Easter Day 2013
Throughout the latter days of this Holy Week, the church in every corner of our world has been focused on Jesus, walking with Jesus, praying with Jesus, witnessing his suffering and his dying, standing by his grave in the silence of death.
This morning, on this 3rd day, one woman (according to John’s Gospel) has gone in the darkness of early morning to the place where Jesus was buried. Mary Magdalene has gone there alone, but as the representative of all of us who have ever known loss, of all of of us who have ever seen the life drained out of someone we love more than life itself, of all of us who have seen violence from afar or up-close and have not known how to respond. Mary went to the tomb representing all the human tears that ever have been cried.
What she saw there, as the gospel recalls, is the tomb open and the stone rolled away. Now humanity has suffered so much at the raw hands of death, and we have learned through war and cruelty and dread sickness so to respect death’s reign, that Magdalene assumed only one thing when she saw this, one final indignity: that someone had come and stolen Jesus’ lifeless body and carried him away to God knows where. And so she ran.
She did what anyone would do faced with a radically new and unexpected situation. She ran to friends, to share her news, to ask them to help her to understand. And so Peter and the other disciple (likely the author of the fourth Gospel himself) ran to see for themselves. Mary Magdalene returned to the cemetery as well. They were all running toward a radically new situation. They had no idea how radically new it was. They had no idea they were running toward the scene and center of the re-creation of hope, the revealing of true life, the re-creation of humanity and creation itself.
When Peter and the other disciple arrived, their eyes could tell them only these things: the tomb is empty; Jesus’ body is gone; and the wrappings that had been gently placed around his wounded torso and head are still there, some of them carefully rolled up. What was there to believe? Was it only what they could see? Or was there something more?
Magdalene’s friends returned to their homes. She remained. She remained crying. She remained confused. She remained on that spot, because love would and could not allow her to go anywhere else. Love, I think, whispered in the ear of her heart that there was something more to understand, something more to know, something more still to believe. And so she remained.
For me, one of the most important questions we have before us this Easter morning, and indeed on all the mornings of our lives as the light dawns and we come back to life, is this: as she remained there at Jesus’ empty tomb, how did Mary Magdalene come to understand? How did she come to believe?
The question is so important because like us, Mary Magdalene is a human being; and like her, we have faced, and will confront many times again, situations that seem to proclaim only death, only silence, only despair, only emptiness. How can we, like Mary, come to know in those moments
that wrapped in the silence is song,
that behind the despair hope shouts,
that every emptiness will be filled,
and that beyond death is – always – yet more life?
What does the Gospel this Easter morning teach us in the very words it uses, and the story it shares? Listen to the words again:
“As she wept, she bent over into the tomb.”
What was Mary doing? She was taking a second, a deeper look. Before, she thought she knew and assumed she understood when she saw the stone rolled away and the tomb open. Now, she looks deeper, and perhaps with some more profound expectation.
“She saw two angels in white.”
There is more to every moment, to every question, than we can humanly recognize. There are advocates and helpers nearby that we do not always see and almost never recognize. But they are there.
“They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’”
The seemingly most obvious questions are worth asking, and worth asking yet again whenever we feel alone and undone and overwhelmed by death. In their answer may be hidden more than we thought we knew.
“She turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.”
We need not presume that we are at first going to recognize the best of all gifts by our side, even when the Word made flesh is there and living and visible and speaking to us. First there must be conversation – some call it prayer – and perhaps misunderstanding. But it needs to be spoken, and we will be heard.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!'”
To be known by name and to be called by name are transformative experiences in any human life; to be known as who we are, and valued and loved as we are: this is what opens up the deepest human possibilities in us, and reveals the presence of the divine in our time and place.
“Go to my brothers and say to them . . . ‘I have seen the Lord.'”
When we come to recognize Jesus risen and alive and loving and speaking to us, to our hearts, as Magdalene did that morning, we are inevitably given a mission. Somehow, in a unique fashion for each one of us, that mission will mean: Go, and share what you have experienced, what you have come to know, what has changed your life, what you believe.
This morning we stand at the tomb with Mary. She is the first evangelist, the first to proclaim the truth of resurrection. What do we learn from her? What will we carry from this beautiful church this morning back into the corners and crevices and the darker moments of our own real lives? Maybe simply this:
Take a second and a deeper look. Expect to find more.
Look for the advocates and helpers, God-sent, who may not be immediately obvious.
Allow them to raise the simple questions that you told yourself were answered. Hear them again.
Know that God’s own risen and living answer to every situation of death is standing directly by our side, even when we cannot recognize him. He is there. Talk with him.
Hear Jesus call you by name; hear him recognize both your need and your goodness; allow his recognition of you to open wide your eyes and your understanding.
Accept the mission he gives you: to share the good news you know by heart with the world around you. This particular telling of the Gospel of Christ can only, uniquely, come from you.
And finally, in and through all this, rise with Christ! His birth, his words and works, his suffering and death, and today his rising, are all for you. For all of us. As the Creed puts it, “for us and for our salvation.”
My friends, ‘this is the day that the Lord has made! Let us be glad and rejoice in it!” For Jesus is risen from the dead, and he lives forever. Alleluia!
(c) John P. McGinty
One thought on “At the Tomb with Mary Magdalene (Easter Homily 2013)”
John.. thank you for sharing this very helpful sermon! I am so glad to sense that you are flourishing in your new life ..
John McDargh, Ph.D.
“Live in fragments no longer …. only connect!” E.M. Forster
Department of Theology
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467