The Easter Story is About Us
My friends Herb and Edith, both in their late nineties went into an elder care home in Paramus. It was a big move after 70 years in the same house. Giving Herb a call, I asked him what he thought of the place. Without a pause, he said, "It's conveniently located next to the cemetery.” Perhaps building a retirement care home next to the 98 sprawling acres of the George Washington cemetery is a bit of an irony. Oh it’s a nice cemetery, as far as cemeteries go.
I’m tired of cemeteries. Tired of tombs and ashes. Tired of proper funerals and waiting for a time for proper funerals. So tired of telling our guest to put a mask, no nose hammocks, pull it up! Tired of the daily case count. Tired of the grief, tired of the arguing, tired of the fear. Surely you are too!
Wonder if the people who first heard this story 20 centuries ago were also tired. Tired of death, tired of fear, tired of arguing, tired of the graves. This Gospel suggest that they were tired of it, all of it, very tired. The word tomb appears in John’s Gospel more times than any other Gospel. And the word death appears more times than all the other Gospels combined. John’s Gospel is also the only gospel that uses the word death and the word corpse. What is this exposition on death all about? Simply, John’s Gospel is written for people living conveniently close to the cemetery.
It was certainly true in the first century and it is certainly true in our time. Thus we can claim that this is a story told for us. Weary, worn, weeping, worried people.
Like a virus the Roman empire had spread across Europe into the middle east and north Africa. Its only goal was to continue to spread the so-called Pax Romana. And in its wake, that which did not or could not bend to it, died. And the people of the backwater, dusty province of Palestine died.
Another dead Jew. Another son cut down in the prime of life. Another opportunity lost. Grief is exhausting. I think Mary had not had much sleep or food those few days. Witnessing horror will do that.
Our nation’s obsession with violence cuts down many in the prime of life. The world’s waring ways wage the same. The opium epidemic is a plague with no end in sight. And then, there is the virus that has upended all of our lives. Killing with infection but also with depression.
This Easter story is about us!
Let’s take a look at the similarities and claim our place in this news.
So early on the first day of the week, she went to the tomb for one last final anointing before the tomb would be sealed and that was it.
“While it was yet dark,” begins this Gospel account. Is a striking line for these days. It’s a striking line for many days. Particularly now, we have the end of this pandemic in sight yet we know that the dark specter of death is still waiting and mutating. It’s not yet light for us. Cases are still rising dangerously obscuring the dawn and many parts of the world have not even a glimpse of the dawn. This similarity that we share with Mary is just one among many in this story. Like Mary, as people who are living between darkness and light.
Mary’s darkness is our darkness. Is Mary’s dawn our dawn?
Mary’s first words after seeing the opened tomb, “they have taken his body” was an erroneous conclusion. Quite remarkable, that any first century even records her words and her importance to the story. But in the story of Jesus, since the first sign, Jesus calls his mother woman, not at all in a derogatory fashion but to reveal to all woman the importance of their presence and discipleship. And like all disciples she gets some things wrong. She was wrong about what happened, wrong about what it all meant, She was wrong about God. Her experience did not allow her to think of a different conclusion and seriously who can blame her. We often get things wrong or at least as John’s Gospel says fail to understand life unfolding around us.
Her story is our story. People who are not yet in the light, confused, bewildered and tired people. And like Mary even when we do see Jesus, the view is often obscured by our tears, fears and experiences. Hidden by all things we ever before. Mary’s confusion is our confusion.
As the account continues there is much confusion about what happened, what to believe, those disciples running to and fro from the tomb to each other eventually locking themselves away, do they dare hope?
Mary stays in the cemetery and weeps, not just cries but sobs.
There has been so much grieving and weeping over innumerable losses. The pandemic brutally took our loved ones. Silent tears at times founded in the fear of our own potential deaths and the deaths of the ones we love. Afraid of the death of our way of life. Dead end jobs, dead in opportunities, dead end relationships, the grief is exponentially cumulative.
“Woman why are you crying?” comes the voice of one Mary assumes to be a stranger. Her question remains an arresting question, showing the disconnect between one’s experience and the good news of the resurrection. Her tears are caught between the deep loss of a friend and the good news of the Resurrection. Tears between fear and hope. How many of our own tears fall into this caveat? Mary’s tears are our tears. This is our story.
This Resurrection Sunday we visit the tomb of Jesus when it is still dark, just like Mary Magdalene (John 20:1). She sees the stone removed from the tomb. This resurrection Sunday our lives are often surrounded by wrong conclusions, just Mary Magdalen. The message she delivers to Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved is about the missing body.
And like Mary’s story, this resurrection story is not a triumphant easy story but instead leads us to look into the reality of death, where we unexpectedly but intimately encounter the risen Jesus.
This Gospel painstakingly describes how Jesus’ disciples—male and female—cope with his death and absence and come to believe in his resurrection.
Perhaps this morning you are having trouble believing or believing as much as you would like. We all struggle with these things. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t.
On this Resurrection Sunday, it is okay that we still mourn, its ok that we still doubt for we are in very good company with Mary. WE share her story. In this company the risen Christ is standing there, showing that death is not the final word but God’s love embraces the living and the dead. God’s love is not stopped by tomb and does not end at the cemetery gate. The intimate presence of the wounded Christ is our comfort.
No sermon will prove the resurrection for you. No words hymns or lofty hymns can offer definitive proof. The empty tomb and folded grave clothes did not prove to Mary either. Jesus standing by her and calling her by name did allow her the space to hope. What moves us to faith is the knowledge that this story is our story. These tears our tears. And these hopes are our hopes. This God is our God. And believe or not, doubt or not, confused or not, weeping or not, God finds a way to find us in the midst of things we do not understand, in the presence of confusion, and among the tombs. Jesus comes to us, stands by us and calls us by name. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!