus had cast out seven demons. We can only imagine, but not likely even approach an understanding of the change in her life that was effected by reason of her relationship with Jesus. For three years, perhaps more and maybe less, Mary, along with friends and companions, has had her life turned around, has felt divine healing poured into her soul, scouring the sins, and bringing new hope - new life - and her existence had gone from a dismal trauma from which death may have seemed at times a sweet reprieve, to a renewed hope that life could be good, that life would be good, because of the love, the truth, the life that was gently bringing hope and awakening a renewed sense and appreciation for the gift that life is.
But now it seems that hope has been sparked only to be cruelly dashed before it had a chance to flower. The Master is dead. Killed by the hated Romans at the request, nay, at the stubborn insistence of her religious leaders, the same leaders who would keep her kind at the fringes of their precious sanctimonious society. Killed under false pretenses on the strength of spurious charges about his teaching instigated by those who had never been able to properly understand their own law, much less Jesus’ exposition of that law which was given for life. The leaders had never been able to counter the convincing authority and quiet integrity of his interpretations of their beloved law, but they had found a way to silence him for good.
Her hope for life is dead, cruelly snuffed out, and she is on her way to do the only thing she still can do for the one whom she called her beloved Lord. We don’t know how she has chaffed at the religious sensitivities that kept her from her friend’s side during the long Sabbath between the time of Jesus’ death on Friday afternoon, and this early morning journey on the first day of the week to perform the last loving service to his body. We do know that she wasted no time after the Sabbath, rising while it is still dark and making her way in the dark to the tomb where she had seen his body laid on Friday. And so Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...
and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
20:2 So she ran -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."
As if losing his living presence was not enough, now she has also lost his body. Even the last few moments with his body, doing what little she could in respect for Jesus, even that has been taken from her.
20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
So what did the disciples believe? They saw the linens that had wrapped his body, and the cloth that had wrapped his head, rolled up and lying by itself separate from the linens, and they believed, but they did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. What did they believe? If they had believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, would they have returned to their homes? Would they have returned to their homes and left Mary crying by the tomb? Would they have later locked themselves in a room in fear of the Jews? When Peter and John saw the empty tomb they believed that his body was gone. They did not believe that he had risen from the dead. That was preposterous. Dead bodies don’t came back to life. And so
20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;
20:12 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.
20:13 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."
No inkling of a resurrection here. Her best hope is still to locate the lost body of her Master. Somebody has taken his body for unknown reasons, and she does not know where his body has now been laid, but she wants to know. She wants to find his body.
20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
20:15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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’ first words to her do not break through the fog of her grief. Again she hopes only that this stranger will be able to help her find Jesus’ body so she can take him away. She still desires only to ensure that his body is properly respected and cared for.
20:16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).
Everything changes when Mary hears Jesus speak her name.
Notice that things didn’t change when Jesus rose, or when Mary saw Jesus, or when Jesus first spoke to Mary. Mary heard Jesus speak to her, and responded in conversation, but she did not recognize her conversation partner. Everything changed for Mary when she recognized Jesus’ voice addressing her.
This is what I want to explore for a little bit this morning. We live after the fact of the resurrection, and I believe we live in a daily experience of resurrection life, but it’s impact in our lives is stunted and muted as long as we don’t recognize the risen Jesus addressing us in a resurrection conversation in the mundane experiences of life. So how is this done? How do we learn to recognize the voice of Jesus engaging us in a resurrection conversation?
I believe this happens in a two-step dance that includes retreat from, as well as engagement in, mundane life. We need to stop the hustle every now and again and take a moment to reflect; to smell the roses, or the coffee, along the way. This retreat from should not be seen as the only times of refreshment or the only times of this resurrection conversation. If all of life is part of the fruit of the resurrection life that we are given through Jesus, then these retreats should be moments of re-orientation in which we remind ourselves of the fact of the resurrection, and we learn again what it looks like, so that as we re-engage mundane life, we do so with a renewed perspective, and a reinvigorated purpose to recognize and live the resurrection every day, in every way.
John 10:2-5, 14-16 “the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.”
In this word picture, the result of the recognition of the shepherd’s voice is finding pasture and daily sustenance for living. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it is finding life in the most ordinary of life events. It’s eating and drinking, and recognizing in the food we eat, and the water we drink (and maybe in some other beverages), that our shepherd cares for us, and is giving us life - resurrection life. We retreat to remind ourselves of this, so that as we re-engage we learn to eat and drink mindfully of the resurrection life that is being given to us daily.
One of the way in which God speaks life to us is in creation. Psalm 19 tells us that
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
All of creation is God’s speech act to us, making known his glory, and making God known to us. There is no act of worship more authentic than wonder at his words in the creation we see around us and particularly, as Trudy reminds us, in people who are the acts of creation that carry the divine image.
3 They (that is, God’s speech acts in creation) speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
5 It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
6 The sun rises at one end of the heavens
and follows its course to the other end.
Nothing can hide from its heat.
The sun itself is God’s love story to his creation, to you and to me. It is small wonder that cultures that we call pagan often engage in some form of sun worship. It is perhaps more of a wonder that we call them pagan cultures. Every sunrise is God saying “Good morning! My love!” Every sunset is God saying “Good night, my precious one.” We could reflect on how sunrise and sunset intimate birth and death, and we could consider implications of the cycle of days and nights for notions of eternal life and the immortality that we often link to resurrection life, but I will leave that for another time.
What I want to highlight now is that sunrise and sunset happen every day, with or without our awareness. We would certainly notice if the sun ever failed to rise, and it would doubtless cause no end of trouble and consternation, but as long as it goes on as it always has, we pay little heed to many of the most important processes without which we could not live. If we do not stop and reflect, we do not notice. Our life is sustained by these processes whether or not we are aware of them, but our experience of these things is accentuated, and the tenor of our life is enhanced when we remind ourselves to recognize - to notice and appreciate - the mundane events without which we could not live. Even though we live in the midst of resurrection, we need to stop and remind ourselves to see resurrection life in bloom all around us, we need to remind ourselves to recognize God’s voice shouting out to us in a deafening roar that we find so astonishingly easy to ignore.
The surest way to cultivate this awareness of resurrection life is, I believe, to practice thankfulness. The way to the experience of resurrection life is the way of discipline, a way of discipleship, of falling at the feet of Jesus to say thank you. When Jesus was hailed by ten lepers, and they asked to be made whole, he sent them to show themselves to the priest to be declared healthy. Luke 17:14 “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Of the ten lepers who had their skin cleansed, one came back, threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him, “praising God in a loud voice.” Jesus notes that ten lepers were cleansed, but he says to the one who came back to give thanks “Your faith has made you well.” All ten were cleansed, but only one was made well. Ten lepers had their bodies cleansed, but only one had his life healed, and the text makes note that he was a Samaritan. You can be bouyed along by resurrection life, but without recognizing the resurrection - without thankfulness - you may be just living, instead of living the resurrection!
So how does living after the resurrection look? What does one do when one has recognized the voice of the Master? When one realizes that one is living in the midst of resurrection? Jesus and Mary visit, we don’t know for how long, but Jesus soon has instructions for Mary that quite specifically grow out of her new recognition of resurrection life:
20:17 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.'"
20:18 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.
“I have seen the Lord!” When you have seen the resurrected Jesus; when you realize that you live by the bounteous grace of resurrection life, you want to tell others; you need to tell others. When you find yourself healed, you love to tell people. When you have great news, you want to share it, and the gospel is good news; gospel means good news. What better news could there be than that the Creator cares for you and wants you to experience abundant life; resurrection life?
So let us go, looking and listening for God’s voice calling our name, in the reading of scripture in quiet places, in the speech acts of God’s creation among which we live and move and have our being, and as we learn to read hints of resurrection in our world, let us learn to live resurrection with thankfulness, in our daily mundane existence. Let us learn to celebrate life, to let God’s resurrection power flow through us, resurrecting our lives and our world by God’s generous grace.