Scripture text for Easter: John 20:1-18
I had the best news ever to tell!
But they didn’t believe me.
Maybe it was because at first I didn’t believe it myself.
We stayed with him as long as we could. At the cross, following Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb. They wouldn’t let us prepare his body. They said they were already ritually unclean; there was no point in us becoming unclean as well. They had linen and a hundred pounds of spices. They could prepare the body.
We didn’t like it, but we saw their point. It was almost the Shabbat, this especially holy Shabbat of Passover. Mary, his mother, had to be able to do the Shabbat candle ritual, the rest of us to serve the meal.
We waited as long as we could to leave. Watched Joseph and Nicodemus and the caretaker of the garden roll the stone in place. The men then hurried us off – we had to be back to the upper room before Shabbat started.
As we left we made plans to come back the morning after Shabbat. We just wanted to make sure Joseph and Nicodemus had done everything right. It had to be perfect – for him, everything had to be perfect.
It was a strange Shabbat. On this most festive and holy Shabbat, we sat shiva. Asking questions: why did it have to end like this, what did his death mean, what would happen to us now. All the questions that get asked when someone you live who’s still in their prime suddenly dies and your whole world is turned upside down.
Sharing memories: “Nathaniel, remember when you came and told you me you found the Messiah and I said what good could come from Nazareth, then he came and told me about myself, and I saw?”
“How about that time he took the fish and bread from that little boy’s lunch and fed 5000 people?”
“What about healing that blind man?”
“All the run-ins with the Pharisees. I guess that’s what made them want him dead. I never thought they’d do it.”
The talk continued as we remembered what he did and what he said and how he loved us.
Then Peter turned to me – “Mary, I remember how you raved and cursed and spit just before he cast those demons out of you. Remember how you clung to him after?”
I remembered. How could I ever forget that moment? It was like being born again. He gave my life back to me.
The entire Shabbat, I was edgy, restless. The hours dragged, minute after slow minute. When would Shabbat be over? When could I go to where my heart was – back to where his body laid?
In the last hour before dawn, I could wait no longer. I had to go, to be there to weep, to pray. I wanted some time alone, before the other women got there and our work began. So I slipped out and made my way in darkness to the tomb.
And stopped in disbelief when I saw that the stone had been rolled away, the tomb lying open. How could they! How could they dishonor him again by taking his body! Couldn’t they just leave him alone now!
Tears blinded me as I ran back to the upper room. Burst in, waking everyone.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
The disciple he loved, and Peter reacted first. They raced out the door. I ran after them, shameless hiking up my robe to free my feet, my legs so I could run faster.
I was almost to the tomb when I saw the disciple he loved was looking in it. Peter had just got there before me and he stopped short. Then the beloved disciple motioned Peter to go in first and he followed him in.
By the time I got to the entrance, they came out, their heads bowed. And they walked slowly home. I looked in and saw that the body was gone. Strangely the linen wrappings were still there, the cloth from his face rolled up and in a corner by itself. Why would they have taken the time to unwrap him and lay the clothes like that?
I couldn’t think. I was outraged, shocked. I was crying so hard I couldn’t see. When I saw the two beings sitting there, I thought my grief was making me see things. Two angels – they had to be angels, they radiated such light! – were sitting there on the place where he had laid. They looked puzzled and one asked, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
I thought it a ridiculous question for angels. Surely angels would know that Jesus was dead! Don’t angels mourn like we do? Maybe not. So I explained my human grief to them.
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him!"
They seemed to glow brighter and their faces were suffused with joy. They were looking behind me. I turned.
And saw the garden caretaker.
Yes, I thought it was the caretaker. Why would I think it was Jesus? He was dead. They had taken his body away. I was looking for the body of my loved one, not a living man. It would have been easier to believe that Jesus was one of the two angels than this living man standing there. Yes, I had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, but how could someone who was dead raise himself? Impossible.
This man’s question seemed as ridiculous as the angels. "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"
I was standing there at a tomb. A disturbed tomb. Of course I would be weeping. Of course I would want to know where my loved one’s body has gone. He should have made sure his body was safe! It was his job to make sure the tombs were undisturbed. Desperate and angry, I cried out, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
Then with a look of pure love and compassion, he said, "Mary!"
Just that one word.
I heard his voice. I heard him call my name, and just like a sheep know the voice of the shepherd, I knew it was him! Incredibly, amazingly, beyond all hope, he was alive!
And just like that day when he said to the demons, “Come out of her”, my life was new and fresh, filled with hope and joy!
I cried out, "Rabbouni! My beloved Teacher and Lord!"
And rushed to hug him.
He stopped me. "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.'"
Later we wondered why I was not allowed to touch him when just a week later, he would invite Thomas to place his hands in the wounds from the cross. He said he had not yet ascended to God. Maybe he had not yet received his resurrection body. Maybe, just like he took time from the cross to care for his mother, he took time during his resurrection to care for me.
He told me to go and tell the other. His disciples – now not just students of the Master, but his brothers and sisters. Then he was gone.
I ran back to the upper room one more time, this time tears of joy blurring my vision. I burst in one more time. "I have seen the Lord. He’s alive! He has risen from the dead! He was there, in the garden. He called my name, and said to tell you he was ascending to God.”
The very best news in the world.
And they didn’t believe me.
I guess it takes time to see resurrection. They had to see Jesus, to hear his voice.
We had time during the next few weeks to eat with him, listen to him teach, hear him explain those things he told us before he died and rose again that we didn’t understand.
We had to learn to look for resurrection.
We had to learn to expected to see Jesus in those places where we least expected to see him.
And now I share my story with you.
I have seen the Lord.
He is risen, just as he said.
The very best news of all.
Do you believe?