a sermon for the Easter Sunday
The only person who appears in all four of the Gospel accounts about Jesus resurrection is Mary Magdalene. Really. Not Peter, not John, “the one whom Jesus loved,” not the any of the other disciples (male or female). Only Mary.
So there must be something about Mary…
Mary was the first one to come upon the empty tomb. She got up early that morning, having slept so little the night before because she was twisted in knots with grief. So much had happened since that day when she anointed him with the expensive perfumed nard and wiped her tears from his feet with her hair. No one else ever touched him in that way. She came to the tomb before dawn, hoping to spend a few quiet moments there by herself. That was when she saw it – the huge rock that was supposed to seal his burial chamber had been rolled to one side. Shock and awe – that’s what she felt. She had to tell someone. And so she ran until she came upon Peter and John. “Someone has taken him away!” she cried.
Peter and John saw the look of terror, so they ran off to see for themselves, leaving Mary far behind. They had always had a little competitive streak between them. Who loved Jesus more? Who did he love most in return. So they raced to see who would get there first – or second, actually, because Mary got their first. When she finally got back there the second time, they were already leaving.
Only then did she dare enter the tomb, weeping.
The angels tried to console her. “Why are you weeping?” they asked. And then the stranger, who she didn’t recognize, repeated the question. “Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
That’s the question, isn’t it. Who are we looking for? Why are we here?
Some of us have heard this story a hundred times, the story about Jesus, the man God raised up from the dead, and who walked and talked and ate with his friends again as if the crucifixion never happened. We’ve heard the story and we’ve come to believe, just like John did. He looked into the tomb, saw that it was empty, and that was enough for him. He knew that Jesus had been raised. Just. Like. That.
For John, and for many of us, the resurrection of Jesus is an actual, physical reality, just as surely as the sun rose up in the sky this morning. Just as surely as we are sitting here in these chairs. We know, with every ounce of our being, that God raised Jesus from the dead that day; that one minute he was dead and the next, he was alive and breathing again. We believe this because the scriptures say that’s what happened. Like John, we have heard about the empty tomb and we believe: Christ is alive! His resurrection is a victory over death and the grave.
But for others of us it might not be so easy. We are more like Mary, who looked into the tomb but couldn’t quite make sense of what she saw. The Lord whom she loved was missing; the man whom she so lovingly anointed had been taken away. And even when he was standing right in front of her, she didn’t recognize him. Not until he called her by name. Not until she tried to touch him again.
For Mary, and for many of us, the resurrection of Jesus is about more than raising his body. It’s all about love – the love we have for our families, the love we have for our neighbors and friends, the love we have for those in the world around us. We know, with every ounce of our being, that Jesus sacrificed himself out of love for us. He died as he lived, betting against all odds that love is the strongest force in the universe – stronger even than death. Jesus sacrificed himself to prove that it is only when we give up concern for ourselves completely that our lives will have meaning, even beyond the grave. Christ died so that we would see that the only way we will ever come to know what it means to truly be alive is to fall through fear into love.
I think it’s important that we remember that the word “Christ” means “the anointed one.” Mary Magdalene was the one who anointed Jesus. She anointed him in love with perfume before he died and she went to the tomb to anoint him after his resurrection. Jesus died and Christ was raised, so that we might understand the eternal power of self-sacrificial love.
Both John and Mary loved Jesus. Both were faithful disciples whose witness continues to bring more and more people into the love of Christ. And for us, both serve as witnesses to the resurrection.
Christ is alive, proving that only by giving up concern for ourselves will we move beyond the grave into everlasting life. Christ is alive, proving that death is not God’s final word. God’s final word is love.