Easter is the day when God breaks all of the rules. Easter is the day that creation was reborn. Easter is the day when God said, “No more” to death having the final word, and there’s one word in the story, one small, unnoticed word in the story that changes everything. I can’t wait to tell you. So keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday.
“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.” Not only was this the first day of the week, but also it was the first day of a new creation. Just like on the first day of creation in Genesis, God created light. Here God again allows light to shine in the midst of darkness. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, like a garden tomb whose stone had been rolled away. Then God said, “Let there be light,” as Mary turned and saw the Risen Lord. Before the sun had risen Mary came to the tomb and found that it was empty. Not only do we now have a deeper understanding of the creation account, but also the beginning of John’s Gospel makes more sense. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Jesus was resurrected before the sun had risen, and scripture had been telling us this all along.
“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.”
There is a foot race to the tomb. Truth is, there are many who are still running that race. While sitting at the bedside when someone is dying, I’ve never heard “I wish I had answered email more quickly,” or “I wish I had spent more time in the office,” or “If those decorations for the school dance were just a little bit better, it would have all been worth it.” You see, Mary is running from the tomb. Even though neither she nor the disciples understand what’s happening, her trajectory is correct. They get to the tomb and scripture says that the beloved disciple believed, but he did not believe in the Resurrection, but what Mary said was true, that the body wasn’t there, because after visiting the tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple go home. They do not run from the tomb proclaiming that Christ is Risen. They go home. They’ve run to the tomb and even it is empty and has nothing to offer them. At least this seems to be where they are.
“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?’” For whom are you looking, Jesus asks her. Remember Jesus’ first words in the Gospel. He was walking along the Jordan River, John the Baptist says, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and Jesus asked the disciples who had gathered, “What are you looking for?” You see, the question has changed. No longer do we search for what, but for whom. Now that Jesus is raised, finding Christ now supersedes any kind of “what” we might find. “Who are you looking for,” is now the only question that matters.
“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.’” This is the Gospel of John at it’s greatest. John adds a seemingly insignificant detail, but it actually means everything. Mary mistakes him to be a gardener, but actually she is seeing Jesus for who he truly is. Holy Week should be called the tale of two gardens. Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane in a moment of doubt saying, “Father let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours.” And the story ends with Jesus being placed in a different garden where no one had been laid before. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden Tomb. But even more than that, one of God’s first jobs was that of a gardener. After God created humanity, scripture says that God planted a garden and placed them with it. When Mary sees Jesus as a gardener, it’s not a mistake. She’s just seeing him as he truly is—one who plants and cultivates life.
“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.” Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus until he says her name. It’s like when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Jesus then tells her, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So no longer does Jesus say, “I am the light of the world,” or “I am the bread of life,” but “I am ascending.” You see, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been saying, “I Am.” On the last night with his disciples the “I Am” becomes “This is,” when Jesus says, “This is my body given to you, and this is my blood poured out for you.” Now Jesus says, “I am ascending,” or I am leaving. I Am becomes This is because you are the body of Christ. Jesus is ascending to the father therefore we are now the hands and feet of Christ in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the body. Christ’s blood runs through our veins. I am becomes this is because you are.
Jesus says he is ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God, which brings us to that small, seemingly insignificant word that changes everything. “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.’” Do you see it? Who goes to the tomb? Mary does. Mary alone goes to the tomb and runs to tell the disciples what she sees, except she says, “we.” We do not know where they have laid him. You see, the story is written as if you are there with her, or like I said at the beginning of the sermon, “Keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb.” We are a part of the resurrection story. Jesus says, “My Father and your Father. My God and your God.” Not only was Jesus raised, but Jesus was raised for us so that we might have a place in God’s story. In other words, live as if your life matters. Live as if your neighbor’s life matters. Live as if you enemy’s life matters. The Easter story is this. Love Wins. Life matters. Go and live as if you believe both to be true. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!