March 31, 2002
The Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward 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. 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 around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" 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." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbounil" (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.
Easter Sunday - March 31, 2002
On May 23rd, 1901 a strange ball game occurred. The Cleveland Indians were playing the Washington Senators. The score at the bottom of the ninth inning was Washington 13 and Cleveland 5. Many of the Cleveland fans were leaving the stadium. The game had been awful. Very quickly Cleveland had two outs and no one on base. The Cleveland fans that were left stood up to leave the stadium. The batter got a hit. Still people were leaving the stadium. The next batter got on base. People were still leaving. The third batter got on and the bases were loaded. Some of the people turned around and went back to their seats. Those people who left missed one of the most unexpected comebacks in history. Cleveland scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game by a score of fourteen to thirteen. They left before the game was over. They thought they already knew the outcome.
How many times have we felt we already knew the outcome of an event? How many times have we been surprised later to find out we were wrong?
The disciples thought they knew what had happened to Jesus. Even Mary thought she knew the ending. When Jesus died the disciples believed it was all over. When Mary saw the stone roll into place, she believed it was all over. All of their hopes of the Messiah were sealed in that tomb with Jesus. The story was over. The man they hoped was the Messiah was dead.
And yet, God does the unexpected. When Jesus is raised from the dead we do not have an unexpected ending. Instead, we have an unexpected beginning. We see a glimmer of the new beginning in Jesus' conversation with Mary at the tomb.
There is no doubt that Mary thought the life of Jesus was over. In John's Gospel, Mary comes to the tomb alone. She expects to find a sealed tomb. Notice that she brings no spices to anoint the body. She has no expectation of being able to go into the tomb to anoint Jesus. When she finds the stone rolled away, she runs to the disciples. Her first words are not, "he is raised." Her first words to the disciples are, "someone has stolen the body." Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved run to the tomb. They see the burial wrappings and the linen cloth neatly folded and placed to the side. From this evidence they know Jesus' body was not stolen. The disciple who loved Jesus believes Jesus is raised. Yet, he does not say anything to Peter and he does not speak to Mary. Instead of speaking his thoughts he walks away with Peter leaving Mary at the tomb.
Mary is left bereaved and weeping. She is convinced someone has stolen the body of her master. Even seeing two angels in the tomb cannot assuage her grief. Mary does not realize what has happened. Jesus appears to her and she does not recognize him. Then, one of the most beautiful events in scripture occurs. Jesus calls Mary by name. At this moment, Mary knows. Mary knows something unexpected has happened. Something wonderful has happened. Jesus is risen. Her Lord and master stand before her. And all she wants to do is grab him and never let him go. Jesus calls her by name just as he calls each of us by name. However, once again Mary feels the journey is over. Jesus is alive. Jesus is with her. Jesus has called her by name so everything is all right.
What Mary does not know and understand is that the resurrection is an unexpected beginning. The journey is not over. God's plan of salvation continues. The resurrection is a part of that wonderful and continuous plan. When Mary tries to hold Jesus, Jesus stops her. Now, He knows she wants to hang onto him and not let go. He knows she wants things as they were before, but God has other plans.
The love of God embodied in Jesus is not to be a temporary event. The love of God for all of creation is an eternal reality. This reality of God's eternal love is revealed to us in the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. Jesus stops Mary from hanging onto him because he must ascend to the Father. He tells her, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Jesus ascends to help us see that God has defeated death. Jesus ascends revealing to us God's offer of eternal life. Jesus ascends to the father to reveal to us unequivocally that we are loved by God. Furthermore, God knows us by name. Finally, through the crucifixion the resurrection and the ascension we learn, as God loves Jesus the Son, God also loves us.
The crucifixion was not the end of the journey for the disciples. The empty tomb is not the end of the journey for us. The empty tomb signifies an unexpected beginning. It is a new beginning because the full love of God for us has been fully revealed. We know we are sons and daughters of a loving God, one who knows and calls each of us by name.
With that incredible knowledge we cry:
Alleluia, the Lord is risen
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.